Archives for posts with tag: expectancy

Today was my day to present in our seminar on Augustine’s Confessions; somewhat nerve-wracking, since everyone else had already taken their turn. Presentations this late in the semester are always problematic. On the one hand, you’ve had all this time to work on the material. On the other hand, you’ve had all this time filled with myriad other assignments and responsibilities. It isn’t like I would have been able to do this earlier, though, seeing as I presented on Book XI, Augustine’s musings and theorizations on time and eternity. Fitting.

I chose the topic of time because, as a procrastinator, it is not my friend. In recent years I have become more wary (and weary) of passing days, weeks, months. Studying time is a little like engaging in the art of war with a much larger and dispassionate foe. I know I won’t win, but I sure as hell won’t go down without fighting.

What I found refreshing in studying time with Augustine is that he asks me to get out of my own contemporaneity. It is impossible to understand him through the digital clock. Instead, I have to put the phone down, close the computer, and simply watch the sun pass overhead, the shadows change on the building, note the difference in air temperature as the day progresses. For him, too, music becomes a teacher of time and measuring time.

Long before treble clefs and 4/4 time signatures, Augustine reflected on measuring time by recounting hymns and songs of the church. Here he had Ambrose’s liturgical renovations in mind with imported tunes and chanted psalms. By inhabiting the song to God, Creator of all things (Deus Creator omnium), Augustine notes, we can know that one syllable is shorter than the next, we can perceive that this phrase is half the length of the one that follows. In this way, we measure time. The breath in our lungs as it pours over the larynx and resonates through the cords is running in time.

Our class discussion picked up on the challenges of defining time over and against its effects. Time is not defined through its measurements because it exists ever only in the present outside of measurement. Once a song slips through our teeth, it becomes past. We can repeat the verse, the line, the song–but to repeat is not to delete and redo.

This got us thinking about the periodization of time. Scores of music are broken into bars of time. Syllables denote length and frequency, forming patterns and periods. Waves of sound have cycles. None of this is purely linear, even when we graph along a straight line. Of course, this prompted our professor (also my advisor) to recount the experience of pregnancy and labor, when pain comes in waves.

I wish that I had thought then of infertility’s counterpart, where pain comes in monthly tides as, yet again, the blood flows. But I am in the habit of letting references to pregnancy wash past me.

The experience of time changes with waiting and non-expectancy.

I learned yesterday (Thursday) that this is National Infertility Awareness Week. I had seen penguins for World Penguin Day, and (daily, multiple) invitations to protest at the People’s Climate March, but infertility is one of those things that is simply difficult, if not impossible, to celebrate. I myself feel conflicted about speaking up. What are we inviting people into with Infertility Awareness? What would come if I were to say in class, ‘Well, actually, I will never know what it’s like to be pregnant. And I am in this class at this time because I could not get pregnant.’ Personally, I am not interested in pity. However, I recognize that the experience of barrenness, the fact that I cannot conform to normalized womanly identity, does in fact drive certain lines of theological inquiry for me. But, how do I insert such snippets into conversation so that others might understand, when I myself am still wandering in the wilderness of non-expectancy?

There was a time when I cried, How long, O Lord? That time is gone.

Near the end of Book XI, Augustine states, “without the creation no time can exist.” I know that time and creation are interlocking concepts, yet my bodily response is ‘yes, but, How?’ Apart from any signs of life within my organs, my follicles are sputtering toward death. So, what is the creation that will bring music to my soul, and help me measure the seasons with joy? For now I must lean on my old friend, Augustine, and pray with him:

You are unchangeably eternal, that is the truly eternal Creator of minds. Just as you knew heaven and earth in the beginning without that bringing any variation into your knowing, so you made heaven and earth in the beginning without that meaning a tension between past and future in your activity. Let the person who understands this make confession to you. Let the person who fails to understand it make confession to you. How exalted you are, and the humble in heart are your house. You lift up those who are cast down, and those whom you raise to that summit which is yourself do not fall. (Confessions, 11.31.41)


Black Hole, part 5

The beginning of a new church calendar year. Advent. Jesus is coming…first in the form of an infant, fully dependent upon Mary and Joseph for everything. Hard to imagine Redeemer God as a newborn.

For the first Sunday of Advent, my husband and I attended the Episcopal church down the street from our place because it is beautiful, and an encounter with the theological Other (though, moreso for me). The incense is a bit much, but I appreciate how the gospel reading always takes place in the center of the congregation. I enjoy hearing the homily given by a young woman who sits five rows back. I delight in how the theology is sung throughout the service, even as I scramble to get to the right page before the verse ends. I am fascinated by the strangeness and wonder of it all…

Just before the Eucharist is served, all the kids who had been in their classrooms came clamoring upstairs to join their parents for the remainder of the service. While parents were often distracted by the wiggling bodies in the pews, and missed some of the genuflects and crossing of the hands, I was nonetheless a little envious as they brought their kids up to the altar to receive Christ in the bread and wine. Advent is my favorite season, yet in recent years it has taken on a dissonance as I wait and wonder if a child will ever come to my husband and I. Expectancy is not something I have embodied. Yet the church is called to anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ every week of every year. So, how can we learn from the mothers in our midst–especially when, socially, we don’t like talking about this sort of thing? Frankly, the last thing I personally would want to do right now is sit down with someone who has been pregnant and given birth, and hash out all the gory details. But what does it mean to be expectant for a period of time? To watch as change occurs. To wait for the fulness of time to arrive.

I will be honest, though, I don’t like the way people talk about their pregnancies. It seems that writers either remain clinical in their observations, so that you cannot tell if they are preparing for a knee joint replacement or an infant; or the platitudes spew forth so voluminously that you are left drowning in Hallmark sparkle. Perhaps the experience is so profound it defies language. (More likely: I just haven’t read the many accounts written by talented women because I haven’t searched that deeply.) Then again, how would a woman write about an experience that can only be shared by a portion of society; particularly when our social values see months of pregnancy as a health care liability?

I want to know what it’s like to be physically suspended in a state of expectation. In fact, I desperately long for this feeling. My sense is that the church today needs it, too. We need to be reminded this Advent of what it feels like to expect new life.

. . . . . .

Before we know him as teacher, Mary knew him as a child. Before we know him as healer, Mary knew him as needy. Before we exalt him as Savior, Mary knew him as flesh from her flesh. 

Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again.

Black Hole, part 4

I am a person of faith. When life is hell, in theory and in practice, I can lean into the hand of the God of the universe, and sometimes I do. Other times I just want kick and scratch that hand out of anger, like a raging punk-ass Thumbelina in the hand of a giant. Right now, I am exhausted.

What I have learned after 29 months of disappointments is that my body simply doesn’t want to conceive naturally. The water is bitter, or at least bereft of necessary nutrients to support new life. Perhaps years of hope deferred have left their tailings in an empty womb. Perhaps some of us weren’t meant to be mothers. I have learned there are many women of various ages who feel that last sentiment acutely. Motherhood and the desire for it are not definitive for femininity, are they? I would like to think that not being a mother does not compromise my identity as a woman, in fact. While this is a recent and fairly privileged idea, I would like to think that it is none the less true. I can be–and am, really–fully female without having a child of my own. So then, why are we so suspicious of women without children (and spouses, to roll it back a notch)? Come to think of it, why does society continue to invest only partially in young women pursuing careers?

We are wrestling with a still new phenomenon of women and work–public work, visible-to-society work. The consequences of which (I suspect) have spurred on the fertility industry. We never think we’ll need help, until we do. Then we are suddenly reliant upon half-caring professionals who, with vague understanding, begin to try first one thing, then another, without having any idea what might actually work. Of course, for many of us, we hadn’t even started thinking about children until our mid-30s because we wanted something like a career, or we waited to get married (a corrective from our parents’ divorce-happy generation), or we weren’t even certain we wanted kids. But, after a while, everyone else started doing it, so we figure we’re supposed to as well. Then, all of a sudden, nothing happens. We’re too stressed, too overworked–too old–to conceive naturally. The job that was a symbol of ‘making it’ casts its shadow. We hear stories of women continuing in their careers after having children, and it sounds great, just like having two cakes and one fork. And we hear stories of women taking time away when their income went solely to childcare. Both are searingly complicated.

In her book, Infertility Cure, Randine Lewis made a point about children for couples after infertility being absolutely desired and adored–and that made me sad, even as I sensed a deep truth to that statement. Why is it that we would need to be deprived of something (someone)? What happens in that time of unfulfillment? This question haunts me. In fact it has followed me through the library doors and into my theological study.

As Christians, we live in a time of unfulfillment:

Christ has died,
Christ is risen, 
Christ will come again. 

We anticipate a Now/Not Yet Kingdom filled by the light of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. But we have no idea what to expect, really. ….It’s a bit like infertility.