This past Good Friday, my church held a reflective evening service filled with poetry, music, and meditation. One of the poems read was by Rainer Maria Rilke:
It made me think back to Christmas, when I was six weeks pregnant, and discovered that being newly pregnant didn’t make me feel any closer to Mary than I usually did (which is to say, not very). I hadn’t necessarily expected to, as hearing Mary’s story read always left me feeling unsatisfied. I wanted more from Mary than the story always gave me; I wanted a Mary who spoke and doubted and maybe even railed against what was being asked of her, not a Mary who instantly acquiesced. I couldn’t relate to this pinnacle of womanhood, and honestly, sometimes that worried me. Knowing there was a clump of cells making their way to a baby inside of me didn’t magically change any of that.
But on Good Friday, I listened to this poem read while our baby girl kicked away inside me, reminding me of her undeniable and yet not-quite-real presence with every little jab and poke and flip. This past Lent was a season of uncertainty and vulnerability for me, as I seemed to receive troubling news every other time I visited my doctor, and I discovered the very real limitations pregnancy placed on my body and my life as a whole. I was so afraid we would lose her when I started bleeding at sixteen weeks (on Ash Wednesday–and my birthday–, which seemed a particularly cruel way to drive home how fleeting life is), and I was grateful every time I felt her kick and tell me she was still there, she was strong, she would be okay–and so would I. I held on to that through the long months that were to come.
And it hit me that Good Friday, and with that poem, how vulnerable this parenting and motherhood thing makes you. I didn’t sign up for our Maundy Thursday overnight vigil, but I had a vigil of my own, as that was also the week that pregnancy insomnia began. I spent a lot of time awake at night, thinking about new life and old life and the softness that was and is my body and the hard world outside. How are the two supposed to mix? Do you ever get used to it, as a mother, that the being you carried inside you and protected as best you could for nine months has to make its way into a world that will never be as kind as it should be? I’m guessing you don’t.
And now it’s Advent again. I still want to hear more from Mary. I still want to fill in the silences in her story with what I think she may have thought and felt and said. But Advent feels different to me this year, as I read and reflected on the Magnificat with my own baby in my arms, with my pregnancy still fresh in my memory. I’ve come to suspect that I was sold a bill of goods all those years, that what has always been told to me as meek obedience on Mary’s part was actually fierceness in disguise–a fierceness that the male gospel writers and the male preachers who first told me her story perhaps didn’t have eyes to see–a fierceness that carried her through her own Holy Week and beyond, and a fierceness born out of the softness and vulnerability that motherhood brings.