Sometimes I still think about her in the very early morning hours when my thoughts are unbidden and mine alone. Once in awhile, lying there thinking, I feel movement somewhere low in my belly, a felt memory of what it was to be pregnant – though with the boy. I never felt her move; she was gone too early, only 11 weeks along. I think about who she would be.
But sometimes, I think about who I would be now with her. What would I know now that I never got to know? How would I see that I cannot see? What would my capacity to love be like? How would she have changed me?
When the loss was fresh, all of the questions were ripe with pain. Now, almost fourteen years later, occasional moments catch me off guard and I am back in the devastation. But for the most part, healing, whether through time or the hand of God, has come. Usually what I am left with are the what ifs and the sense that I this moment could be so different than I am.
I think about this often actually, in a broader sense, wondering more generally who I might be if life had turned out differently along any number of chances – both things outside my control and things within my control. What do I know now that I couldn’t any other way but by living this exact life? If I had lived another life, what would it have cost me of this one?
Perhaps it’s classic Robert Frost territory, Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and all that.
Or maybe it’s the things of providence and God’s will.
Either way, it feels like a mistake, to sit with lives like balances in my hand, I the judge, trying to figure out if I am in the right life, whatever that could be.
In my better moments, I marvel at where I am and the strangeness of how life turned out as compared to the puny imaginations I had. And in all the big moments of change (I can see this now at 38 and could not in younger years), there have always been signs and wonders. I’ve never seen an actual bright star in the east or an angel by my bed, but I have seen bodies in glory, wrapped in light and I in my envy of their goodness have followed.
Every advent takes me back to pregnancy, and to the utter mystery of desire taking the form of flesh and being labored out into the world among us to change everything. Then add that this one child was also fully God, slowly taking shape in a form we could touch, the Creator of everything being pressed into our broken longing existence through contractions and pain and cries, then delivered through a vagina.
Do you think me crass? I don’t mean to be. It’s the most beautiful, shocking thing, a body like mine capable by grace of birthing God.
But this year in particular, it is Gabriel who has my attention. It’s Elizabeth and the prophet leaping in the womb, crying even before his first cry, “prepare ye the way of the Lord.” It’s Simeon and Anna in the temple, and shepherds in the field. It’s the magi and the star. It’s the signs and the wonders and the community waiting and witnessing.
But especially Gabriel.
It may be the stage in life I’m in, one filled with countless unknowns and nothing that looks like a clear path. A dear friend recently painted me a sign (a literal sign) with this quote by Wendell Berry: “It may be when we no longer know what we have to do that we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.” It sums up the ambiguities I live in. I hope this is the real journey.
But also, it’s the slow recognition of and gratitude for the Gabriels of my life, messengers of God, for I have a few. These are the ones who often see me and see my life more clearly than I do, who break sometimes with tenderness and sometimes with urgency into my darkness to say, “Shannon, you are filled with grace and the Lord is with you. You are blessed, because Jesus who is within you is blessed. Don’t be afraid. God is moving.”
I think how often in my life the challenge has been for me to respond fihi miat: Be it done in me.
But those are the crucial moments, the ones that change everything, where God from out of the blue whether I am waiting for God or not, comes into focus and I can sense through the signs planted in the story of my own life with God and the community of friends, that I’m being asked to do or be something, to give consent for my life to take on new form, one currently beyond my capacity to imagine. I am faced with a choice, and who I become next hinges on which way I go.
These are the roads diverging moments.
But sometimes I truly have no idea until much later that I was at a fork, or even that I was deciding per se, but I was somehow, perhaps by grace (most definitely by grace), moving in the currents of God in such a way that the decision was intuitive and almost seamless, less like weighing pros and cons and more like following the light of a star to see what of God awaited me, or heeding the voices of Gabriel because the light was so bright and the beauty so moving.
Meister Eckhart, a medieval mystic, is quoted as saying, “What good is it to me that Mary gave birth to the son of God fourteen hundred years ago, and I do not also give birth to the son of God in my time and in my culture? We are all meant to be mothers of God. God is always needing to be born.”
God is always needing to be born. How utterly true does that feel this moment in history? There are Herods lurking.
I don’t know which fiat mihi I am at. A year from now, perhaps I’ll know. These things take gestations, then births, and then raisings. But it’s a question I’m sitting with this advent: Where is God needing to be born in my world? Where can my body join with God for a work fully human and fully divine, and carry, labor, and birth? How will I, from my own unique place in history, magnificat?
Where can I say, Be it done in me according to your word?