Monday, 4 December 2017

Advent Breathing Space 1: A Child is Born

The address from the first of our Advent Breathing Space Holy Communion Services.

During our three Advent Breathing Space services this year, I am picking up the theme of our Advent daily reflections, “ A child is born”. As you’ll know, if you are following them, they trace almost all the stories of children being born in the Bible.

In these services, though, I’ll be thinking a bit more generally about the theme of birth in the Bible and what it might mean to us, not just the birth of actual babies, but birth in its widest sense.
I decided too, that I would introduce each of these three talks with one of myown poems. That may be a bit self-indulgent, but I’m hoping you’ll forgive me, because each of them reflects something of my own ruminations on the subject, just as these talks do.

This week’s poem is one I wrote about ten years after the birth of my first child, Michael.
It recalls his first day in the world, and my first day as a mother. He’d been born on a Sunday morning, and we were the only occupants of the four bed ward in the maternity hospital at the imte.
It’s called “You and I”, and it goes like this.

You, startled in your fishbowl crib,
and I,
washed down and lain between cool sheets
after the sweat and blood of your arrival
watch each other.

Left alone,
(- we were the only ones last night
committing miracles -)
we find ourselves fixed in conspiratorial surprise,
gazing, as if,
for all that we shared
nine months swelling expectation
this was somehow not what we expected.

Most of all,
(and strange!)
we never thought
the world would now be
quite so different.
transformed from isolated independence
find I am become the wellspring of the future,
tied through time and over oceans to the whole of life.
opening a space, and love and grief, where there were none,
forcing your way into the fabric of existence
have enlarged the universe
with your small, growing self,

Your dreams did not encompass change
and mine were limited to tiny hands and nappies
yet between us
we have changed the world.

As that poem expresses, giving birth doesn’t just change the lives of the child and its parents, it changes everything. Who knows what that child will grow up to be and to do? When a child comes into the world, the future is altered irrevocably. It is a profound mystery. A person who didn’t exist now does. Someone who was just a figment of your imagination is now real, and may be nothing like you imagined. Maybe you are quiet and cautious, but find yourself with a child full of energy and no sense of danger! Maybe you are an intrepid traveller, and find you have given birth to a child who just wants to stay at home. Maybe your child has abilities or disabilities you weren’t prepared for. Whatever else children do, they always surprise us.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, though. After all, the God who gives them to us is a God of surprises. As our first reading reminded us, this is the God who sits in a formless void at the beginning of time and brings into being something that has never existed before - light. And then he follows it with a whole great panoply of other things, from the moon and the stars to the worms and the whales. God is, first and foremost, a creator. By his word he gives birth to everything that is. The writer of this first great story wasn’t writing science or history when he wrote this. He was trying to encapsulate the greatest truth about God, that he is a God who does new things all the time. It’s in his nature to do so.  

Maybe that’s one reason why Jesus was always so keen on putting children centre stage when he talked about the new kingdom he was bringing in, as he does in our Gospel reading. They’re a constant reminder of the creative imagination of God. In every child God recreates the world. Through their birth, he does something that has never been done before, and those who welcome children get to share in that endless creativity.  

As I said at the beginning, though, not every birth that matters is a flesh and blood one. Other sorts of birth can be just as creative, just as world changing as the birth of a child. We may give birth to new ideas and initiatives. We may create hospitable communities, or new possibilities for people who feel hopeless about themselves. We may bring into being love and joy where there were none before. As we do so, co-operating with our life-giving God, all of us can bring to birth a new world.  

In the silence tonight, then, let’s think about our children – not just the flesh and blood babies, but all those others too. How have we changed the world with God, and what children does God still call us to bear as we learn to work with him? 

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