I cannot imagine being eight months pregnant any time but during April. But then again, if I were due during the summer harvest or the autumnal foliage, or pregnant during Advent, like Mary, I would most likely be partial to those seasons and would never consider it could have been otherwise. As it is, my first baby, choosing to be born in June, has grown my belly to full blossom in springtime.
I started a notebook to write about the physical changes of my pregnancy, but ended up writing about the trees. Outside, the natural world has arranged itself into a liturgical procession suitable for a major feast day. The ordo: the crocus acolytes lead in the fosythia choir, followed by the shrubbery deacons, azalea to lilac, attending the fat and jolly magnolia, cloaked in the finest fragrant vestments, spun with white golden thread.
There is such a magnolia on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. It burst into blossom on Easter Monday. Unfor-tunately, that was a blustery day, and the sweet petals adorning every branch of the tree at 7 a.m. were all blown off and trodden underfoot, browned and composting, 12 hours later. Still, the moment before the winds began, the petals’ release saw a magnificent show. And then, as suddenly as it began, it returned into a regular, unremarkable, leafy tree. Magnolia is an ancient and resilient genus; its glory is fleeting, but memorable.
Spring in the suburbs is luxurious and sprawling. It rolls in at a controlled pace, seen over kitchen sills and through school bus windows. There are greening lawns and morning dew and robins searching for earthworms. But in the city, spring arrives unannounced on one day, a crazed explosion, a detonated bomb. I cannot deal with it; it’s too fast and sudden. Thank-fully, as the baby makes my body grow larger, I am unable to rush past anything anymore. I have to stop my life to catch the spring. My gaze is forced up from the grimy streets to the theater happening in the treetops. I can’t help but try to stay balanced on my two feet, a witness to this renewal of nature.
During the short days of winter, when the growing baby was putting me to bed on the couch around 8 p.m., the tiny buds were setting on the branches of these trees. The promise of the springtime blossoms was there all winter, invisible, an inner hidden mystery waiting and longing to blossom, a visible sign of an invisible reality. In the sacraments, God breaks through.
I was born into a sacramental world, and the sacraments have been the ordering principle within which and into which I live. There is a cycle to the church’s sacred moments. The sacraments of initiation, of healing and of vocation can catch us up when we need to be reminded to slow down and witness the blessings of the moment. There is always something to celebrate; even the long stretches of ordinary time are packed with feast days. My pregnancy has been blessed in light of this sacramental framework, offering me a greater awareness of my location within the liturgical cycle. The cycle of nature is partnered with the cycle of the sacraments, coming around and around year after year with the same mystery and regularity.
The earth, the church, the body are always changing seasons, always showing off in ways that can be appreciated. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., said, “Purity does not lie in separation from but in deeper penetration into the universe.” The experience of being pregnant in spring has been pleasing to my senses: fragrant and sunny and irresistibly optimistic. Feeling the rumbles within my womb, sinking slightly into springy sod, I am reminded that my body is doing what it has been gifted to do. I feel the power of creation passing through me. I am filled with a nature-inspired confidence that my body and my faith will take care of me.
This season is always about more than the fertility rites of springtime. It is Eastertide, the season of the Resurrection, of the ultimate surprise, and of the Ascension. This year I have been thinking of the disciples as expectant parents, nesting in the upper room, being showered with gifts at Pentecost, struggling to set up a proper home, a church awaiting its birth. There is a spirituality of pregnancy within the Acts of the Apostles, which for me has been more instructive reading than any childbirth manual.
These are the reflections of a laboring mother, perhaps even the start of an attempt to construct a theology of maternity. As the trees release their blossoms and spring marches onward toward the summer solstice, my due date creeps closer. Soon I will let go of this child I have been carrying through three of nature’s seasons and seven liturgical ones. Next spring, no longer pregnant, I will watch the trees burst forth with blossoms, but with another witness to the Resurrection.