This Advent, I’m thrilled to offer you the voices of some articulate storytellers— writers with wisdom to share about how their experiences of pain or loss is birthing in them something beautiful. Not in a Pollyanna sort of way of course, but in the spirit of what Leonard Cohen once wrote: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
And isn’t Advent is all about light shinning in the darkness?
I’ve had the privilege of witnessing love at it’s most primal, it’s most raw.
Midwives talk of a woman wandering off to “labor land,” where her neocortex is quiet and her animal body is in charge.
So often we relegate love to the realm of emotions and ideas: feelings, thoughts, a list of qualities we like or don’t like in a person.
But there is deep power in the non-verbal, embodied-ness of love: the way your lover smells, the comfort of his touch, your breathing synchronized in sleep.
It’s this embodied, animal love that we see in birth. Yes, there are thoughts of meeting baby, this new person swimming into the world. There are words of affection and mantras of courage, but mostly, it’s a body sort of love.
It’s an excruciating, exhilarating, wide-open labor of love.
The sounds and smells of labor are unique, earthy, grounded, and guttural. There is sweat, blood, vomit, humid warmth from the tub, and the scent of lavender wafts in the air. There is also timelessness: the sun rises and falls, we cover the clock, and the moments are marked by waves of intensity, surges of overwhelming body-love.
Transition, the final stretch of cervical dilatation before pushing, is one of the most powerful bits of labor.
It’s the moment when a woman, out loud or deep in her secret thoughts, will declare, once and for all, that she cannot, will not, do this any longer.
She will throw in the towel or die, because she has reached the brink of impossible and beyond, and it seems the magnitude of her own body’s power will crush her.
To this I whisper, “Yes, good, now you are close.”
While the laboring woman fears drowning in her own intensity, I see the final signpost preceding the finish line. This all-spent, everything-you’ve-got labor of love not only asks her for all she has, but also reveals her unbelievable capacity for courage, power, and strength.
She dives deep into reserves she never knew she had, and resurfaces as a mother, ready for the daily diving deep into self-sacrificial, redemptive, instinctual love.
I see that God, too, labors and births in and through this world, redeeming and re-creating it bit by bit, moment by moment, day by day.
This is not the kind of creating that snaps the finger, waves the wand, and “Voila!”
This is a slow and steady love, a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, then back-to-the-starting-block sort of love.
The sun rising each morning, the flower opening each day, the child forgiving her sibling, the husband loving his wife, these are the moments of new life, birth and redemption in this world.
These are the wafts of lavender and the warmth of water soothing our groaning souls as we labor through the darkness and pain of this world.
God, the mother, moans through our failures, pushes toward our freedom, labors in love to birth us anew each day. If we open ourselves wide to this gift of aching love, we are invited in as co-creators with the creator of all.
We stretch, open, dive deep, and find our place in the excruciating and exhilarating labor of redemption.
Susan Smartt Cook lives in Edmond, Oklahoma with her husband Josh and her two beautiful pups, Ruth and Waylon. On any given day you will find Susan nurturing her small midwifery practice, her kitchen, and next year’s garden.