I can remember when I used to be an advocate for early demise. My fondest hope was to fulfill the biblical quotient for old age as well as I could, and then to exit stage left with as little drama as possible to make room for the next wave.
Then I became a mother, and motherhood changes your mind.
Now, one of my fondest hopes is to see my sons in their prime and beyond, to bear witness to the salt-and-pepper, the graying temples, and the receding hairlines. I want to appreciate the deepening of laugh lines around eyes the color of the sea and to chuckle over the unruly eyebrows and the persistence of strength and muscle tone in a middle-aged runner’s scrawny legs.
It’s in the Blood
Motherhood has changed my mind and more, and Rachel Marie Stone suggests a physiological reason for the alterations that come with motherhood. Apparently, a woman’s body acquires cells from every pregnancy. Each baby she carries leaves behind a few cells that join with hers, so when we take the plunge into motherhood, we do not surface unchanged.
Birth is the metaphor that runs throughout Birthing Hope: Giving Fear to the Light as it binds memoir to meditation and bears witness to the journey that has left its mark on the author. When Stone and her husband packed up baggage and boys and relocated to Malawi, they had not an inkling of what it would cost them to serve university students in one of the poorest countries in the world. Whether it was her training as a doula or her tendency since childhood to be drawn toward the things that scare her, she was drawn to serve in a hospital where maternal death was commonplace–even unremarkable.
When Rachel’s bare hands plucked a baby from a pool of its mother’s HIV-infected blood, she tried not to think about the consequences to her own personal health or to her family. Even so, as she waited for the test results to reveal the impact on her own HIV status, she had plenty of opportunity to ponder the fleeting nature of life and her persistent fears for the safety of her husband and her children. She expressed the angst with borrowed words from Kathleen Norris:
“One of the most astonishing and precious things about motherhood is the brave way in which women consent to give birth to creatures who will one day die.” (74)
An Earthen Vessel in Zomba
Living as a white woman in a Malawian city, Stone “wore shame like a scarf” because of her comparative wealth, her education, her access to medical care, and the fact that she was there in the country voluntarily and could leave at any time. In the city of Zomba they called home, she taught English with a cringe, wishing her students did not need to learn it.
She shared the lives, the meals, and the routines of Malawian women who became friends, all the while learning that “every act of eating and drinking in Malawi was preceded by strategic harm reduction acts” such as washing raw vegetables and fruit in a bleach solution and filtering water. Learning to fashion pottery from the clay taken from termite mounds (Yes, it was accumulated termite droppings . . .), Rachel savored the image of God as the Potter who fashioned her own vessel out of humble clay.
One of the highlights of Birthing Hope is the theological ponderings that flow out of the narrative arc. For instance, so many of our anxieties are tied to our mortality and physicality, and yet the truth of the incarnation that anchors our hearts in hope for these frail bodies has been challenged, messed with, and diluted throughout history. This is tragic, because the reality that a Palestinian teenager gave birth to God in a body, that Mary was given the option to bend and break over scandal and risk around a fully human pregnancy gives meaning and purpose and fosters fellowship around our own human struggles that are firmly rooted in our feeble flesh.
From God’s perspective, the incarnation was a huge unshielding of His own heart as He brought into being the possibility of a Suffering Servant and the Perfect Sacrifice. What a precise picture of the mothering life! Starting with birth, and growing by leaps and bounds as small bodies grow into large and independent selves, the mothering journey is one huge unshielding process! And it is fraught with risk.
Birthing Hope is an invitation to enter fully into that risk, trusting that there is no contamination or sorrow that is not gathered up into the collective groaning that will be turned inside out and will one day weigh like feathers in the balance against the overwhelming weight of glory which comes from a life in which love is allowed to have the last word.
Many thanks to IVP Books for providing this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with complete honesty.
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Thank you for joining me today on the path of hope,
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