“Hear me in gentleness, and learn of me in roughness.
I am she who cries out,
and I am cast forth upon the face of the earth.
I prepare the bread and my mind within.
I am the knowledge of my name.
I am the one who cries out,
and I listen.”
(Anonymous, c. 200-300 CE)
Her voice reaches me across the ocean. A friend’s voice. She’s suffered so much, and is so generous, sighted. When I hang up the phone, it is with a mixture of grace and sadness. Thank God for these strong, sensitive women. These women being flung against the bars of every possible prison, until their own hearts break – and the iron bars give way. But who is there to solace and strengthen them – if not themselves, if not all of us?
Pain speaks, if we listen. Pain tells us the truth. Moving through pain also tells us the truth. The people I know who shed radiance have not resolved all their issues. They haven’t banished their darkness for good. Nor do they shun sudden joys and simple pleasures. But they are clear-eyed and honest about their lives. If you ask them a direct question, they respond with a direct and tender fact. Yes, it hurts. No, it won’t stop me.
I am so lucky to know women and men who are more afraid of living in untruth than they are of death or physical danger. We’ve all internalized voices of self-deception and cruelty. But these people spend years and years, going cell by cell within themselves, within the world, distributing – like bread to the starving – the beloved justice that is our birthright.
I am writing this, not for women in the strict sense of the word. I’m writing this for anyone who has viscerally encountered the female aspect of being fully human. For years She pounded on my locked doors until I yielded. Perhaps it is the same for you. Standing in Her real and undeniable presence, I have no option but to try and put words to Her urgency. Right now. In each of us. In the whole blessed and bloodied world.
“I am the first and the last.
I am the honored and the scorned.
I am the whore and the holy.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and daughter.
I am the member of the family
and the barren one with many sons.
I have had a grand wedding
and have not found a husband.
I am a midwife and do not give birth.
I am the solace of my labor pains.”
~ Thunder, c. 200-300 CE
Imagine you are visiting earth from a distant star. This isn’t such a stretch. I mean, we’re the stuff of stars after all. But imagine you’ve just dropping in for a visit, and have never seen a pregnant woman before.
On your home star, beings reproduce in different and more hidden ways. You’ve never seen a body morph and distend. You’re fascinated. You spend time around pregnant women. You watch their symptoms with growing concern. Morning sickness, an uptick in appetite. Swollen ankles and powerful emotions. Some women bear the strain pretty well. For others, bed rest is required. Then they cry out in sudden pain and are rushed away.
You fear that some terrible sickness has visited earth, inhabiting women’s bodies and distorting them beyond all sense of proportion. You begin asking questions. You’re invited to observe an actual birth. And then – your whole hypothesis falls crashing into that well of light called Insight.
The insight, of course, is that pregnancy is not a plague, but a sign of new life.
Now, think of all the symptoms, distortions, and metamorphoses swirling around us in the world today. Refugee crises, human trafficking, ecological destruction. Growing interconnection, global communications, spiritual renewal. Every dehumanizing act presses the deep wounds we’ve all carried, collectively, for millennia. Every act of empathy and self-sacrifice unlocks our hidden beauty. Trauma is the word of the day. So too is resilience.
Deeper than the hemorrhaging of blood, money, and peace of mind, is the growing pulse of human rebirth. There are more people on our planet than ever before. Yet we are finding new ways of being individuals in community with one another. In this raising and honoring of every voice and echoing silence, there is a profound humanizing force. This force is pushing us right to the brink of insanity, and over the edge, into a new reality of true health and saneness. We’re growing up. It ain’t easy.
Going back to pregnancy, I see a parallel. The body of the world is pregnant and does not know – yet – the true cause of its distortion. From the symptoms, it would be logical to diagnose a severe and deathly illness. Some people might call these the “end times,” and predict either complete destruction or the establishment of heaven-on-earth as the outcome. Others of a more secular bent may see nothing but chaos and meaninglessness, or the forces of an amoral evolution at work.
In my mind, the complexity pounding us requires a more nuanced understanding. Beneath the surface swirl, what threads are strengthening, twining together, renewing the social fabric? This mending and renewal is the work of everyone who has gone through their own undiagnosed “pregnancy” – their own womb-times of not understanding the pangs and darkness within. Sometimes, we can feel more dead than alive. More entombed than en-wombed.
Take me into understanding from grief,
and take me from understanding and grief.
Receive me into yourselves from other places
ugly and destroyed.
~ Thunder, c. 200-300 CE
All birth involves a dying, just as all death involves a birth. Our hard labor in the birth canal can feel like death – and in fact, we are dying. The protective shell we no longer need is disintegrating. Our seed-self is passing away.
It’s ok to grieve and to celebrate at the same time, or in rapid succession. Look at yourself. Haven’t you worked hard and long to get here? Mourn what you need to mourn. Then unknot your fears and walk the shining cord of your life, safely, into the unknown.
I am perfect mind and rest. . . .
I am the knowledge of my search,
the finding of those who look for me,
the command of those who ask about me,
the power of powers
in my knowledge of angels sent at my word,
and of gods in their seasons sent by my counsel,
and of spirits of all who exist with me
and of women who live in me.
~ Thunder, c. 200-300 CE