There are things in this world that best ought not be hurried. Many of them lie within the purview of women – birth, the rising of bread, a holy death among them.
Of course, any of these can be rushed. Modern technology and pharmacology can be brought to bear as a woman labors to bring forth new life. As a rule, though, the less intervention, the better the outcome for mother and baby. Give yeast less time than it needs to do its work, and the loaf will fall short of its potential. Hasten death, and what could be holy time is forfeited.
In my life, I have been privileged to assist over 500 women as they labored to bring their children into this world. I have fed my family with untold numbers of loaves I have kneaded with my own hands and let rise in the dark under my tea towel. And as a priest, I have accompanied up to the threshold of the next world those who were dying; as a mother, most recently my own son, Joshua.
Leaving the home where a new little human had entered the world I was often keenly aware that those who had not been present were oblivious to the sacred unfolding that had just happened. They had no sense that everything – everything! – was different. Life/God/the Universe had done what it does, and since everything is connected, nothing would ever be the same again.
The same is true of death. When pain is controlled and suffering is alleviated, moving toward death can be as sacred as the time moving toward a birth. And with the death, everything changes.
Push any one of these processes, and the natural outcome will be affected – sometimes for good, but very often for ill. Things are made to work. The system within which we live is finely tuned. In the eternal scheme of things, patience most often really is a virtue.
That’s easy to say on a theoretical or systemic level. It can become more difficult to embrace on a personal level. Letting things unfold is not our way in this culture. We are doers. We control our environment. We make things easier, less painful, more immediate. We certainly don’t want anyone to have to wait, especially if that could involve discomfort, much less loss of control.
That said, it seems anathema to me that suffering is ever good. (I know there are those who find deep meaning in a redemptive value to suffering. I just don’t happen to.) I am also aware that suffering has no universal definition. What is incapacitating pain to one is simply bothersome discomfort to another. It seems, though, that we first-world folks assume it is our right to expect no inconvenience, no discomfort, no sadness, nothing that would impinge on our pursuit of happiness. And letting things unfold runs the risk of wandering into the territory of “not happy.”
Consider the pain of childbirth. Medication or no medication, the baby gets born. Why endure unnecessary pain if you don’t have to? The question, though, might be reframed, “What is the value of consciously moving through the pain of childbirth?” Is there some value to dealing with pain (or loss or sadness or having to wait) by simply meeting it on its own terms?
I can think of many benefits. At the least, letting things unfold can teach us to accept and engage with Nature (of which, lest we forget, we are a part) on Nature’s own terms. It can teach us humility in the face of a Creation (and we religious types might add a Creator) far greater than our puny selves.
Letting birth, death, and the working of yeast unfold ... is this a capacity the world might need? Are we women, and all who are in touch with the feminine in our humanity, abdicating a gift that keeps us in harmony with the Natural Order (God’s order, if you will), because we have bought into a mindset that tells us to fear pain, to be impatient, and to try to control our world?
I wonder if the “pursuit of happiness” has so warped us that we can no longer find peace in the very world of which we are a part.
Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or firstname.lastname@example.org.