Have you ever been affected by a work of art so profoundly that it stopped you in your tracks? Sometimes—maybe often—these moments are a call from our future even if in the moment we don't recognize them as such. I'd like to share with you one such moment in my life that, looking back, was a profound realization.
It was an ordinary weekend during my year abroad as a student at the University of Florence School of Architecture, when I visited the Convent of San Marco. I was mostly going to see the church architecture of Michelozzo di Bartolommeo. So it was with a kind of nonchalance that I climbed up the first flight of stairs of the convent and stepped onto the landing.
I can still remember with full body chills the moment when I turned the corner and there above me across the wall was the Annunciation fresco by the Dominican Friar Fra Angelico.
I was 25 years old and had no religious background, no familiarity with the story in the bible that this painting depicted, nor any idea of its artistic merit. All I knew was that the energy of it literally froze my body in place.
The portrayal of a sacred moment in time when a request was made and an honest answer given was just so exquisitely and subtly captured. The blueprint for a life of meaning was all there.
I went back many times to see this painting when I lived in Florence, and it always moved me as much as it did the first time. Over the years I have come to understand its power and have kept an image of it on my altar. A few days ago I returned to visit my old friend at the Convent of San Marco. I made a pilgrimage there from Rome where I was speaking about The Way of the Mysterial Woman at the WIN women’s leadership conference in Rome.
There have been many paintings by many different artists over the years of The Annunciation – this poignant moment in the story of Jesus Christ where the angel Gabriel comes to ask Mary if she will be willing to host the son of God in her womb, give birth to him and walk beside him in his life all the way to the bitter end. Some of them portray her face with shock, some with delight, some with fear, some with stoic dignity. But in my opinion none of them quite capture what 15th Century Fra Angelico was able to see and convey with his simple fresco techniques.
Even for someone like me, who is not practicing inside the Christian religion, I think that this timeless painting holds a profound key to what it means to be a woman on the edge of evolution today - as Mary was then - truly listening to the inner call that counts.
It all begins with our willingness to receive the important calls that come to invite us further into the world. I am talking about the Big Calls. Sometimes they come from an unexpected outer circumstance (wanted or unwanted) that shake up the status quo, sometimes from an inner longing or vision of a possible future that won't go away even when we try to ignore it, sometimes from a sense that a relationship or way of being in the world is actually complete and that it is time to move on but we don't know what is next.
Mary receives Gabriel’s invitation by gently folding her arms across her body and bowing her head slightly. There is no false bravado about her ability to do what is being asked of her –there is only humility. Mother Mary looks Gabriel in the eyes and she says yes I accept, even though I do not know why I was chosen or if I have it in me to do what you are asking. But YES. I will say YES because I know in my heart that it is my destiny. And maybe with grace and guidance I will be a worthy vessel for this great birth.
The first Gateway of The Mysterial Sequence – our developmental pathway for unlocking the next level of our potential as women - is The Mother. And it is all about coming back into our bodies so that we can be fully in the present to hear and receive the Big Calls that guide us onto our destiny lines.
I believe that women have an adaptive advantage right now to be agents of change in the world. Like Mary we are being asked to take the future right into our wombs. To say YES to letting the seeds of a new world be planted in our bodies and hearts even if we do not know how we will bring them to fruition.
What or who is the angel Gabriel in your life right now? What Big Call is kneeling before you?
The one that you feel inadequate to receive...the one that makes your knees wobble...the one you do not know if you can fulfill...the one that has been working its way toward you for a long time?
What would it mean to say the first YES - to simply receive the call? And what if the seed of your genius is the seed of LOVE – the very one that could heal the world?