On March 30, Dr. Amy Richards, a professor in Eastern’s philosophy department, gave a lecture on “The Annunciation of Mary and Second Person Ethics.” In this lecture, Richards explained how Mary’s response to the Annunciation of Christ serves as an example to humanity of how to respond to the other and defines what it means to be a person. Specifically, Richards highlighted three elements of Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel: her desire to understand, her receptiveness to the other and her acknowledgement of and docility to the truth.
Through her analysis of Mary’s response to Gabriel, Richards concluded that humans are ultimately recipients of grace standing in relation to one another: recipients of grace, because it is by others’ grace toward us that we are even alive, and standing in relation to one another because it is unnatural for man to separate himself from community. Reacting to common modern philosophy, she argued that instead of being autonomous and “free” individuals, we are actually defined in relation to one another, even without realizing it. Everything that a person has, he or she receives because of grace–God’s or another person’s.
Mary demonstrates this sensitivity to things outside herself in her pondering of the angel’s greeting; she questions herself based on something outside of her. Instead of first asserting her will onto the situation and refusing to be changed by another, she instead seeks understanding and then submits to the truth.
I agree wholeheartedly with Richard’s argument, though some elements of her lecture were new to me. As a Protestant, I had never considered the example of Mary to be especially important. When thinking of whom to look to as an example in the Bible, I always automatically went to Christ. This is most definitely not a bad thing, but other biblical figures, especially Mary, are also valuable examples and are sometimes more appropriate to use when discussing what it means to be human because, though Christ was fully human, He was also fully God, which is something the rest of humanity is lacking. Mary’s reaction when confronted with the divine will is relatable in a way that Christ, while still the ideal, sometimes is not. Her desire to understand God’s will is quintessential to the human experience, and this desire is found everywhere: theology, philosophy, science, math; nearly all of human civilization is built on the human desire to understand the Divine. Mary is (in this way) no different from us; however, Mary does differ from the rest of humanity in other parts of her response to the Annunciation, and in this way she serves as an example to strive toward.
I also agree with Richard’s analysis of modern philosophy and how the example of Mary stands in opposition to the current isolationist view of man. It seems everywhere we look current culture is glorifying the “ideal” of bearing our burdens all by ourselves, unconnected to any significant community. Modern literature is a prime example of this. However, I have found this idea of humans being dependent on others to be surprisingly freeing. Though this paradigm shift doesn’t happen all at once, learning to see yourself not as an isolated unit but instead deeply connected with others changes the way you see yourself and your friends. I have learned so much about what it means to cherish and love your friends and also the importance and impact my own actions have on others.
Mary’s submission to God’s will instead of imposing her own will on the situation is a beautiful example of how to react to the other. Though of course we shouldn’t submit to everything everyone tells us, we should submit to the truth, as Mary does, which includes serving our friends. Mary’s example tells us much about what it means to be human and how we can best serve God and love others.