My trip to the Holy Land, Article 3 of 4
October 10, 2017 / By Theresa Eggleston
Today I am writing about my visit to the Church of the Annunciation.
Growing up, I never thought much of Mary. She was the mother of Jesus and nothing more. I remember teachers saying things like, “Mary is not to be lifted higher than Jesus.” “Mary is just a character, Jesus is more important.” But nothing prepared me for what was revealed to me at the Church of the Annunciation.
It was early in the morning and the Church of the Annunciation was our first stop. The heat of the day had not yet made its highest point but our skin felt the stickiness begin to settle in. The jet lag was settling into my body. It was 8:00am in the Nazareth and I was already exhausted. We quietly made our way into the Church, where it is believed the angel Gabriel came to Mary and announced the coming of Jesus’ birth.
As we walked in to the chapel the ceiling stretched towards heaven. Prayers whispered in Spanish, by the group in front of us echoed with our footsteps. We took in the first floor of the chapel silently. We snapped photos and quietly made eye contact with one another. We then ascended to the second floor. As we climbed the spiral stairs, I paused and prayed a prayer I had never prayed before:
“Mary, if you have ever felt the physical weariness I feel now, please help me make it through today.” I surprised myself with this prayer because I had addressed Mary, not Jesus.
I continued to climb the spiral stone steps and found a pew to sit in. I sat and breathed deep. I bowed my head. I began to pray. Words came that were not mine, “Daughter, you are not alone. I have felt your weariness; I have been in your shoes. Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know what I did? Have you not heard of who my son is? ” I breathed deep, “Theresa, have you not met my mother?”
In the silence of the chapel I began to weep. Mary was real. She was a real person. She was more than just a vessel that carried the Savior but a saint who heard my prayer. Mary was a mother not just to Jesus, but to me. In that moment I suddenly knew why Gabriel called her, “most favored one.”
I opened my note book and began to write, “Jesus, you let your mother touch my heart and become my mother.”
As a woman in ministry I work against the assumption that my value is in my ability to produce children. But the funny thing is, I put that same assumption on Mary. Throughout my life I only saw Mary as a means to an end. I put her value in her ability to give birth to Jesus. However, Mary was called most favored one before she conceived Jesus. In the moments that I sat in the pew, Mary became a real person. Her trials, her weariness, her personality became real and relatable. I felt silly for never having recognized Mary as a woman.
I wanted to stay in the chapel longer but I knew we had a full day ahead of us. In my embarrassment of what I had just discovered I whispered, “Thank you, Mary.” I got up and left the church.
Upon my return from the Holy Land I attended the Festival of the Network of Biblical Story tellers. They told the Gospel of Luke. When the story of the annunciation began I started to cry.
I listened to Gabriel great Mary and I felt overwhelming joy and relief. When Mary’s asked Gabriel questions, I felt compassion and sisterhood. I sat in the auditorium listening and watching the Gospel of Luke unfold and I felt closer to Mary. From my experience in the Church of the Annunciation, I will never read Mary’s story the same again.