But just as John Paul II reflected upon sexual union in his “theology of the body” as a sign pointing toward the ultimate union of God with the human being, a medically uncomplicated “good birth” points toward how all souls, pregnant with the Holy Spirit, are transformed by cooperating with the Spirit, letting God make all things new. And while every moment may not be what you wished for, even in that, it resembles the soul’s journey to God.
All the adorable clothes for infants, jokes about pickles and ice cream, and debates about appropriate names for children occupy the expectant woman’s mind like sitting-room company sharing a pleasant tea—until labor begins. In a flash, your visitors leave, their cooling teacups half-empty. Alone, or with a trusted companion, you may wait out the beginning contractions by reading a book or watching a movie, but you know as you have never known in your life what the main event is. Birth is the rock of motherhood. It does not easily allow diversions; it is more glorious and messy, more trying and transformative than a person might suspect. Basically, it is a lot like prayer.
If you are an average American, that last sentence may have come as a shock. But it is no groundbreaking metaphor to claim that the spiritual life is like a birth (Jn 3:3). Still, few people look seriously at the physical reality of giving birth as akin to the spiritual struggle of prayer. When I was struggling through a wonder-filled but challenging prayer period recently, a sentence settled within me: This is a lot like giving birth; it feels as if something is trying to be born. And it was not that I was looking toward a positive end—holding the baby—although at some level I was. Rather, it felt “existentially” like giving birth: a clearing of the mind, an expectant and somewhat painful waiting, the sense that my life is changing here and now. There was a concrete moment in my prayer when I thought, with surprise and gratitude, I’ve been here before. . . [more]
Susan Windley-Daoust is an assistant professor of theology at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, Winona campus. She also teaches in Saint Mary’s Institute in Pastoral Ministries and is training to be a spiritual director. She and her husband are expecting their fourth child any day now.