Jesus imagery in the gospel this morning speaks to us of the rooted context of the maturing Christian life. We are called to abide in God, trusting that the Vine will supply the needs to the branches, that one comes from the other, that we are connected. It is only in abiding, the peaceful, calm acceptance of the direction the Vine will grow and the wisdom of the Vine dresser in discerning what is necessary in creating a beautiful, fruitful branch that we can plumb the depths of this Christians Way. It's just getting to the calm acceptance part that is a little difficult.
Abiding however is not a virtue or attitude we see practiced much or rewarded in an impatient, quick fix world. But in the practice of abiding in, trusting in, depending upon God, walking in the Resurrection power of Jesus, the Christian story and the Christian life becomes real and union with Christ possible. So, how do you get there from here?
There is one life experience however that one can't rush, that embodies abiding and once it is committed to has its own inexorable progression. Childbirth of course. Scripture mentions mothering, childbirth, mother's love and various aspects of the mother/child relationship quite often either, directly or indirectly through metaphor.
It was as with a sense of a dreamer awakening that I experienced a class in seminary where the Professor began to point out all the mother metaphors in scripture.
There is a whole strata of maternal images and metaphors held within the four thousand years story telling of human and Divine speech in the Hebrew scriptures. However, the distance and time and the transmutations that human culture undergoes have made many of them inaccessible to us. Until the day we re-look at what's there.
Ever asked yourself, why the number forty? Forty days and nights of rain for Noah and Crew, forty years in the desert (and such a little one at that!) for the Tribes of Israel, forty days and nights in the wilderness for Jesus. In our solar calendar culture the meaning of this number is opaque. But in a lunar culture forty is a number of completion and fulfillment. Completion of what? Ask any woman who sat as her midwife or doctor spun the lunar wheel calendar to compute the due date, and smilingly explains that it takes 40 lunar weeks to grow a baby to birth.
Forty days, nights, years with pain, confusion, grumbling astonish- ment, surrender and joy for God to bring something new to birth. A new world, a new people, a new understanding of what it is to be a Child of God. "Behold I make a new heaven and new earth. Do you not perceive it, do you not see it spring forth?" Catch the baby! God is bringing something. Someone new into the world.
Forgetting our dependance on God, for all that we are and have, is not a new phenomenon. In the book of Deuteronomy 32:18, Moses declares. "You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you, and you forgot the God Who gave you birth."
There are so many forgotten mother images, the Warrior Mother of Isaiah 42. The Mother as Steward of a Holy Life in Proverbs 31, Deborah the Wise Judge of Judges 5, the Liberating God as Mother Eagle in Exodus, Deuteronomy, Psalms and Isaiah.
In forgetting some of these stories we also lost some of the words God has for us on how to do this abiding stuff. God as our Father and God as our Mother helps us to come into being both as begetter and one who gives birth. Mother stories in scripture help us to join into the new birth we are called to.
Christianity is not a "talking heads" religion. Basic to the teaching of Incarnation is that we can know God in and through our embodied lives. It is not only through thought and word but in living and growing in our bodies and their processes that God's image is made know to us. Pregnancy and childbirth are primary experiences and metaphors for the God who is bringing new things forth.
In her book, The Way of the Mother , Carol Wallace LaChance speaks to the spiritual path of the mother. This path invites women and men to learn what wisdom can be gained when the birth process is fully embraced. "The dynamics of birth," she states "is the metaphor to embrace in every aspect of life and death." LaChance speaks of four major dynamics to assist the soul to birth through embracing the disciplines of pregnancy and birth. Trust, choice, emptying, and vulnerability.
Birth teaches women to trust and surrender to the process. Once a woman's body contracts for the first time a process has begun that will unfold until its completion. Once it is begun, it can't be stopped, either to death or to life. Within this dance upon the edge of death and life are moments of terror and despair. Trust in the body's ability to give birth is essential, surrounding oneself with others who have been there and can encourage us along the way is crucial.
Giving birth teaches women a willingness to suffer in order to make more life possible. Graceful suffering is nearly absent in our culture. We do all that we can to avoid physical, mental, emotional, social pain. Suffering is often equated with a failure: if everyone had done their job right no one would have suffered. But this in not true in any aspect of life, physical or spiritual. Suffering and learning how to "ride" pain is intrinsic to undergoing the suffering necessary to bring a child to birth or a soul to maturity. If a laboring woman fights the pain it becomes her focus and can overwhelm her, if she attempts to pretend to be "somewhere else," through her inattention to her body, again she will be overwhelmed. In choosing to know the pain and be conscious of its direction a woman is freed to lean into the pain, to assist her own body in its work, instead of running from and slowing down the task at hand. "Relaxing, choosing the pain, imaging the body as a flower opening with each contraction is gentler for both mother and baby. There is exstasy in choosing to feel pain." In choosing, the pain looses its ability to control and, instead of being the enemy, becomes a cherished ally in the task. When a woman attempts to flee the pain, believing it cruel or unnecessary, or meet it with self-pity or helplessness she passes by the gift of strength and self respect. Birth teaches the value of suffering, for only in painful opening will new life come forth.
Freud defined neurosis as choosing false suffering over true grief and pain. In other words one chooses to gain unhealthy amounts of weight or to mismanage their finances to experience a pain that keeps them distracted from the true pain. A laboring mother gives us an embodied way and metaphor for moving out of the false and into the true. "Jesus said, I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit."
Birthing is emptying. "This is true both physically and emotionally. In birth everything falls away except the process." Any ideas or false images about how "it is supposed to be" fall away, either by choice or the individual reality of each woman's birth process. The process cannot be controlled, it can only be allowed to happen. Emptying requires us to accept ourselves as we are, not as we wish to be. This emptiness, this letting go, puts us in the way of God and of God's process for bringing us into being. The individual woman, though still an individual, surrenders into the universal. In this experience values move into a larger context than the lone individual and come into new order based upon relationships. Emptying brings us into humility. "Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes to make it bear more fruit."
Birth's greatest wisdom is in teaching vulnerability. "Trusting, embracing the pain and emptying the self are all ways of becoming truly vulnerable." Allowing ourselves to be dependant upon those whom we have chosen to accompany us, to allow the unexpected, to be scared, frightened and in the presence of a process greater than ourselves and surrendering to it, creates trust, the womb of true vulnerability. "Abide in me as I abide in you."
Presence and choice are the fundamentals of birth. Choosing God's path, following its leading despite the pain which undeniably will be encountered, giving ourselves into the Presence brings us into the life that was written for us in the book of Life. Being born again into anew life of Christ is something only we ourselves, one by one can do. No one else can do it for us. When we choose to move into the process of being born into our new spiritual selves, all of heaven and earth will move with us in the contractions. The entire universe will conspire to see this process of being born anew brought to fruition. The time, the place, the support, the Presence will be abundant "If you abide in me, and my words in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you."
Experiencing life, in all its abundance is key to the maturing Christian life. We can't watch videos of someone else doing it, or read books about it or hire somebody else. We must engage the journey ourselves. In living the embodied Christian life in this part of the Reign of God is a needed witness to an harassed and worried world frightened of its own embodiment and mistakenly seeking escape. Boldly joining our lives with God's. Being born again as did Jesus, the new Way in the here and now, brings new hope to an abstracted world. Using the disciplines of our Mother as we join in the great work of blessing and birth we ourselves are born anew.
Mothering and giving birth is part of the great design of the universe, is here as a gift, to unite us to God. So on this day, celebrating mothers, let us rejoice with God for the gift of life, rejoice with our mother's who chose this way and rejoice with ourselves as we continue the blessings, "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.