That which is other and beyond

For those outside the mystery of a particular religion, it may be easy to dismiss such stories as the Annunciation and Moroni’s revelation of the golden tablets as myth. However we have all had experiences of something that is other and beyond our daily routine, if only the eureka moment universally pictured as the semi-divine lightbulb.

And it is not just founders of religions that receive ‘angelic’ visitations. Several years ago, when I was working at a London University, a work colleague arrived one morning in a state of agitation. This woman had ‘woken’ in the night to find a strange man standing at her bedside; she was absolutely terrified, but all he had done was eagerly offer her one-half of a golden notebook.

This woman had not had the opportunity to go to University, and had recently started an extramural course. The way she described her visitor indicated that he might represent her capacity to learn. That it was a partial notebook suggested that he was attempting to meet her half-way—that is, he was now coming forth from her own unconscious to join the unlived intellectual potential he represented with her current desire to study. Not only that, the notebook was gold, suggesting perhaps a golden opportunity; the fact is that if she applied to the university and got accepted she would—as a member of staff—be exempted from paying the fees.

When she had first described this apparition, the dread surrounding the man’s appearance had been palpable. But by the time we had talked it through this had gone. It was not long after this that she was accepted for the degree course; in this case my friend was apparently ready to heed the call.

Returning to the book of Luke, although initially afraid, by the time Mary has come to recount her experience to her cousin Elizabeth she is ecstatic: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices...” she tells her, in a song now known as the Magnificat (after the first word in the Latin translation).

“I will always be with you”

In the movie E.T., Elliot (pictured left) is also traumatised by his first encounter with that which is ‘alien’, but he goes on to befriend the visitor, and mourns him when he leaves. The experience leaves him undeniably enriched, the boundaries of his life expanded. The festival of the Annunciation can remind us of all those moments when the awe-ful can erupt into the mundane and familiar, when otherworldly experiences can be a herald of change. And when the experience itself can leave us with the courage to take the new future forward—when any one of us might say: “do with me what you will.”

© Nora Leonard, March 2004