A Secular Annunciation: “Something’s Comin” from West Side Story

West Side StoryWhile I was gazing at a reproduction of the gorgeous fresco The Annunciation by Fra Angelico, I started to sing a song from my favorite musical West Side Story.  The unconscious has a wonderful way of making associations.  The more I have reflected upon this association, the more I find the song Something’s Comin’ by Stephen Sondheim echoes the Biblical story of the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel to Mary about her pregnancy (Luke 1:26-38).

Could be! Who knows?
There’s something due any day;
I will know right away, soon as it shows.
It may come cannon-balling down through the sky,
Gleam in its eye, bright as a rose!
Who knows? It’s only just out of reach,
Down the block, on a beach,
Under a tree. I got a feeling there’s a miracle due,
Gonna come true, coming to me!
Could it be? Yes, it could.
Something’s coming, something good,
If I can wait!
Something’s coming, I don’t know what it is,
But it is gonna be great!
Around the corner, or whistling down the river,
Come on, deliver to me!
Will it be? Yes, it will.
Maybe just by holding still,
It’ll be there!

These words might easily come from a 21st century Mary.  But interestingly they are voiced by the hero of the story, Tony.  For him the coming (advent) of this “something” is like a “cannonball down from the sky”.  This “something” has “a gleam in its eye, bright as a rose.”  In the movie we know this something will be Maria.  Surely it is no accident that she is named Maria.  In medieval Christianity the premier symbol for Mary mother of Jesus was the rose.   Why is this song not voiced by Maria?  My guess is that Sondheim understands that Mary does not just represent women but also men.  Mary represents the human response of waiting, accepting, receiving (traditionally seen as feminine qualities) to the birth of God among us and within us, and desperately men need to discover this more feminine side of themselves.  The tragedy of modern manhood is the failure to discover our full humanness.

Sondheim knowingly or unknowingly echoes other mystical themes in addition to waiting, accepting, and receiving.  “Something’s due any day … come on deliver to me” is the vocabulary of pregnancy, and the birth of God in the human soul is another major mystical theme.  Meister Eckhart at the beginning of his famous Sermon 101 quotes Origen: “What does it avail me that this birth is always happening, if it does not happen in me?  That it should happen in me is what matters.”   Eckhart tells us that stillness and silence are vital inner conditions of this birth.   Tony ends his song on the note of stillness.  And Eckhart tells us that unknowing is the path to the birth of Christ in the soul.  Tony sings: “Who knows?  Could it be?  Will it be?  Who knows?”

Perhaps I am reading too much into the lyrics of a love song or perhaps not?  Who knows?  A blessed Advent and Christmas to you all.

Annunciation by Fra Angelico

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico

About John Fisk

I am a retired pastor, who served churches in New England for 33 years. I emigrated to the USA from England in 1974 and completed two graduate degrees in theology and pastoral practice at Andover-NewtonTheological School. In retirement I am focused on the teaching of Christian meditation, providing spiritual guidance, leading retreats and occasional preaching. I am particularly interested in contemplation, the mystical path and social justice.
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2 Responses to A Secular Annunciation: “Something’s Comin” from West Side Story

  1. Wendy Oliver says:

    “Maybe just by holding still…” Yes, that’s how we meditate, waiting, attending. I have always loved the line about Mary pondering these things in her heart, so young and so faithful. I have always loved Mary and felt that we protestants don’t revere her enough. To me she is the ultimate mother, the one who has seen her child experience the highest achievements of any life, and suffer the cruelest treatment. She gives me the courage to be a mother, no matter what might happen to us and our sons.

    John, I don’t think that you are reading into the lyrics at all, and I love to think that one of my favorite songs will have a new and wonderful meaning for me. Wendy Oliver

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