On Being Overshadowed
(Every year on the feast of the Annunciation thousands of Daughters of Charity the world over retake their vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and service to the poor. This was the homily at one of their Eucharists.)
I once heard someone say that this day of renewal of vows could also be called a day of renewal of a story, the latest installment in the much longer story of your answering (and then re-answering) a call. And isn’t the scene of Mary’s Annunciation in St. Luke a cherished instance of this same thing, the story of response to an invitation.
The Annunciation has all the earmarks of a Biblical vocation story following as it does five telltale stages:
- The voice of God (through Gabriel) invites.
- The one addressed is troubled and asks questions (“How can this be?”).
- Divine assurance is given (“The Holy Spirit will overshadow you.”).
- A sign is given (Elizabeth conceives in her old age).
- A final assent (“Be it done unto me…”).
These steps run through the call stories of Moses, of some of the prophets, and here Mary of Nazareth. In some form or other, I suspect they track your story too.
That evocative scriptural term “overshadow” anchors all these happenings.
Occurring first in the Creation story where the Spirit of God “hovers over” the waters and the world comes into being, it appears again in the Exodus story as the fire and cloud cover Mt. Sinai and then lead the people to the promised land. The same figure shows up in the transfiguration in the New Testament as the bright cloud overshadows Jesus and his disciples on Mt. Tabor.
Each of these follows the theme of God approaching to do a new thing. And the message? Whenever the Spirit overshadows, be on the alert: divine initiative is bringing a surprise, springing a burst of creativity into history.
At the annunciation, the Divine Love is doing an ingenious thing, coming personally to share our condition. Mary moves through those five thresholds, and at the end places the life-giving powers of her own body at God’s disposal. She says yes and God’s creativeness takes human shape within her.
Can you recognize the stories of Moses and especially Mary’s as your own, and not just in its early years but all along the way? Something (Someone) invites you. When the offer registers, hesitations and questions arise. You’re given some form of assurance. A kind of “sign” appears. You commit and move ahead.
Doesn’t this lay out in general terms what happened at the various crossroads you’ve met? You hear an invitation (a new work or new attitude or a new dedication), at first you hesitate, you get support from both outside and in, you catch some indication that it’s right, and then you step out in some new and grace-filled direction.
On this day of renewal, I ask you to pay attention to this “overshadowing,” that “hovering” God has done over you through the years, this drawing-near of God’s Spirit which pulled on something inside you – not so much a vision but an inner sense that God’s creativity was working its way into your life once again.
Saints Ignatius and Vincent and Louise used the word “consolation” for this, not always sweet but always making its mark deep inside. If you can reach back to such a memory, chances are you’re remembering a time of being overshadowed, of being wrapped-round by God’s Spirit.
Many things attach to this day and feast. One is a pattern in the life of anybody who has felt the invitation God is ever giving. The offer is always of love, God’s overshadowing. And in response, the person steps forward and into Mary’s grace filled assent, “Be it done unto me according to your word.”