March 30th

By John Hunt

The words had waited for the hunger in her

to become the silence where they could form.

– John O’Donohue “The Annunciation” from Connemara Blues

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is typically a subject of the season of Advent and yet, in the scene of the Annunciation as it is imagined by Irish poet and theologian John O’Donohue, something of lent calls out. We often speak of the season of Mary’s waiting after the conception of Jesus in her womb, but here O’Donohue takes us one step back, to Mary as she was just before that conception. In Luke chapter two, we find Mary’s exchange with the angel Gabriel, and her brave response, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be with me as you have said.”

Psalm 40: 1 declares that the psalmist is patiently waiting on the Lord, yet I wonder if sometimes the Lord is waiting on us. Not waiting on us in an impatient, annoyed way, but in a grace filled manner, as though the thing God wants to do in us and through us is so important and so unique that it can wait until we are ready. In O’Donohue’s vision, the words waited on Mary’s hunger to become silence.

Hunger is not an immoral thing. Hunger is in fact a sign that points us toward what we need. We can respond to hunger in endless destructive ways, but in and of itself, hunger simply acknowledges emptiness. Mary, young and unwed, had an empty womb. As we learn in her song later in Luke chapter two she seems also to have hungered for God to put things right in the world around her. Neither the emptiness of her womb nor the hunger for justice were immoral, instead they pointed to something Mary could never fill on her own. Sitting with our hunger, with our emptiness, is an uncomfortable business, and though hunger is rarely the clearest communicator, it certainly makes us aware of our need.

Mary’s hunger became silence and in the silence the emptiness within was transformed into space for the words, The Word, to form. We often think of the hunger of lent as a form of penance we must pay, but traditionally the hunger of lent is the invitation to let go of the temptation to fill our hunger on our own, a reminder of our need for Jesus to meet the emptiness at our core and transform it into his space. As we release the hunger within we find that what was once emptiness has now become space for God to do God’s work in our lives.

Meister Eckhardt is quoted as having said, “We all need to be Mother’s of God, for God is always needing to be born.” Eckhardt’s insight is that God wants to give birth to something in each of our lives that reveals God further to the world. During lent we seek to allow the hunger within to become space where God can work.

John Hunt is husband to Molly; dad to Miles, Lucy, and Sunny; Instructor of Ministry and Director of Ministry Services at Logsdon School of Theology and Seminary.

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