When I was 27 years old in Chicago, I had a mystical experience. I discovered I had been cast in a unique role into the story of the Incarnation. One morning I was praying in the chapel at the Catholic high school where I taught, and as I read a scriptural passage, I found myself pulled into the presence of the Holy Spirit.
I was reading the line in Psalm 131, “I am not concerned with great affairs or marvels beyond my scope.” I was contemplating the humility of the line because I had always felt the opposite. From the time I was a very young boy, I had the conviction that I would be called into the center of great affairs and marvels. I often imagined what that calling would be, and I had tried to follow the direction that would bring me to be cast in a major role. I knew my gift of imagination had prepared me and got me to this moment. On that morning the Holy Spirit notified me the time had come to play the part I had been born to play.
The Holy Spirit lifted me out of that November day in 1976 and, with an ironic chuckle, put me in the presence of the Trinity. Although I had several mystical experiences before this, I was excited by the clarity of this moment. It had finally happened. My unique role was about to be revealed. This was the moment of every actor’s dreams.
The 1st Person of the Trinity laid out the plan. I was about to be cast into the moment of the Annunciation. The Holy Spirit was like a dancer warming up waiting for the cue to place me into the historic time of Mary’s life and of the Annunciation. How this was happening was unclear to me. If Mary agreed to the plan, the Holy Spirit was going to pour a mixture of human and divine DNA into Mary’s womb and I would be part of the mix. I would be part of this human and divine person, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, through the 2nd Person’s life as a human from the moment of conception until death.
As I heard this, I stood face to face with Word that was about to made flesh and saw the absolute love and commitment that God had in making this story happen. The 2nd Person of the Trinity held me in a deep and loving gaze, loving me for being there, loving me for the part I was about to play.
I started to worry about whether I could do this. Was this just a delusion that I had prepared for myself to convince myself I was important? The Holy Spirit punched me in the shoulder to get me back to paying attention. “Humility lies in accepting the part you play. Listen to the story we are telling you.”
I was to be a witness to the life of Jesus. I was to make sure that human free will was always operating. Human beings had to be free to make their own choices and live their own lives. God’s Love demanded freedom. Love asserted the need to allow human beings the right to chose the shape of their story. I had intellectually known this, but now I saw with certainty how this truth was the essential promise of God’s love. God’s nature demanded that love must freely choose love.
Quickly the details of my role followed. I would bear witness that the human nature of 2nd Person was allowed the ability to choose to be the God made human. I would assert myself in the story to make sure that the human child would grow into the awareness and acceptance of being divine.
To affirm that I chose this task, the 1st Person of the Trinity proclaimed across time and eternity the question, “Whom shall I send to witness freedom of love become flesh.” In one voice and many voices, I heard my name called, “Noonan, send Noonan.”
Having been raised in the theater and knowing scripture, I recognized my cue and said, “Send me.”
The Holy Spirit laughed as if to say, “I guess I will make do with you,” and the power of the Holy Spirit wrapped around me and united me with the Word about to be made flesh. The Spirit took us back into time into the presence of a young woman. She was about to be given the choice to allow the story of the Incarnation to happen to her.
From the moment I saw her, I knew her. She had always been with me. I recognized her as being much like my mother, but more like my sisters. She had a confidence upon her that was unshaken as the 1st scene of this drama was performed. I had seen many pictures painted across time of this moment but I was unprepared for seeing the intense beauty. All the world around this moment throbbed with an intense awareness of being part of the setting of the essential story.
An angel, who from Scripture I knew was named Gabriel, asked the question if she would become the mother of a human child, who was also God. As the angel calmed her confusion and questions with the words “Nothing is impossible with God.” She said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to God’s will.” At that statement, the Holy Spirit looked at me.
In spite of my wonder and awe at what was happening, I felt my part coming into the play. I was on this stage and I could, I should speak. I chose this moment to formulate a personal question. “Why couldn’t the child be female rather than male.” As I thought this, the Holy Spirit turned an intense light on me and said, “You are not a bystander observing the action, a teacher to grade my work. Teacher take your chalk and etch upon this moment. You are a teach, so teach yourself.”
I had a shocking realization that my part was going to be an active partner in how all of this happened. I froze with realization that the depth of my role was more demanding that I had imagined. As an actor, I ached to play this well, the role of a lifetime. This was the first of many creative choices. I could make the call. Which gender would the child be?
The Spirit asked, “Male or female?”
I tried to turn away and flee from the question and the choice. Iwanted to pull away from the waiting miracle. I had never before fully understood the power of what free choice meant. I had to agree to participate or not. I took one glance at the woman, beautiful in the moment of her choice. She was calmly waiting to see how it would happen. Looking at her, I realized it was a human woman who allowed this crucial act of love to happen. She was confident in her freedom. Her example prompted me to accept my responsibility in the marvelous story. I said, “Yes, of course, he is a boy. The story already has great woman as an essential character.” The 2nd person of the Trinity at that moment became a human male.
The Spirit placed the fertilized egg in the Fallopian tube of the woman and the divine became incarnate. What a quiet gentle slip of the divine in a new way into the human.
In the increasing activity of cells doubling from one to two to four into hundreds of cells, the 2nd Person of the Trinity became one with the biological fertilized egg as it slipped into the uterus.
I was along for the ride.