He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Friday, November 25, 2016

Love it to Death: The Annunciation of Love

Love doesn't sneak up on us, hovering over us creepily.  The one who harbors the deepest love does not pine after us without taking the risk of expressing that love to we who are beloved.  Love lived out fully always announces itself to the beloved, whether quietly and slowly or loudly and quickly.

We know this from our personal and cultural experience.  When we first meet someone and feel the spark of love, we feel an urge to speak to them of our love for them.  Even when we are reluctant to speak, or experience great anxiety about speaking to them of our love, or clam up completely because we are so afraid of rejection, love nonetheless creates in us a strong urge to announce the powerful feelings of love welling up within us.

We may announce our love by asking them to spend time with us, by offering them gifts, by complimenting their many fine qualities and virtuous behaviors, by helping them with their daily tasks, or holding their hand.  We can announce our love in many ways other than simply declaring our love to them boldly and courageously, though our beloved may by joyful indeed when we announce our love so boldly.

Public, formal announcements of love require this sort of boldness and courage, and they are rightly the most celebrated announcements of love.  Married love is announced beforehand in the form of betrothal or engagement or promise rings.  The love of one who is joining a monastic religious community is announced by way of their temporary vows (made before permanent vows) and by their submission to the disciplines of the order.

Later, married love is announced publicly in the form of wedding vows in full view of friends and family.  Permanent vows for a religious order are also witnessed by loved ones.  These are the fullest expressions of love when they are committed to and kept for life as they are intended, not solely because that radical commitment to brothers, sisters, or spouse profoundly shapes us in such a way that we become more loving as we shed our selfish desires for their sake (though that's true).

It's also because these forms of love are announced with boldness, because the beloved knows from our vows that love is on the way, that love will grow and be fruitful, that love will live and die for and with the beloved.

This is precisely how God announces His Love for us.  As recorded in the Old Testament, He sent priests, prophets, and kings to announce His covenant with Israel over and over again.  And in the New Testament, he sent the angel Gabriel to announce to Mary the entrance of Love Himself into her womb and into the world.  She reciprocated His great gift of love with a gift of her own, her wish that it be done unto her as God willed it.  This was the Annunciation of Love.

We commemorate these gifts and the Annunciation of Love at the Feast of the Annunciation, celebrating the announcement of God's renewed commitment to love us now and forever.  We celebrate it with the same sincerity with which we celebrate the engagements of our dearest friends who plan to get married, because they are both bold statements of a commitment to love.

At the Feast of the Annunciation, we remember God's annunciation of His divine Love sent down for us, we who are all too human, we who are nonetheless made in the divine image.  At the celebration of the Annunciation, we proclaim our love for Him who poured out His love upon us so generously in the form of His only begotten Son.  During the Annunciation liturgy, we announce yet again His great love for us as we adore and receive the Eucharist, His ultimate gift of love to us.

During each liturgy, we announce our love for God when we we make the sign of the cross, when we sing His praises, and when we pray the Our Father together.  We announce our love for God each time we confess our sins, each time we proclaim our assent to the Creed, and each time we prepare Him room in our hearts before we receive His Precious Body and His Precious Blood.

We are called to announce our love for God with the boldness and courage of one who commits to a spouse for life, in joy and in sorrow, in pleasant times and unpleasant times.  We are called to announce God's love to our neighbor by showing them His love through our actions and speaking to our neighbor of His love in our words of kindness and mercy.

We are called to make our lives an annunciation of God's love for the world, boldly and courageously proclaiming our commitment to love to death all that separates us from the divine love He has announced by His life, death, and resurrection.

Note:  The above is an image of a silk screen and gold foil icon of the Annunciation which I purchased from orthodoxmonasteryicons.com recently.

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