Following Our Headlights
To be transparent, I can easily take for granted what is happening in Luke’s telling of the Annunciation today. It’s a story I’ve heard innumerable times: an angel shows up in a young woman’s bedroom, casually lets her know that she is going to carry the Son of God, and that young woman says, “ok! yes!” When I hear the story, I think, of course Mary was open to this – she’s literally THE Mary.
Yet Mary, we hear, was “greatly troubled.” She doesn’t respond by saying, “I totally understand all of what you’re telling me, Gabriel. I can see the path ahead, and I’m in!” She was willing to lean into her role in the unraveling of hope and love into the world. She had uncanny faith and willingness – all without a full understanding of what her willingness would lead to and include.
In Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, she quotes E.L. Doctorow who said “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Lamott goes on to say “You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination…You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.”
I’m reminded of Mary. Sure, she was not writing. She was living her life. In her living, she gives this big, momentous yes to God. Did she know how Joseph was going to react to her pregnancy? Did she know she was going to give birth in a stable? Did she know her son, the Son, would be executed by the state? (We can add these to all the questions included in the beloved song, ‘Mary, Did You Know?’). In short, though, I don’t think she knew – not in terms of facts or understanding.
Mary saw two to three feet in front of her, and she believed – with her heart. She leaned in. She did not need to know the destination.
I strive to be more like Mary. Currently, I’m completing a dissertation and will graduate in May. After eight years of school, I’m navigating what’s next. While I feel peace and centeredness in my path most of the time, I also sometimes panic. What if I wasn’t supposed to get this degree – I was supposed to be somewhere else this whole time? What if I’m walking a path not meant for me and missing where I’m truly needed? After all, no angel showed up in my room letting me know how my life would further the unraveling of beautiful, transformative change in our world. I’m relying on my heart, on the people in my life, on my headlights.
Like Mary, I hope for us all to have an abiding faith and felt sense that we’re traversing the path we’re meant to. Even as we only see only a few feet ahead. Even as it takes uncertain turns. Even as we’re unsure where it’s going to lead next.