When I first read this a few months ago, my old religious context had me shaking my head. I didn't like the idea that Mary was merely a reed for God to play as God chose. Mary is always merely this or that--merely a woman, merely a vessel, merely an obedient human--and it touched a little too close to my own experience as a woman in the Roman Catholic Church, which was an experience of being lesser, lower, and either diminutive or diminished.
Today, however, is the Matronal Feastday of my community, the Community of St. Mary of the Annunciation, and I find myself regarding Houselander's metaphor with new appreciation. In my present context, where to be a woman is not "merely" anything, but rather a strength and a tremendous gift, I can see the reed metaphor with awe and wonder. If Mary was not merely obedient, but radically and willfully obedient, I can get on board. If she allowed God transform her into the most beautiful instrument of music the world has ever known, rather than simply accepting God was going to do what God wanted, then Mary may be the greatest heroine I've ever encountered. I behold myself in her, a woman lifted up and honored fully for who she is and what she brings to the table, and I, like Mary, am choosing to let go of less important schemes so God can act through me. I see myself becoming a reed of God because I trust the music God can breathe into and through me is awesome beyond what I might produce alone.
I see in this book, and in today's feast, a celebration of a strong woman who allowed herself to be made even stronger, a capable woman who allowed herself to become even more capable, a powerful woman who allowed the greatest power in all the universe to take root in her, to become her very flesh.
She could have said no. Her yes wasn't the obvious choice. Her yes, as I understand it, was a considered choice. She perceived that God was inviting her to allow God to be born into the world through her. What an invitation.
Mary is often seen to be extraordinary because she's a nothing who's turned into a something when God deigns to dwell in her. I don't buy this. Mary is no mere Sleeping Beauty, waiting for something to be done to her to give her life meaning. Mary is Merida, brave and bold and primed for adventure--and she is called to this adventure because she cultivated an adventurous life long ago. God rarely calls people out of the blue. God calls people to do in extraordinary ways what they already do well. Mary was already making her own beautiful music for those around her when she was asked if she would be the instrument for God's music. She was no arbitrary choice. She, a Jewish woman who would never have been chosen for anything important in her patriarchal world, was the best possible choice to bring forth God's Word in a world filled with lesser words. God was calling her to subvert the status quo, and she was ready. All she had to do was say "Yes" for the fate of the whole world to change.
May I give a well-considered, powerful yes when God invites me to allow divinity to make a dwelling-place deep within me, and may I bear God's marvelous, life-giving, death-destroying fruit wherever I go. For I am no mere woman. I am a woman: brave and strong and fit to do God's most important work.
When God asks me to be the key player in God's next adventure, I'll have my Benedictine running shoes laced up and ready to go.