catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 25 :: 2009.12.25 — 2010.01.07


The Gospel of the Birth Story

Before I became a mother myself, I listened to several birth stories from friends that I labeled “TMI” at the time.  I was squeamish about the idea of labor and knew very little about how it worked, so the details about all those body orifices and fluids seemed to be something my friends should put out of their memory or at least keep to themselves. 

But now that I have experienced childbirth, it makes sense to me that the arrival of a baby is a “good news” event, and height/weight data is not enough.  Childbirth is a story that needs to be told with the level of detail it deserves.  I love that the good news of Jesus begins with a birth story that gets to be told over and over and over again. 

This spring at morning worship, I was chatting with a church leader who asked what I had been reading lately, since he knows I enjoy reading.  I told him that caring for my toddler had been keeping me from reading as much as I would like.  He then reminded me, “Well, as the Bible says, ‘Women are saved through child-bearing.’” I spent all afternoon considering how to make sense of that quote so it wouldn’t feel like the responsibility of child-bearing was just a good reason why women shouldn’t be well-read.  During worship that evening, a friend asked me if I would write an Easter reading from Mother Mary’s point of view, connecting the gospel events of Christ’s birth and resurrection.  And I immediately thought:  Childbirth!   Are not women and men alike saved through the Christmas and Easter events of child-bearing?

So here is the reading.  The first two verses are told from the perspective of Mary the mother of Jesus, and the third verse from the perspective of an unlikely sort of second mother to Jesus, a personified Mother Tomb, who has been known to have other nicknames like The Pit, The Grave, Sheol or 6-Feet-Under. It could be called a poem, but it’s really meant to be read aloud to others by a woman who is energized by the gospel spirit when relating any good birth story, a woman who knows that “TMI” does not apply, especially when incarnation is the theme.


Gift Wrap

I.  Nativity

They brought royal gifts, myrrh, incense, and gold, when they visited
And oh in such beautiful wrap
Many yards of finely-twisted linen
I would have swaddled you, my king-son, in this linen at your arrival

But at your birth we were trespassers in a pole-barn
I was squatting on hay
Clinging to the rope for support
Resting against a wooden beam between contractions

I pooped in a stall but the donkeys didn’t seem offended
I puked in a manger but the pigs were intrigued

My bag of waters broke open with a gush and spurt
Then I entered the earthy, birth-y power of expulsion, with noisy grunts and grimaces

Joseph laid fresh straw and sat under me to catch my wriggly firstborn son
As you dropped out of your womb of forty weeks

Jesus, Savior of the World!   just as the angel announced.

You gasped your first breaths,
Howled hello,
Sucked sweet drops of milk from my breast. 

Joseph rummaged and found my bag of cloth strips
(They were clean but discolored by several menstrual cycles)
He used one to wrap the placenta
One to absorb my flow of blood and clots
One to blot the blood and mucus from your face and hair
One to soak up the slop in the manger
The others to swaddle his sort-of son

I would have wrapped you in finely-twisted linen, gift to the world that you are
But those visitors from the East came months too late

So I’ll save this linen for your someday wife
Such fine swaddling for children of your own.


II. Burial

At your death those Roman trespassers slung you up on a beam of wood
Used rope for extra support
I squatted in the hay beneath your feet
As you named John my sort-of son

You sucked sour drops of wine from a sponge,
Howled for your Father,
Then gasped your last breaths.

These linen strips are going to wrap my king-son after all

Born-again Nicodemus takes them gently from me
He uses one to wipe the urine and excrement from your legs
One to mop the mucus and blood from your face and hair
One to swab the shredded skin on your back
One to bind up the intestines ballooning from the hole in your side
The others to swaddle his sort-of father.

The time has come to use the finely-twisted linen and myrrh
No hope now of meeting a wife or firstborn son of yours.


III.  Resurrection

They have come to mask the stench of decaying flesh and feasting maggots
These weeping women carrying spices on a Sunday morning
But they are hours too late

Though my name is Tomb
I too now have an earthy, birth-y power of expulsion
Didn’t you feel the quake of my grunts and grimaces?
Even the hired watch could not catch my wriggly firstborn son
As he dropped out of his womb of forty hours

Jesus, First-fruits of the Dead! just as the angel announced.

Welcome, women, with your gifts of incense
You are too late for burial rites
But just in time to celebrate a raising.

Come and collect these strips of finely-twisted linen
Blood-stained though they are

This gift-wrap shall be used again:

Resurrection clothing for all God’s children
Who are sown in me
And most certainly shall (thanks to their sort-of brother)
Be raised imperishable.

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