I first noticed her on the headboard of my bed, her protuberant backside proclaiming her pregnancy to all the world. It was so large and full that it seemed a wonder her spindly legs could hold her up. It wigged me out having her so close to my head. What if she wanted to crawl on me while I was asleep? After looking at her for a moment, reigning in the impulse to swat her flat, she turned and crawled into the darkness between headboard and wall.
Over the next week I found her by the bedside lamp and, finally, on the wall by my sink. Each time her belly was even larger than the time before, a moon waxing to fullness. One morning I opened the cupboard that holds my sink to find her nestled into the door jamb, weaving a dense blanket for her young to hatch. Its soft white threads glowed in the light as she stood guard, an icon of potentiality.
The whole week that this pregnant spider moved around my room, the sense of connection grew in me. I became more and more convinced that she was a messenger, one of Gabriel’s corps come to whisper the good news, and I was her favored one.
For the few seconds I bent my head into sink to rinse my mouth, though, her hovering presence stabbed at me like a threat more than a promise. I raised my head, picked up my shoe, and struck her down.
I knew immediately that I had done wrong. That killing still weighs on me. This little spider, one of God’s angels, had come to me to teach me and to offer me her friendship, and I had killed her. No other has come to replace her.
My fear of the spider grew too much to bear as she bore her young into the world. In the moment before I killed her, I had an image of thousands of tiny translucent spiders swarming across my room, covering my prone body and devouring me. Talk about fear of the feminine.
I was afraid of the chaos of her generativity, the otherness and mystery of her pregnancy. The cave of her body was an unknown land, an ocean best left unexplored, lest the crashing waves drive me under.
I have taken some time, as I try to do each Christmas, to sit with our beautiful creche. This year, though, I’m struck by the lopsidedness of the scene. There is Mary, surrounded on all sides, by men: her aged husband, the three shepherds, and her small son. Where are the women? Who was there to help her give birth, to counsel, comfort, and encourage her? Where are her mother, sisters, aunts, grandmother, neighbors? How lonely she looks to me, the only woman in the scene.
Of course, there are the heifers and the ewes. Perhaps, like my little spider, they lent their voices, bent down over to nuzzle at her belly as she pushed forth God into the world, lowed their joy and wonder at the birth of their creator.
And yet, the scene still rings false. The historical likelihood, of course, is that Mary was surrounded by women when she gave birth to Jesus. As with the empty tomb, the first witnesses to God’s redeeming work would have been women. But we have erased them from the text and the tradition.
There is so much to say, so much that has been said, about the wounds patriarchy has inflicted on our spiritual, emotional, national, and ecclesial lives. What strikes me most in this moment, though, is the loneliness and the loss of the simple, practical companionship of the midwife.
I myself feel pregnant with the Word. My spiritual belly is rising with some new movement, an invitation to fall deeper in love, a request to be lit on fire, a larger wholemaking, a great silent wonder. And who is there to guide, counsel, encourage, and celebrate with me?
There are teachers of women’s ways in our tradition. Of course there are. But we (men) have largely pushed them to the margins or erased them entirely. What of the nameless woman of Luke 7 who pours her whole life at Jesus’ feet? Or the Samaritan woman whose thirst he slakes? Or the woman with an issue of blood? They’re all there. They and so many countless others grew pregnant with longing for the Word. They gave birth, bearing God in beauty and pain and joy. And they’re also all nameless.
How often do we turn to them for wisdom? How often do we allow our fear of the chaos and the mystery of their unfurling pregnancies to drive us to blot them out?
I want these and other midwives. I want them to aid me as my time grows ripe. I want them to teach me their reverence for the mystery and the chaos, for the burgeoning womb and the empty cave, for the boundless ocean depths.
All spiritual transformation lies in the realm of the feminine, Jung said.
Perhaps these midwives are like the heifers and the ewes: subtle, silent, unnoticed witnesses and guides to our own unfurling lives in God, waiting for us to bend to their counsel, lowing in joy as thousands of translucent bodies swarm forth from us, tiny stars singing their lullabies and guiding the people of the earth to the Word made flesh in the straw of their own lives.
But do we listen? Do we search? Can we seek their counsel and their aid?