Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Mary, the first tabernacle

Many, many times in Zambia, I had the privilege of allowing a woman to hear the heartbeat of her unborn baby.

She was always a woman from one of the fishing villages, some more remote than others. The woman was usually illiterate. Sometimes she had children already. Sometimes it was the first baby. It didn’t matter. The reaction was always the same. There was silence, followed by stunned disbelief, and then a slow, radiant smile unlike anything else that I have ever seen in my entire life. The smile was one of wonder, mystery, joy and of sharing in something so deep and so personal that although I was a participant, it was only on the perimeter. The woman, for a few seconds, had gone beyond anything she had ever known or experienced.

If the baby was big enough, I could let the mother identify the head, buttocks, arms and legs of her unborn child. Once or twice we were even able to feel its chin! I always told the mothers that they should talk to their babies; that a baby is born with the ability to identify its mother’s voice from that of anybody else on earth. A local tradition led women to fill the newborn baby’s palm with water for its mother to drink, believing that the baby would protect her from the pains of childbirth.

There was one wonderful, unforgettable occasion when, one baby was still unborn and had scarcely started to emerge from the tabernacle of its mother’s womb, it took hold of my index finger and wouldn’t let go. The mother and I laughed, but it was laughter shared with God. It was an unbelievably sacred moment.

On another occasion a woman gave birth to her first daughter after nine boys. I found her sitting on the edge of the bed, gazing at her infant, filled with wonder that, at last, she had the girl-child for whom she had longed. One word. “Malaika”. “Angel”….and so she named her baby.

Mary, the mother of Jesus. The first tabernacle and the first one to hold Jesus close to her heart.

God bless,
Sr. Janet