Monday, October 24, 2011

CREATING WITH GOD by Sarah Jobe

Last week I went to Johnsen & Taylor Inspirational Books and Gifts to listen to five women authors from the Redbud Writers Guild present "Women and Writing: The Importance of Using Your Voice for Christ's Kingdom." After the lively discussion, I wandered through the store looking at book jackets. Most of the books, all aimed at evangelical readers, were written by men. Most of the shoppers in the store were women.

I suppose some men feel less queasy about walking through displays of fluffy angels and inspirational wall plaques if they know that stacks of books by male authors await them in the back of the store, though few men were there that evening. I believe that men - and women, too -  can learn a lot from male authors. On the other hand, I also believe that men - and women, too - can learn a lot from female authors. And I know that there are things that simply can't be said unless a woman says them.

Sarah Jobe is saying some of those woman things.

Creating with God: The Holy Confusing Blessedness of Pregnancy isn't an obvious reading choice for a 63-year-old grandmother, but I picked it up anyway - and was almost immediately laughing out loud. "This book is an attempt to name how pregnant women are co-creators with God at precisely the moment in which we are pooping on the delivery table," Jobe writes in the author's note. "I will claim that pregnant women are the image of Jesus among us not in spite of varicose veins but because of them."

I remember pregnant. First baby nestling so deep within me that there was no room left for stomach, lungs, bladder, or various other organs I had formerly enjoyed using every day. Second baby perched so far beyond me that walking became perilous and friends pointed and laughed when they saw us waddling their way. And my pregnancies were a breeze compared to Jobe's, though her midwives dubbed hers "uncomplicated."

What bothered Jobe - who has an M.Div., is an ordained pastor, and works as a prison chaplain - is that she couldn't figure out "how God could be present in pregnancy in spite of back pain, financial stress, hormonal shifts, and constipation." But as she progressed through two back-to-back pregnancies, she writes, she "learned a startling truth. God is not present in pregnancy in spite of all the crap (and I mean that in the most literal sense). God is present in pregnancy at precisely the places that seem least divine."

If Jobe's wry frankness got me into the book, her theological ruminations kept me intrigued. Who knew that Eve's exclamation at the birth of Cain could just as well be translated a quite different way? That the glow of pregnancy might be related to the glow seen on Moses' or Jesus' face? That groaning in labor is not only inevitable, but also productive and even Godlike? That communion, the placenta, and breast milk have a lot in common?

Such observations are not often made by male writers. And even if they are, how many males could achieve Jobe's "been there, done that" realism? Listen to her reflect on how she was feeling days after her due date, with no sign of imminent labor:
In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus tells a story about waiting for the kingdom of God. There are ten virgins waiting to greet their bridegroom. They wait and wait, but he doesn't come.... Jesus chooses a negative example; a story about how not to wait. But he could have told a story about how to wait well by simply trading in the virgins for some pregnant women.

Pregnant women surely would have fallen asleep (probably before the virgins) but by the time the bridegroom came, they would have woken up twice to pee and once for a little snack of peanut butter toast and milk. When the bridegroom came striding in at midnight, at least three lamps would already be on. The pregnant woman struggling with insomnia would welcome him to the kitchen table for a midnight cup of herbal tea. The second-time mom would motion the bridegroom to the couch while she finished nursing her firstborn. And the third-time mom would say with a large dose of exasperation, "It's about time you got here - my six-year-old can't sleep for excitement about this wedding feast!" All of them would have their hospital bags packed and waiting by the door. Jesus could have said, "Wait like a pregnant woman."
That night at Johnsen & Taylor's bookstore, I did see books written by women, of course. Most of the novels had female authors. A few books by women were in the Christian Living section. As a retired editor for a variety of religion publishers, I'm happy to see women contributing to any and all categories. But I'm especially happy when women use uniquely female experiences as ways to see God.

The image of God is male and female. Half a God may be better than no God at all - or it may be dangerously distorted. It's way past time to let light shine on the neglected half of God's image. Thanks, Sarah Jobe - and please keep writing.

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