THE BELOW REFLECTION RAN LAST YEAR, ACCOMPANYING LAST WEEK’S REFLECTION. WE INVITE YOU TO LOOK FOR “NORMAL MIRACLES” AND WHERE YOU CAN GET OUT OF THE WAY OF GOD’S HOLY WORK.
Invariably, I am deeply moved by sermons and mediations during the Advent and Christmas seasons that explore the miracle of the incarnation through the lens of women writers and their experiences of childbirth.
Of course, I do not actually understand the thoughts of these authors or the experiences they reflect. I can’t understand them. I will never comprehend the pain, joy, fear, and holiness of physically birthing new life and the unique perspective this act must bring to one’s knowledge of God and of God’s love for us.
Yet, I find profound beauty in that incomprehension. It is actually the point for me.
You see, the birth of our first daughter almost nine years ago was, without a doubt, the most holy and life-altering event of all my days (save for the birth of her sisters), precisely because the events of the day were so far above my pay-grade and beyond my solipsistic tendencies.
During her pregnancy, my wife greatly desired to give birth naturally, and so she and I spent weeks during her pregnancy taking “husband/partner-coached childbirth” classes. Far from supposing I would be in a leadership capacity during the anticipated occasion, the course curriculum set a fairly low bar for partners: get out of the way and provide emotional and physical support for her as her body did what it was designed to do. Last, it taught the husband/partner to trust the doctor, but always ask “why” before any medical intervention. “Is mom okay? Is the baby okay? Is mom asking for intervention? Then why do we need to intervene?”
I don’t know what I expected. Maybe it’s because our media present new fathers as blubbering idiots in the hospital, but I don’t think I entered the hospital room that morning with any ideas or expectations of how I would feel or what that day would be like.
Thanks be to God (and to my wife, the superhero), our daughter was born without any medication or medical intervention. The hours of labor and delivery were terrifying, transformative, exhilarating, and even redemptive. I fell in love with my daughter the very instant I laid my eyes upon her, but in that journey toward her birth, I fell deeper in love with my wife and with God.
Yet, the most profound aspect of the experience was that it was altogether not about me at all: it was about God’s miraculous, infinitely incomprehensible work of love through my partner’s physical being before me. I was not in charge, and I was not in control of any of it. I could not fix it nor could I understand it. I was a partner to it but not a participant. And, it was utterly terrifying. The only benevolent action I could take was to be supportive and to get out of the way of God’s astonishing work, brokered through my wife’s beautiful, vulnerable body, in a very scary, painful, and yet breathtaking process.
I remember far more of the messy and miraculous details of our daughter’s birth (as well as that of her sisters). When we talk to other couples about childbirth, I find myself eagerly narrating the course of events: who said what, and how long it took. I was not the primary, secondary, or tertiary player in any of the events that day, but my role in that birth was and is very real, holy, and special to me. In fact, arguably the most important action I took was asking others if any intervention was even necessary.
I love Advent and Christmas, and all that those seasons entail. I love images of Mary, particularly when she is pregnant and authentically human. But my experience of childbirth as a father gave me profound respect for Joseph, who all along managed to get out of the way, and to be perhaps the most supportive witness ever to God’s holy, scary, exhilarating, and universe-altering act of love for the world. I am quite sure Joseph did not understand it all. But then again, he did not need to.
Part of the deep beauty of the incarnation is that it’s really not about us at all, and we will never be able to comprehend it. Much of our role in that mystery is to continually get out of the way of God’s unexpected and life-altering work in our lives, and be supportive (or at least benign) witnesses.
Where in your life is God doing a “new thing?” Where might you need to step back, not try to understand it all, and get out of the way of God’s holy, life-changing work? Where is God doing a new thing at COS? Where might we need to step out of the way?