To birth God anew
Iona Reid-Dalglish, part of our Spirituality Wider Mission team, reflects on what the gospel for the 4th Sunday of Advent might teach us about a different way of living.
This Sunday we hear how Mary, pregnant, headed off for the hill country of Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth. She stayed there for about three months – quite a long time really. For me, there’s something about Advent that’s got to do with natural cycles and rhythms, of life and death, rest and action. In this season, we are invited to spend time lingering with Mary in her pregnancy, in the growing of the foetus in her womb, the God-life within her. She can’t rush this growth. She can’t decide when the baby will be born, nor know what the child will be like when born, or what sort of life will be lead. She can only be present to the unfolding within her very body.
I have not been pregnant, but as a woman I also find rhythms in my body each month, in my menstrual cycle. For a long while having a period has felt like an imposition, getting in the way of my plans, something to be resented or ignored. More recently, I have been learning to honour and respond to this aspect of womanhood. Bleeding each month reminds me that I am not a machine, that there are times when all I need is to curl up and honour the needs of my body to rest, to stop, and other times where I’m energised and ready for action. It reminds me that my body is made for the creation of life, whether or not I choose to have children. For me there’s something important about this image which connects to the seasonal shift we’ve been in, moving from the death of autumn into the gestation of winter. Winter is a time when to the external observer nothing is happening. Everything has gone into shutdown mode, few green leaves, no buds or blossoms, the sculptural form of trees unveiled by their canopies can seem somewhat stark, dead even. Yet, this time of shutting down is crucial to the new life that will emerge again in the spring. Seeds are incubating in the ground, in the dark soil, waiting, pregnant with potential, to shoot up next year.
We too are bodies
I am discovering a wisdom in these cycles, both of the land and of the body, a wisdom which gets buried under the need to achieve, work, tick things off the to do list, be productive, not waste time. It often feels, for me at least, as if life is lived at a frantic pace, bulldozing straight through these gentler rhythms which are calling out to be listened to, to be reconnected to, to be re-membered. Eugene Peterson’s translation of Matthew 11 describes Christ calling us to ‘learn the unforced rhythms of grace’. We too are bodies within this body of the Earth, and we too have seasons and cycles, as Ecclesiastes reminds us, times for death and times for life, for forging ahead and for lingering, for conception, pregnancy, and birth of new life, as well as for letting go of those lives which need to die. We force and rush these at our own peril. For me Advent is a reminder instead to collaborate with them, pay attention to them, learn from them. Indeed, we believe in a God who chooses to work through and within these same cycles, a God who is born into them. A god who had to grow in Mary’s womb; who had to learn to walk, to talk, to figure out relating to others, to self and to God; who had to discover who he was and his own sense of what it meant to be a beloved Son of God.
To birth God anew…
I think we are seeing the impact of forgetting and disconnecting from these rhythms, at all levels: individually, societally, ecologically. It is destructive treating what is alive, what is wild, whether ourselves or other parts of the natural world, as if it were a machine which can simply be driven onwards relentlessly, used and used without any need to pause for breath, to lie fallow, to truly Sabbath. Terry Tempest Williams writes, “To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wildness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace.” I find this wonderfully surprising, to associate wildness with gentleness, and yet the notion that we fear this pause which reminds us ‘we live only by grace’ makes a lot of sense. For me, the pregnant waiting of Mary embodies this truth, as does the pregnant waiting of any mother-to-be. There are some things in life where we are not in control, which have a life of their own, and to which we can only be present; the miraculous workings of grace. As we draw towards the end of this season of Advent, let us linger a little longer, not rushing into Christmas just yet, but waiting with Mary, pregnant with whatever new Life is needing time and space within us to gestate, to emerge, to birth God anew into the world.
Some things to muse on...
- What are the seeds of life beginning to grow in you that still need time to form?
- In what ways do you experience these ‘unforced rhythms of grace’ in your life? How might you collaborate with them? What buries them?
- Who are the people who support and care for you, who nourish and nurture the life growing within you, the Elizabeth’s to your Mary?
- How might you be more attentive to the rhythms of the natural world so as to collaborate with them rather than dominate them?