We can study each annunciation picture through the specific social, cultural, artistic and historical moment in which it was painted. For example, we might observe Mary elegantly dressed, sitting in a rich Renaissance architectural settings, looking up from her reading, with the patrons who commissioned the work kneeling before her.
I love to study these annunciations through such intellectual lenses, but I am also drawn to the spiritual interpretations that they offer. And it is then that I am attracted to a simple Mary. My absolute favorite is the fresco by Fra Angelico at the head of the stairs to the monks’ cells at the Convent of S. Marco in Florence. Mary is in simple, peasant garb and her hands folded in front of her as she stares, in what feels like a combination of disbelief and fear, at the Angel Gabriel announcing the news.
Isn’t that the way we feel at that moment of awareness that God’s calling to us?
Out of disbelief: “I can’t believe, God, that you’re calling me to pray for people.”
Out of fear: “I’m afraid I’ll let you, God, and all those people down.”
As far as I’m concerned, the annunciation is the most humbling of all the stories in the Bible.