my Trade Tripper column in the recent weekend issue of BusinessWorld:
The morning air blazed insistently and the sun
seemed to have come out earlier than usual. The young girl stretched her
arms and let out a slight yawn. She could hear her mother in the
kitchen, her father packing his satchel to go to the temple. Mary sat on
the edge of the bed, gathering her thoughts, letting the sleep get out
of her head.
Anna, Mary’s mother, pokes her head into the bedroom. "Get up
Mary. What’s wrong with you?" Mary lets out an impish grin and lies back
again in bed. "Awww... I want to sleep more," she teases. Anna grabs
Mary’s arms and playfully pulls her. "No, get up," she says, "I have to
go to the market. I want you to fill the vats with water before I get
back." Mary follows her mother out of the room. A slice of bread was on
the table and she washes her face with water. "Mary, stop splashing
water all over the place!" her mother yells. "You clean that up, get
more water from the well, and don’t forget to feed the chickens!" Anna
continues, stepping out of the house, her words almost muffled by the
shawl she wrapped around her. "Buy me figs, Mama!" Mary called out.
"Yes," was Anna’s weary reply. Joachim, Mary’s father, rushes out of his
study. He kisses Mary on the forehead, gives her a hug, and runs after
Anna so they could walk together.
Alone, Mary shuffles around the quiet stone house, munching on her
bread, and played a little with her doll by annoying the family cat with
it. The cat runs away. Mary shrugs. Just over a year ago her life was
vastly different. She worked in the temple and her daily routine
alternated between service to the temple elders and study. But there was
also lots of playtime with girls her age. It was a good life and Mary
had no complaints. She even got to see her father at work every day. And
since Nazareth was near the trade routes, there was always interesting
news from Egyptian and Mesopotamian travellers who dropped by the
Then she turned 12 years old. "Look here, my favorite daughter," her
father teasingly said, as she happened to be Joachim and Anna’s only
child, "we’ll have to marry you off." Several suitors immediately turned
up. But it was the quiet Joseph, who dealt with good humor a pesky dove
who insisted on sitting on Joachim’s head that sealed the deal. Joseph,
however, had to go away on business for a year. In the meantime, Mary
waited at her parents’ house.
Water and chicken chores done, she decided to cool off a little bit in
her bedroom. It was while she was reminiscing over her favorite cousin
Elizabeth, elderly but always ready with the jokes and now amazingly
pregnant, that it happened.
There was a flash of white light and then there he suddenly was. He
looked young, thought Mary of the strange visitor. It took her a while
before she decided it was a boy she was talking to, well he seemed like a
boy -- very fine features and his hair a bouncy blond. He tightly held a
little trumpet. Even so, Mary had to admit feeling a little bit scared
of this somewhat adorable, albeit odd, intruder. It was when he spoke,
however, that utter shock hit her: Mary, you are to conceive by the Holy
Spirit, give birth to the son of God, you shall call him Jesus.
It took a while and a fair bit of frantic cajoling by the youngster, but
Mary eventually settled down. She began to think: is this kid for real?
He seemed quite detailed, even giving me the baby’s name. But if I get
pregnant as he described it my parents would be dishonored. Joseph too
and he’d leave me. Who’d take care of me? I’d be disgraced, an outcast;
assuming I don’t get stoned to death. And yet ...
Gabriel was, of course, loath to admit it but it was the most
nerve-wracking assignment he ever had. And he was used to big jobs:
engineering John the Baptist’s birth, supervising the seraphims and
cherubims, and he even has the task of declaring the start of the
apocalypse. But this, this waiting for the decision of a girl just
approaching her teens, was different.
He would later say to Michael and Raphael, "my heart stopped when she
was about to open her mouth." They laughed at this but they all knew
that the whole of creation also held its breath. And that’s why they
couldn’t help but be in awe of God’s cool steady nerves. Put simply, He
made the monumentally staggering bet of putting the fate of everything
He created upon a single answer of this simple unassuming girl.
Then it came: "I am the Lord’s servant. Be it done."
(With thanks to various sources for details, particularly to St. Luke
and the Blessed Catherine of Emmerich. Originally published BusinessWorld, December 2011)