There are several things that I, too, had not understood about Mary’s encounter with Gabriel, the Angel of the LORD, the Angel of ‘I AM’. Another Mystery.
For three or four years now I have spent time with her, contemplating that meeting while praying the Rosary. Well, I asked her outright what she was saying to Gabriel, asked her daily between each decade, substituting this questioning for the normal Mysteries, because this talk with Gabriel was a mystery to me.
“What did you say to Gabriel?”, after the “Oh, my Jesus,…” and before each “Our Father”.
Her answer was always the same, “I said, ‘Behold the handmaid of I AM, be it done to me according to your word.” But she also always added, “Now you say the same to me and to God”. And I would then recite, “Behold the servant of ‘I AM’; let it be with me according to your word. Amen.”
This went on for months. Something else was concerning me though, since often, when I would hear people explaining this response of Mary, there would invariably be the assertion that this was Mary’s great “Yes” to God, which set the stage for the incarnation of Jesus, his name in English meaning, ‘I AM SAVING’.
Something was always bothering me about that explanation. It was indeed Mary saying “Yes!” to God, but something seemed strange to me when it was claimed that Mary chose in that moment to say “Yes,” but could have equally said, “No.” So, I asked her about this. “What was going on in your exchange with the Angel?”
Her reply, “I actually said, ‘No’, to Gabriel. He appeared and was commanding that I was to conceive in my womb, and was to give birth to a son, naming him ‘YESHUA’ [‘I AM SAVING’ in English, or ‘Jesus’]. She explained more. If you understand Hebrew or Aramaic, it is different than your English language. For me, a ‘command’ is the same as a ‘future tense verb’. So, ‘you shall conceive’ can mean either, ‘Get busy with your husband and conceive’ or it can mean ‘you will find yourself pregnant in the near future’ (a promise or prediction). However, to this I had to tell Gabriel that this cannot be, since I am a virgin, consecrated to serving the LORD, and will ‘know no man’. I told Gabriel, ‘No, it won’t be so.’ ”
“I don’t understand,“ I replied.
Her explanation: “Remember that I said I am the handmaid of ‘I AM’, my Lord. But Gabriel’s words in a normal context would mean I was to get busy seeking to become pregnant. You remember Sarah and Abraham – when ‘I AM’ told them he would return in a year and Sarah would have a child, Sarah did laugh, and they were admonished, but after the visitors left them, Abraham knew Sarah – they worked toward conception, to make it come true for themselves. And it was the same with several examples in Scripture, such as with Samuel’s mother.”
“But I am the handmaid of ‘I AM’, my Lord,” she continued. “I was hearing the Angel tell me to go and make something come true. And I replied that it is not going to happen. I am, and always have been, the handmaid of the LORD. All my doing was to do his Will, not to take care of my own needs. You remember how my Son did not take care of his own hunger in the wilderness when he was so hungry… His will was to serve, not to grasp after his own need by changing stones to bread. So I told Gabriel I would not grasp after this future.”
“Then Gabriel, happy with my reply, told me what God, ‘I AM’, was about to do: The power of the Most High will overshadow you – you do not need to make this happen, but it will be done to you by ‘I AM’. Because of my love for my LORD, I easily said ‘No’ to Gabriel at first, but saying ‘No’ to the Holy Spirit working in me is not an option for my love of my Lord.”
“When I heard this about the Holy Spirit working all, then, I made this reply to Gabriel that you and I have been rehearsing now for months – Behold the handmaid of the LORD, ‘I AM’. When I knew it was ‘I AM’, my Lord, doing all this, it became a service that I, as my Lord’s handmaid, could accept from Him, just as my Son did in the wilderness. He would not make food for himself from the stones, but he did eat later, when the angels came and gave him food. At that later moment with the angels, it was his Father’s will that he eat, so he ate, but he would not eat simply from his own hunger, his own will to sustain his life. And I, my LORD’s handmaid, would have this child at my Lord’s doing as his handmaid, but I would not go and try to do it for myself as if I were the servant of no one. I did not suddenly become the handmaid of the LORD when I said, ‘behold the handmaid…’ It was because I was already and my whole lifelong this handmaid that I challenged Gabriel with, “How can this be?…” But after his clarification of conception by the Holy Spirit, then I knew, ‘Aha, I understand; very well, you know that I am the handmaid of the LORD. Now the LORD and I know this thing together with the same knowing; we are One in our knowing. It shall be with me as you say.”
This was all during the Rosary; after this, Mary then turned it again to me with, “Now, you; normally after you repeat my words, ‘behold the servant of the LORD’, you regularly pray the Our Father during the Rosary. But do you remember why you pray this? Is it not because my Son said, ‘Pray like this: Our Father, who art in heaven…’? He called to do something. You have been declaring for months now with me, ‘Behold the servant of the LORD, be it with me according to your word,’ and then praying the Our Father. This time, and from now on, hear my Son saying ‘Pray like this’ first. Be his servant.”
So I did, when she was finished. I heard, I remembered, Jesus [‘I AM SAVING’] saying, “When you pray, pray like this,” and my reply to him was like a servant bowing to his Lord, “Behold your servant, Lord; be it with me as you have spoken.” And then, I conformed myself to his description, in service to his call: my mouth formed the words, “Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name, ‘I AM’, thy kingdom come, thy will be done…” His desire, my Lord’s desire, happened in the world by his servant’s (my) movement of speech.
I have remembered, re-lived, this a number of weeks now. I see that Mary did not suddenly choose obedience that day with Gabriel, but she spoke all she spoke because she was already our LORD’s servant, already loved her Lord. And for me, I see that my prayer is right when I am a full-time servant praying as called for by my Lord, rather than praying in a moment of self-survival desires. (If he wills my continuing here in my sojourning, he will send someone to tell me, “Take and eat.” And as his servant, I will serve him by “taking and eating” in that moment.)