|Heartline Maternity Center, Port-au-Prince, Haiti|
If more women were pastors or preachers, we’d have a lot more sermons and books about the metaphors of birth and pregnancy connecting us to the story of God. (I am rather tired of sports and war metaphors.)
The divinity of God is on display at Christmas in beautiful creche scenes. We sing songs of babies who don’t cry. We mistake quiet for peace. A properly antiseptic and church-y view of birth, arranged as high art to convey the seriousness and sacredness of the incarnation. It is as though the truth of birth is too secular for Emmanuel, it doesn’t look too holy in its real state. So the first days of the God-with-us requires the dignity afforded by our editing.
But this? This creating out of passion and love, the carrying, the seemingly-never-ending-waiting, the knitting-together-of-wonder-in-secret-places, the pain, the labour, the blurred line between joy and “someone please make it stop,” the “I can’t do it” even while you’re in the doing of it, the delivery of new life in blood and hope and humanity?
This is the stuff of God.
There is something Godly in the waiting, in the mystery, in the fact that we are a part of it, a partner with it but we are not the author of it. How you know that there is life coming and the anticipation is sometimes exciting and other times exhausting, never-ending. How there is a price that you pay for the love love love.
I was fortunate to give birth to three of my tinies without complications. I find myself thinking of those experiences often during Advent; they are still very fresh for me. My eldest daughter was born in the hospital in a fairly usual way. My littlest girl was born at home, in water, with midwives, a beautiful and redemptive experience for me. But it’s the birth of my son, my Joe, that stays with me in these winter months. His was an unintended free birth in our building’s parking garage while we were on our way to the hospital. We were alone – no midwife, no doctor, not even in our own home with a clean floor but instead a garage filled with gasoline and tire smells. My husband was scared; a lot of things could go wrong in this scenario (he had the good sense to act like he was in control though). And we were surrounded by strangers – helpful, concerned strangers but strangers nonetheless – and they were witnessing me give birth.
And yet my body had taken over and all we could do, all I could do, was surrender to that moment fully. Every muscle in my body was focused, my entire world had narrowed to that very moment. And then there he was, born while I was leaning against our old truck, standing up, into my own hands, nearly 9 pounds of shrieking boy-child humanity, welcomed by my uncontrollable laughter and his father’s uncontrollable relief-tears. A few people applauded.
There wasn’t anything very dignified about giving birth.
And yet it was the moment when I felt the line between the sacred and the secular of my life shatter once and for all. The sacred and holy moments of life are somehow the most raw, the most human moments, aren’t they?
But we keep it quiet, the mess of the Incarnation, because it’s just not church-y enough and men don’t quite understand and it’s personal, private, there aren’t words for this and it’s a bit too much. It’s too much pain, too much waiting, too much humanity, too much God, too much work, too much joy, too much love and far too messy. With far too little control. And sometimes it does not go the way we thought it was supposed to go and then we are also left with questions, with deep sadness, with longing.
My entire concept of God shifted in that moment, leaving my brain and my life and my theology to catch up with what my soul now knew deep. I could never see God as anything other than through the lens of the Incarnation, of his Father-Mother heart and his birth now. No theologian or counter-circumstance-experience can take away from what I know, what many mothers the world over know in their heart of hearts about loss and birth and raising babies and real transformation: it’s Love and it is sacred and it is human and it all redeems. The very truth that God put on flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood through birth, even – especially – that experience of birth, now showing us what it means to be truly human.
Women can tell this part of the story this Christmas, the glimpse behind the veil, the life lived in the in-between of the stuff of God. There is a story on your lips, isn’t there, mama? of how you saw the face of God in the midst of fear or pain or joy and understood, really understood, Mary, not kneeling chastely beside a clean manger refraining from touching her babe, just moments after birth but instead, sore and exhilarated, weary and pressing a sleepy, wrinkled newborn to her breasts, treasuring every moment in her heart, marvelling not only at his very presence but at her own strength, how surrender and letting go is true work, tucking every sight and smell and smack of his lips into her own marrow.
God, Incarnate, Word made flesh, born of a woman. We can tell the true, messy stories of the Incarnation. Emmanuel, God with us. May we recognise the miracle of the Incarnation, not in spite of the mess, but because of the very humanness of it.