What do you think of when you hear the words “birthing waters”? What images come to your mind or from your memory?
As a mother of four adult children, three of whom I birthed, the first image that pops up for me is a photo that was taken when my third child was born. After 30 hours of labor, of my letting go of the illusion of control, I finally felt the blessed release and relief as David (like his brother and sister before him) slithered out of his watery world, up into my awaiting arms and onto my belly. He was only nine seconds old when the shutter clicked and forever captured the moment, his face turned upward towards the light and his arms wide open to receive the love of welcoming hands. The photo sits framed on my desk in my study. I stare at it often and, with each passing year, the meaning it holds for me expands and unfolds.
As my children grew, I taught birthing classes in our home for a dozen years or so. It was my job to help women and their partners prepare for the experience; to guide them in the practical matters of options and alternatives, colic and car seats. But even more importantly, I helped them condition their bodies, minds, and spirits in the practice of letting go, the practice of surrendering to the power and presence of something larger than themselves as their babies made their way into the world. In the midst of feeling vulnerable, exhausted, and perhaps frightened, I encouraged them to trust the process, to work with their bodies instead of against them; to welcome the hard work of contractions as a gift instead of something to be resisted. I did not deny the presence of pain and the feeling of chaos and confusion that they might experience. Instead, we embraced the tension and learned to release it by breathing deeply through the pain of creation.
As I reflected on this month’s lesson, I recalled these years involved in childbirth and couldn’t help but smile over the common ground. Our author, Judy Fletcher, reminds us that “in the beginning there was love even in the presence of the chaotic waters. . . . that God gave birth to all creation out of chaotic waters.” (p.9) And that “these chaotic waters are brimful of possibilities and they are full of the presence of God.” (p.10) What brings the chaos to order is God’s breath or ruah hovering over the waters. God’s Spirit is present in all of creation. Judy’s reminder that, regardless of the circumstances of our birth, “it is in the goodness of God that we are born” (p.11) brought tears to my eyes, as my memory heard her voice uttering the familiar benediction.
Each person is created in the image of God. We say it and know it in our heads. When we look into the face of a child entrusted to our care through pregnancy, adoption, or community, we feel it in our hearts. It might be easy to see the image of God as we hold that tiny human being for whom we have waited for months or possibly even years. We fall in love and simply cannot believe that someone deems us worthy of taking this tiny creature home. Fast forward 13 years and it may be harder to imagine the “imago dei” hidden under an attitude and acne. In addition to sharing a home with someone who may be trying to push us away, we may use harsh words that we immediately regret. We feel embarrassed about the way we’ve responded to our young person who is struggling with the chaos of his or her own birthing waters of puberty. I remember losing sleep from guilt over words that came out of my mouth at times, when I knew in my heart that the best way to navigate the chaos of those choppy birthing seas was to look with love on my child. Our challenge and example from our creator is to search for and FIND the image of God that is promised in the creation story. Whether we are looking at another person or at ourselves, it is good to remember that when they/we feel the least lovable is precisely when they/we need to be loved and accepted the most.
I have a hard time with the final act of creation. While I may not admit that I see busy-ness as a virtue, my actions speak louder than my words. Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” (The Writing Life) These words hit me in the gut each time I read them, especially when I am worn out and weary, and unfulfilled deadlines loom. They call me to look at my calendar and see how I am spending my days. I confess that for the past six weeks, my life has been out of balance, spending more hours than is healthy closing one season here at the church and entering a new one. There are times when I think that I am indispensable, as if I am saying, Sure, God can take a break, but I’m the Director of Spiritual Formation and don’t you know that it’s Rally Day soon? I don’t have time to stop and simply be. Ouch. That is painful to type but I am willing to be vulnerable with you and take a risk by telling the truth.
My call in this season of birthing, as we continue to Come to the Waters, is to re-condition my spirit in the practice of letting go of the illusion of control. I yearn to surrender to the power and presence of something larger than myself. I pray that God will help me trust the rhythm of creation and begin my new day each evening, remembering that God is in charge and the world won’t fall apart if I don’t work until midnight. I hope to breathe deeply through the waters of chaos, remembering that it is God’s breath/ruah that brings the chaos to order. I wonder where YOUR birthing waters are in this season of your life.
I could go on with the metaphor, but I see that it is after 6 p.m. and I’m still at the church. I think I’ll shut down the computer, pack up my bags, and head home. I wonder what it would feel like to actually go to bed when I am sleepy? I’m going to find out tonight. But for now, a new day is about to begin. A sunset and a cool drink await me on our deck so I think I’ll go sit and enjoy the goodness of God’s creation. Care to join me?
With love and a grateful heart…
Jo Ann Caldwell Currie