“God has shouted, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ to every luminous movement.”
Hafiz, Persian poet and mystic
At the heart of Walsingham lies the mystery of the Annunciation.
The house symbolises stability. It was the house that made Nazareth permanently present in Walsingham, standing firm and strong, guaranteeing the future of the village and the Shrine. But this is balanced by the theme of the Annunciation which implies a radical openness to change and growth. Everyone of us carries within ourselves an element of unpredictability. We are not machines to be manipulated but free persons able to respond and to choose. Mary’s future did not unfold as she planned or expected, just as Walsingham’s own history must surely have developed in a way that Richeldis did not and could not foresee.
Richeldis gave momentum to something bigger than herself and her own private piety, just as Mary gave birth to a Son whose future was not in her own hands. All life, real life, is unpredictable. God’s Providence is our only surety.
As she is presented to us in Luke’s gospel, Mary stands for the perfect disciple. Like Israel of old she is chosen and called simply out of love. She has not chosen God; rather God has chosen her. She is a child of grace, of choice, and so she is able to respond to God’s initiative with the words ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.’
But that is not the end of the story. Mary had to be open to human growth and development, just as Jesus had to grow physically, spiritually, socially. She had to make choices, accept responsibility, and ultimately let her Son go his own way even when she did not understand.
Trust implies a readiness to venture into the unknown, secure in a love that is greater than oneself and one’s own limited plans. So we see that at the heart of Walsingham is a specific woman, Mary, who listened to God and said ‘Yes’ from the depths of her being, a woman who handed herself over so completely that God could fulfil the Divine will in her. She was asked to listen, to love and to bear life. It is what each of us is asked to do in our turn as we try to listen to what God is asking of us here and now, so that we may also love God and bear Jesus for the world in and through our own particular calling, whatever that may be.
Mary is our vocational model as one who responded totally, allowed God to do with her all that he wanted. When Jesus says that his mother, brothers and sisters are those who do the will of his Father in heaven we have a glimpse into the wholeness of Mary’s self-giving. It was not bearing Christ in the flesh that made her blessed. Her real motherhood lay in her surrender to the Father’s will; her ‘Be it done unto me (her ‘Fiat’, ‘Amen’, ‘Alleluia’) in sorrow and in joy, in diminishment and fullness.