As Christmas arrives, a time of reflection for many on a holy birth, I ponder the way we as society attune at birth today. All human experiences are culturally and historically determined, including birth. Birth as with all other human experience and understanding is contextual. As Gadamer contends we are viewing and knowing the world from an inescapable effective historical consciousness. We are in a way continually walking into our past. I argue like others that birth is not purely physiological but enmeshed in its own unique context. Therefore to explore any phenomenon at birth is at once to address all of birth, past and present which at the same time is connected to future possibilities. There are constant hints from history that gesture towards birth as significant fusing with contemporary horizons of understanding and possible futures. That is to say that how we tune into, tune in or attune at birth reveals how birth is understood.
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.