5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
I thought after dealing with Zechariah’s doubt last week, we would kind of be moving along towards Mary and Gabriel, or census counting, or donkeys. But here we are: the same people, the same doubt, female perspective.
It feels heavy. My spirit is restless. It wants the good stuff. The better stuff. The stuff that is born out of doubt. Not more doubt itself. But in a world where the voice of the woman is easily snuffed out, past and present, taking time to hear Elizabeth’s waiting story is more of a gift than an annoyance. How easily distracted I am by the way I think the story needs to be told.
Okoro speaks directly to Elizabeth’s barrenness. Whether there were multiple pregnancies ending in miscarriages or no conception at all, her womb — where the most intimate form of creation in our world takes place — was empty. Perhaps the early gospel writers didn’t find it strange to pin barreness on the woman, but unless there was a physical loss of blood and child through miscarriage, how do we know it wasn’t Zechariah who was unable to conceive? Who knows… maybe the specific reference to Elizabeth being barren DID refer to miscarriage. Maybe that’s how everyone knew.
“Enduring a miscarriage is a horrifying experience of encountering life blood seeping away from your body. Not to mention the emotional trauma of infertility, the self-inflicted guilt, feelings of failure, the possible onslaught of depression. Only after we acknowledge the physical reality of barrennes can we begin to consider how such pain can transfer to other forms of barrenness. Then we can adequately name other empty spaces in our lives that feel as painful as the ache of a womb that refuses to carry life, the purpose for its creation.” (Okoro, p.44).
I’ve never endured a miscarriage. I’ve never been given the chance to know whether or not life would be possible within me. I don’t know that specific fear or pain or guilt. But I do know the shame some would place on me, and others like me, for not being “wife material”. If we aren’t mothers already, it’s because we aren’t exhibiting godly traits equated with godly wives.
Or we’re supposed to live with attitudes of gratitude and realize that there are better things out there for us. Wallowing in self-pity won’t help us at all. Why complain or let negative thoughts create negative energy? The universe has a grander scheme for our lives.
Or we are afraid…
Or there was a car accident…
Or, or, or…
Wallowing in self-pity never really helps anyone, true. But struggling for all postive all the time, refusing to acknowledge the deep, tender doubt inside brings gangrene, and not a life of gratitude. Struggling to accept one’s body, created to be life for new life, when it doesn’t fulfill one of its main purposes can be a barren wasteland. Perhaps there is a great and glorious plan at work! But that doesn’t negate our grief at the emptiness we carry inside. It needs to be allowed room to dwell. It is hidden enough already. We need to be given room to speak the grief and pain already in existence.
Some of us have walked away from preachers and teachers who would emit shame and guilt; others of us have not. It takes time and a good deal of wisdom to reverse toxic beliefs, religious and secular, that would see us as women blame ourselves for not being good enough for motherhood (or anything else for that matter).
Zechariah’s doubt and fear and grief was deeply personal, but in all likelihood he had to sit by and watch as Elizabether carried most of the responsibilty for her barren state. Maybe he even contributed to her pain. Who knows? I’d like to think he’d be the supportive husband, shush-ing all the gossipy quacks around them. But as a devout, prominent leader of his day, perhaps he did his share of shaming too.
You’ve shared before your places of barrenness… “woundedness”, Henri. Relationships you relied on so heavily to help you live day to day breaking down, leaving you alone and stripped of all you once knew. I know you know these barren places. I know you know they were meant to be full of new life, new blood, new names, new promises.
And yet they were not. They are not.
They become cold and lifeless. Like a woman losing her child during pregnancy, we clutch at our most intimate parts, trying to stop the blood seeping out of ourselves. We know these places of life are ending, we know the loss is great, but we fight to put things to rights. We struggle to keep alive what is meant to be alive.
And yet we lose.
For all our attempts at rescue, we lose.
And we mourn.
Here begins Elizabeth’s story: her doubt is carried in her womb. Her hopes and expectations for life from childhood drip away with each monthly cycle. And as those cycles slowly cease, the reality that her hopes have become unanswered prayers settle in on her for the remainder of her days.
And yet she still goes to God.
Perhaps not knowing what else to do, she comes before This Silent One and continues her daily life, her routine, her marriage, her community, holding her doubt in her womb — close and tightly knit inside.
And the waiting continues.
Until tomorrow, Henri,