Magnificat anima mea Dominum.
Et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo.
You’ve seen signs like the one I’m talking about. Hand-printed, fervent, a little threatening – probably intentionally so. You might expect to encounter one only on the winding back lanes a healthy stretch removed from “civilization,” but no, keep your eyes open. The one I’m thinking of is right on 21 between Roaring Gap and State Road, the heavily traveled route we all take to the Parkway. Black on white, just a little crude: “Prepare to Meet Thy God.”
Well, now that’s just silly. Meet God here? Not likely, unless He or She knows how to text. OK, that’s a pretty lame joke. If God shows up we won’t expect the great I AM to be wearing a robe and speaking Aramaic; if God wants to text me, God certainly will. No, it’s not technology that’s the barrier, it’s that I am just way too busy to greet God right now. Aren’t we all?
I guess I thought I was, until I read Rebecca Baggett’s chapbook, God Puts on the Body of a Deer. Many of the poems are contemplative: they invite me to retreat from the clamor and just ponder for a moment. But many more plunk me down right in the middle of the incessant mindstream and preoccupation we call “life” and smack me with a sign that seems to say, “Prepare to Meet.”
Not unlike Mary in Annunciation, kneading the dough, hair in her eyes, back aching when . . . suddenly the angel appears, / wingtips quivering, / shimmering like a dragonfly / in the light from one window. // The angel names her, / his voice tender, merciless. The paradox stops me in my tracks. Tender; merciless. My God is a being of infinite love and mercy, but wait. Maybe faith is not a get out of jail free card. Maybe there’s a reciprocal expectation. Should I be taking a little more time to listen? Should I be preparing?
Should I be reading Rebecca’s book more often?
My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
. . . . .
. . . . .
The girl’s sleeves are rolled
to her elbows, her hands sticky
with dough. She pushes wisps
of hair from her eyes
with her forearm, yawns,
eases her aching back,
and suddenly the angel appears,
shimmering like a dragonfly
in the light from the one window.
The angel names her,
his voice tender, merciless.
Mary gasps aloud, fingers brushing frantically
at constellations of flour
scattered across her skirt.
There must be some mistake,
she wants to protest, flinching
from the messenger’s luminous face,
his fervent, adoring eyes.
You want some other girl.
Finer. Kinder to her mother.
Someone stronger, strong enough
to bear . . .
But already she has consented, altered,
speared in a shaft of light,
her breath surging in her ears
while something unearthly
stirs inside her. Already
the swept dirt floor, the rough-
hewn table, the clay pitcher,
beaded with water-drops,
the new-shaped loaves, still bearing
her hand’s imprint,
distinct and distant
as if she had traveled as far
from home as Egypt. As far as that.
[from God Puts on the Body of a Deer, Rebecca Baggett, Winner of the 2010 Main Street Rag Chapbook Contest]
. . . . .