Word of the Week

Discovering Joy: Day 1- Susan Smartt Cook

Third Sunday of Advent

[If you missed Susan's two previous posts, read about "Waiting with Hope" and "Love That Groans" from this midwife]

You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits. Isaiah 26:19b

As a midwife, I adore the sound of a newborn’s first cry cracking through the silence of the birth room with all the majesty and promise of new creation, all the power of God in one frail, squirming, wet body.  Each time, I am humbled.  Each time, I am inspired.  I see mothers and fathers reach new heights of joy and new depths of love in an instant, experiencing a glimmer of God’s love for them in the crashing wave of their own love for this newly born child.  The unspeakable joy of this moment is more magical and miraculous that any other I’ve seen, but it would be a great loss to see only the monumental joy of birth and to miss the joys of preparation.

Waiting and preparing offer the gifts of heightened senses, tuned in, zoomed in awareness of the good graces in daily living: food, companionship, home.  The ritual of “nesting” at the end of pregnancy can be a neurotic frenzy of angst and impatience, or a joyful preparation, an act of loving invitation for the beloved child one awaits.  Waiting for labor as mother or midwife, surrendering to complete lack of control, inclines one to alternately live on one’s toes, primed and ready, and then to rest and shore up, preparing for work.  I notice in this rhythm, when counting days, that hours crawl by, but life passes in a flash, so we must relish what is now.  Joy’s invitation is to embrace the liminal space, the in-between, to be present to this exact moment, this exact gift, and to be grateful.  Joy is born out of gratitude, and is a choice, an attitude, a muscle that must be exercised.  Thus each chance we have to practice pausing and offering thanks in the midst of anxiety is an opportunity to grow our joy.

Two months ago, I was preparing to accompany my sister to Uganda any day.  She is adopting a baby boy and has been waiting for a court date since late August.  I’d had a full summer of work and travel and was ready to put my head down and plow through another several weeks away from my home and husband.  Instead of unpacking from my previous trip, I just started packing for Uganda.  But my bag sat open for one week, then another.  I gradually pulled things out as I needed them and realized that I was languishing in a sort of no-man’s-land of time.

How could I settle in, get comfortable, and invest here and now when I might get called away any day?  What should I do with these days, weeks, months that I didn’t expect to have at home?

I had somehow managed to forget all of the tools I’ve honed for living on call as a midwife: waiting for births, sticking to my rhythms and rituals as I wait, and picking them up as soon as I return.  Cooking good food, exercising, and waking early in the morning all help me to stay oriented despite the unpredictability of my work.  And when I’m at my best, loyal to my rhythms and rituals, I find deep joy in daily life and deep joy in the exciting interruption of birth.

Waiting for my sister’s adoption is no different.  This is an invitation to be present to my home and my husband even as I wait for the exciting interruption of adventure.  I have begun to embrace this in between time, gone for hikes and watched the leaves turn as seasons change, and still I wait.  I am preparing a place for this child in my heart, and I relish the gifts of daily life, trusting that the time will come.

Let us pray:

God, please heighten my senses and tune me in to the small miracles of every day living, to the joys of preparation for that which I await.  Teach me to grow my own joy through gratitude and presence in each moment of every day.

SusanSmarttCookSusan currently lives with her dear husband and black lab in Edmond, OK where they attend St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. On any given day you will find Susan nurturing her small midwifery practice, her kitchen, and next year’s garden. Her hope for this advent is to be quiet, to reach deep into the soil of her soul with the tangled roots of her faith, and to find there the living water that nourishes new hope, love, joy, and peace into bloom.