As you know, the season Advent is in full swing, especially here on A Sacred Journey (read last week’s post for a primer), and when I found out this past year that my friend Meghan Cappon was pregnant and would give birth this fall, I knew I wanted her voice to join us during this season about waiting, mystery, and birthing the holy.
Meghan is a doula (among many other things), which means she works alongside mothers through the childbirth process as an educator and advocate–from pregnancy through childbirth and the early season once the baby has arrived. With her experience as a doula and new mother (as well as simply being a wise and thoughtful woman), I knew that this Advent Meghan would have a lot to share about her personal journey as well as further insight into Mary’s experience as the bearer of Christ in this season where we await his birth. And so, I asked her to join us during the season of Advent as our next Pilgrim in Residence. She’ll be with us again next Sunday, December 15th, and the following Sunday, December 22nd. -Lacy
It is Advent. We are anticipating the incarnation of Christ here in skin and blood and bone in the world. We anticipate the Word become flesh. We anticipate God’s embodiment as a human.
It is a great work and labor and journey to embody one’s self. To be fully present in our flesh and blood. To realize one’s self and how that self is manifested in this world. I wonder if that’s part of why God did it.
“It is a great work and labor and journey to embody one’s self.”
Often, I hear people say that they are not in the right place in their lives or they don’t have the energy to get into the right frame of mind to be present with themselves. But I think that is precisely the point. If we all wait for the perfect time to journey into ourselves, we’ll never get there. Because our embodiment is not just in those places where we are in control, but much more–our embodiment can be experienced in the places where we feel the most chaos.
And Advent is often a time of much chaos for many of us.
During Advent when we hear about Jesus’ mother, Mary, it is often in that momentous and euphoric scene whereupon Fetus-John-the-Baptist leaps in Elizabeth’s womb at the approach of Fetus-Jesus-Christ. There is much rejoicing and hugging and prophecy. Besides all that, how lovely that the two pregnant women get to hang out together comparing bellies, feel the wee babes kick & hiccup, waddle together to the well, and enjoy one another’s company as their bodies swell and change. Of course we talk about that–that’s lovely and elicits warm fuzzies.
But, at Advent, we never hear about another part of Mary’s pregnancy, what I imagine is a lonely, tiring, weary time. We never hear about when she must pack up her belongings, kiss teary farewells to all of her women-folk, hug tight and long over her burgeoning belly, and leave her home–her community, her space, her nest–to set out for Bethlehem. (Thanks a lot, Caesar Augustus.) During a time of much change and transition, she journeys out of her element.
“During a time of much change and transition,
[Mary] journeys out of her element.”
Almost two years ago now, I had a dream one night. I dreamt I was in a very bland, sterile, plastic-y room that had a couple of those awful early 90’s pastel paintings on the wall and a bed in the corner. If you know me, you’d know that this is my aesthetic nightmare. There was nothing rich, earthy, or cozy about this room. It was in this room–a place I would never have chosen–that I labored and gave birth to a baby girl. I was alone. In a place I did not know. Giving birth, it turned out, to myself. (You know how dreams go–so much metaphor revealing the deep inner world of our psyche.)
When I had that dream, I was in the midst of a break-down of sorts. I was doing a lot of hard work therapeutically, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. And as mind and body are connected, I kept getting ovarian cysts during this break down, which not only hurt and messed up my hormonal balance, but appropriately represented what I felt to be a creative withholding in my life. I was out of my element.
It also happened during this time that I did actually become pregnant (not metaphorically). With a boy. It was hoped for but still unexpected what with all the craziness happening in my body. The soul of my son sparked in my womb and began growing a heart, arm, legs, eyes, ears, toes.
In the midst of the pain, blockage, loneliness, anxiety, grief and fear, I dreamed of birth, new life, creation at its finest. I dreamed of myself–newly embodied. And I conceived my son and began my participation in the most creative and life-giving process of which humans are capable.
Sometimes when we are the most removed from the familiar, the comforting, the nurturing, we are able to come into our being in a way we never could have otherwise. I don’t think that if Mary had written a birth plan it would’ve left out her tribe of women nor included a cave, a manger, and a pack of animals. Yet that’s where she labored and gave birth to the Messiah–to his little human body.
“Sometimes when we are the most removed from the familiar,
the comforting, the nurturing, we are able to come into our being
in a way we never could have otherwise.”
This Advent, as you are running around doing your Christmas shopping, decorating the tree, whipping up fudge & cut-out cookies, working, driving in the snow, attending various forms of Christmas parties, getting together with the family–everything that the holidays demand–stop for a moment. Notice which muscles are clenched where. Notice your breathing–is it shallow and quick? How long is your list of things to do and how high is your anxiety level? In whose face are you about ready to toss your cup of egg nog? How are you out of your element?
At this point people will say, “Now take a deep breath, count to 10, and remember what Christmas is all about.” You can do that if you want to–it’s very helpful. Before you do, though, I challenge you to acknowledge to yourself everything you just noticed. “My upper back is in knots. Ah yes, I am panic breathing. My stress level is through the roof. And if my great aunt what’s-her-face opens her big fat mouth one more time I’m going to stuff this entire pecan pie in it. I am out of my element. Amen.”
I don’t want you to take that deep breath until you’ve acknowledged the chaos. Because maybe just by acknowledging it, you will sink into your being in a way you might otherwise miss if you breathe it away too quickly. Because maybe there is a light, a spark, something being conceived in you that very moment you journey into your out-of-your-element.
Because perhaps you will experience embodiment in this world in a new way; we who live in darkness may see a great light.