December 18, 2011
Scripture: Luke 1:26-38
How Can It Be?
Rev. Leanne S. Walt preaching
There were no questions asked. There was no decision to be made. There was no choice set before her. The announcement came to Aimee Mullins early in her life, when she was not more than one year old. The decree went out from her doctors that this baby girl would need to have both of her legs amputated below the knee. For, although God had formed all of the delicate, innermost parts of her body and God had knit this child together in her mother’s womb, as the Psalmist writes, God had left out her fibula bones. “How can this be?” her parents asked, if not out loud, then surely within the silence of their hearts. But there was no decision to be made. There was no choice set before this infant child.
Aimee spent her childhood trying to make her difference invisible, trying to fit into normal in an effort to ease others’ discomfort with her disability. She says it was on the Jersey Shore where she first learned to run really fast, sprinting from her towel into the water as quickly as possible so as to minimize the amount of time the other beachgoers could catch a glimpse of her glaringly white and fake-looking prosthetic legs.
Her transformation came on Easter Sunday when she was in high school. She was so excited to wear a sleeveless safari dress that she had bought to wear for this special occasion, the first thing she had ever bought that wasn’t on sale. She had saved her paper route money for months to invest in this beautiful safari print dress that was, in the early 90s the pinnacle of teenage style, I’m sure. She put on the dress that morning and feeling utterly glamorous and sophisticated, she walked downstairs where her father was waiting to take her and her brothers to church. Her father took one look at her and said, “You have to change.”
“Why? What do you mean? This is my fabulous new safari print dress.”
“You can see the knee joint in your leg when you walk,” he told her, “It’s not appropriate.”
But Aimee refused to change. For the first time in her life, she defied her father. She refused to hide something about herself that was true. She refused to be embarrassed about something so that other people could feel more comfortable. And, her refusal got her very, very grounded.
This was a turning point for Aimee and several years later when she was a student at Georgetown University, she started to realize how she had been limiting herself just as much as others had been, she started to realize that she did have a choice after all. She started reaching out to engineers, wax museum designers, prosthetic Hollywood makeup artists, and sculptors in order to design and form prosthetic legs that would allow her to run track and field. She made the decision that she wanted to be the fastest woman in the world on prosthetic legs.
Through her work with these engineers and artists, Aimee received woven carbon fiber prosthetic legs that gave her cheetah-like speed and with those legs she ran track and field at Georgetown against others who had sets of legs that naturally attached to their bodies and with those legs she set three world records in the 1996 Paralympics.
In most artistic representations of the famous and revered scene of the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel is kneeling at the feet of Mary, who is usually seated on some lavish throne and adorned in a spectacular blue cloak. In many of these images, Mary has a book in her hand or on her lap, as if when the angel came she was deeply engrossed in her studies. The angel is kneeling and extends an olive branch her way, awaiting Mary’s answer to his pronouncement that she is to become the mother of God. The time in between Gabriel’s appearance and Mary’s “yes” seems to stand still, as if the fate of the world hangs in the very space between this human and celestial creature.
Yet, these colorful, bold, and extravagant images make it easy to forget that the girl there in the picture is from a small village in Nazareth and has little experience of the world - with angels or men. And although historic memory and artistic rendering clothe her in blue, the most costly of all pigments in the ancient world, made from lapis lazuli, a semiprecious stone signifying wealth and royalty, Mary quite assuredly was not wearing blue when Gabriel arrived. A poor girl from Nazareth, Mary would have been wearing brown, white, or black linen cloth, the color of the dry Palestinian landscape.
These artists have taken the liberty of painting the illusion of privilege and choice into the Annunciation when in reality there was no question asked. There was no choice set before Mary. Gabriel never asked this sheltered peasant girl if she would like to become the mother of God. He announced to her that she will conceive in her womb and bear a son, and that she will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and he will be the King of Israel forever. 
“How can this be?” Mary asks the angel.
To some extent, perhaps, we too, live our lives with the illusion of privilege and choice that images of the Annunciation convey, setting goals and laying out plans for ourselves, imagining that we are in control of our own destiny. While in the process of planning for our destiny, both the horrible and wonderful transpire. Unexpected announcements break into our lives, angels unawares, bearing news of job loss, sudden illness, early retirement, unplanned pregnancy, and amputated limbs. “How could this be?” We cry out to God, angry that we have had no say these matters.
And, yet, if we look to Mary at such times, we realize that held within these holy and unforeseen annunciations of our lives is a choice. Although Gabriel does not pose an explicit question to her, Mary does have a say in the matter – whether to embrace this new life forming inside of her or to protect herself against it. When God reached out to her, she answered in the affirmative, with a sort of hopeful abandon; she said yes to the journey of bearing God in the world. She possessed a crazy willingness to follow when she didn’t at all know the way.
Despite how out of control we may feel at times, we, too, have a choice in the matters of our lives. We can decide to become angry and bitter with our situation or we can decide to be active and willing participants in a plan that we didn’t choose, giving ourselves up to God in hopeful abandon.
It is at these times we pray as my grandmother has taught me, for the serenity or sometimes even the sanity:
to accept the things we cannot change;
courage to change the things we can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Several years ago, Aimee Mullins was at a street fair in Times Square, NYC when she felt a tug on the back of her shirt. She turned around in the vast sea of people that only Times Square can accommodate and she recognized the 7 year old girl standing there, whom she had met at a speaking engagement a year prior. She remembered that this little girl had been born with a brittle bone disease that made her left leg 7 centimeters shorter than her right. She wore a brace and orthopedic shoes, which got her by but she wanted to be able to do more with her body.
After hearing Aimee share her story, she went home and googled “prosthetic legs” (as 6 year olds can now do) and she discovered hundreds of options for her new leg causing her to make the startling pronouncement to her parents and to her doctors that she wanted to get rid of her bad leg and wear a prosthetic.
Six months later, on this busy summer day in Times Square, time stood still as Aimee observed this little girl in all of her glory – glowing and unmistakably proud - adorned in red sequined Mary Jane shoes and showing off a bright pink left leg that she had hand picked.
As medieval theologian Meister Eckhart suggested, perhaps we are all meant to be mothers of God, allowing God to transform us from virgins who are unable to bear God in the world into creative agents for whom with God, “nothing is impossible.”
 Stories based on a segment of Moth Radio Hour 404 with Aimee Mullins: www.prx.org
 Dupre, Judith Full of Grace: Mary in art, faith, and life (82)
 Taylor, Barbara Brown, from The Minister’s Annual Manual For Preaching and Worship Planning 2011-2012 (St. Cloud, MN: Logos Productions Inc. 2011) 181
 Meditations with Meister Eckhart, Matthew Fox, ed. and trans. (Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Company, Inc. 1983) 74, 81