Birth as holy event: what do I mean when I say “Holy” in relation to birth?

Birth is a special event in all our lives, whether we have our own birth experiences, been at births, or not been at births, other than our own. In my own work I find that there is certainly an experience of deepening insight of a holy timeless moment involving numinous encounters and connections across generations at births. My own research work supports the sacredness of birth. I interpret sacred in this context as meaning a sense of holy specialness beyond mundane yet, at the same time, experienced as imminent and tangible.

Early and traditional creation stories tell of wonder and joyousness at the advent of new life and belief in holy other at birth is found through early history and remains throughout many religious cultures (Callister et al 1999). To this day myth and magic, ritual, sacred acts and holy rites around birth continue to be found universally throughout human cultures (Campanelli & Campanelli, 1998; Selin & Stone, 2009). The idea of birth being under the auspices of Earth Goddess and other female deities was strong (Crowley, 2001; K. Hill, 2011; Kitzinger, 2011). Women birthing may have called upon a feminine divine presence dwelling in the universe providing order and purpose. For example, the Gnostic gospels speak of God as Mother or Sophia (wisdom) who exists before all else. There is evidence that birth was interpreted as sacramental with spirits invited or/and sent away (Kitzinger, 2011; Selin & Stone, 2009).

Callister & Khalaf’s (2010) review of anthropological studies reported birth as a sacred and spiritually transforming experience rich in meaning. Some women connected deeply with their religious beliefs. A mother recalls: “…right as she [baby] was born… It felt honestly like a moment frozen…it was one of those moments when the spirit is there” (p.18). Another woman recalls the mood: “…there was something holy around me, something beyond the ordinary, a feeling, a spirit about being part of God’s creation of a child” (p.18).
Birth invokes a felt sense of holy, something of beauty inheres within birth. In my own 2013 study I say:

“There is also the feeling that holy-others draw near; others that are so near as to be unnoticed, others that bring comfort, new insights and deepening sense of connection. This mystery is difficult to ‘say’ but is at the same time something so simple and so near within the experience”

I contend that birth is a sacred and holy moment that acts as catalyst for change. Birth as holy is something greater than us as individuals. To name the holy can inspire but can also frustrate because it is invisible, immeasurable and dependent on belief and/or faith. However to be absent or invisible and unmeasurable does not prove that it does not exist or not! Love is arguably equally ungraspable. The holy numinous qualities at birth are timeless, they remind me of a Dionysius ecstatic experience “… something that captivates and transports … with a strange ravishment, rising often enough to the pitch of dizzy intoxication…” (Otto, 1917/1923, p. 31).

I will end this blog and share my interpretation of holy I wrote several years ago:

Holy for me is something private, tender and special. It is a blend of western Christian theism and Asian mysticism. It is the profoundest relationship in my life. It is an interconnecting knowing and loving, the source of all things; a creative force that provides and liberates. The Holy is invisible but whose actions are visible. It is the something ineffable, unexplainable that peeps through a poem, a painting, a child’s smile, the fragrance of an unfurling flower, the unseen artist painting the crimson dawn over the ocean. It is benevolent and seeks my happiness.
The holy calls me to serve others as in that serving I feel closer to what is holy. It shows itself from its invisibility through my experiences. When I catch myself moved to tears by another I know I have been touched by the holy. It is the glint in the eyes of all I meet every day and everywhere. It shows itself in the simpleness of being still and silent and in the raw of thunder and exploding volcanoes! When I stop and take notice the holy gazes back in the mirror. It is the wonder of body and senses. The holy holds all together and makes up the material of the physical earth; both imminent and transcendental.
The holy has a personality that attracts and inspires constantly sending messengers from beyond into my everyday life. It is all relationships in one. When I find myself in despair I feel furthest yet the holy is nearer than my ‘I’. The holy desires that I remember the deepest belonging and connection; the feeling that ‘I am in love and loved’. I come to know the holy in special moments when the invisible touches and reminds me of who and what I am.

To be at a birth is to be amazed, touched and connected. Being there is always a privileged and unique experience unlike no other.

Birth as poetry in research

Using poetry in research and professional life as an academic in health care practice could be construed as professional suicide. Yet it is a medium that keeps me sane and allows something more deeply felt to filter through. I am in the process of writing an academic journal article about poetry use in research and thought I would air some of my early musings.

When I completed my PhD thesis the final chapter evolved around a final poem that emerged from participants words (see below). It was risky –  however it paid off. That same poem on request from faculty management is now enlarged and lives proudly framed in front of the midwifery school in the faculty buildings. When presenting poems in conferences the audience is often left in a quiet place where I have to confirm to the chair and audience – “I’m finished” so the session can end. Unspoken experiential processes play in that moment.

But why poetry? Empirically reported evidence using prose alone is important and certainly has a place in our midwifery and natal world. Yet there is always more.
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My foray into blogging begins

Hi all

well I made it to blogging! I love twitter but sometimes I just have more to say than a sentence can convey. So here I go – brave new world…

I’m not sure how this will evolve but I expect like all other things in life it will unfold and provide unexpected surprises. My first thoughts were “where will I find the time?” I dare say it will find its way into a space when I would have watched a silly TV show or spaced out in a novel. The ability of humans to be reflective and self-reflect is exciting. In reflective moments when we slow the world there is a possibility that things previously pre-reflective and thus hidden will arrive in a moment of insight from no where and everywhere. This blog is my avenue to explore, share and gesture towards pre-reflective taken for granted meanings in life.

My site is named ‘Kairos time – moments of insight‘, a timeless time in which something just beyond prior knowing springs forth and surprises. This is my space to share such times with you in the hope that a dialogue can bubble up!

Life can deliver a jolt to our sensibilities that reveal in an instant just how extraordinary life is! Being at the  birth of another human being is one such moment. Yet everyday life has always held so much meaning.

“Earth cannot escape heaven

Flee it by going up,

or flee it by going down,

heaven still invades the earth,

it energizes it,

makes it sacred” (Meister Eckhart – lived: 1260-1329)

There is always something to discern in the invisible sacred layers of life, a richness of meaningful inspiring purpose not ordinarily expressed that dwells quiescent in the words, letters, doings and complexity of life. The challenge is always then to bring such moments of kairos to words for sharing with others.

I inhabit, as we all do, a sensuous world that lives, breathes, moves constantly with meaning. Meaning that continuously reaches out and touches as we reach out and touch life’s mystery. To write like this is to take a pause, to stop and trust whatever will arrive.

Life’s purpose and intelligence beckons me to be with others wherever they may be in meaningful and relational ways. Everything conjoins from the past and future into this present moment of writing – everything at this precious moment rests in an eternal now. As I gaze out of my Auckland home office onto the native bush, hear the Tuis (Native NZ birds) sing their exquisite melody, see the breeze playing with the leaves on the trees, the fragrance of orange blossoms flow into my experience, the dancing ripples of water as the tide re-enters the estuary beside my home and the warm tingling on my skin of the evening spring sun, there is also a growing awareness that my mouth is dry and my stomach desires food and I realize in this moment of pause that I am invited with others into a moment of conscious knowing. This is a felt-space of unseen depths that surrounds us, holds us and embraces all our senses.

Take a pause – it always seems to bring remembrance that life is so interesting and amazingly interconnected.