Being pregnant during advent, and hospitality

From the book:

Many people are familiar with the story of Servant of God Dorothy Day (1897-1980), co-founder of the Catholic Worker, a radical movement dedicated to serving the needs of the homeless and vulnerable through depending on God’s providence. As a young adult, Dorothy– a strong-willed young woman in love and living with a man named Forster Batterham, writing for socialist and communist papers in New York City, and joining marches for women’s suffrage and worker’s rights–found herself pregnant. In fact, she was pregnant for the second time; she had an abortion of an earlier pregnancy by another man. This pregnancy, wholly unexpected since she had thought she was barren after the earlier abortion, she was determined to bear–despite Forster’s objections and her own precarious financial situation. While pregnant, she decided that the baby must be baptized in a faith she wished she could fully embrace herself. She was attracted to Catholicism, sitting in the backs of churches full of people she was trying to stand in solidarity with, the working immigrant poor of New York City–but she hesitated to become Catholic, in significant part because it would mean the end of her relationship with Forster. When recounting this story, Jim Forest, a friend of Dorothy Day as well as her biographer, said “And this birth, the birth of Tamar Teresa, was a turning point, the beginning of her ministry of hospitality. It all began with the hospitality of the womb.”[1]

[1]Jim Forest lecture, March 2002, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota (Winona, MN). Forest’s most recent biography of Dorothy Day is All Is Grace: A Biography Of Dorothy Day,Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books 2011.

Three of my five children were held in my womb during advent. It’s a common experience for pregnant women–a nine month pregnancy does cover most of the year, and the chance of hitting advent is high.  But it’s a privileged time to be pregnant and to hear of another pregnancy, Mary’s childbearing of Jesus.

So much of pregnancy can be just uncomfortable.  Even painful., sometimes scary.  But there is also something like holding a great secret.  And  the real sense that you are able to nurture and care for your child by doing so little, really–eat, a little exercise, sleep.  It may be the one time in life that living out your vocation given by God doesn’t require any real thought or deliberation: at this point, it’s simply about providing the other room to be and grow.

This is a note that Dorothy Day’s biographer Jim Forest highlights beautifully: Dorothy made a decision to offer her child the hospitality of the womb, and all of her hospitality to the most vulnerable in society began in a concrete way with that experience of making room for a child of God.

So much of the Gospel of Matthew’s nativity story is about a lack of room: no room (initially) in Joseph’s heart for a miracle child, no room at the Inn, no room in Bethlehem thanks to Herod and a hurried flight to Egypt.  But Mary made room, and we all make room when we embrace a pregnancy as God’s work.  And soon enough it will be work: the labor, the raising.  But for a few more days, we get to practice hospitality by simply breathing, eating, drinking, and resting as needed.  This end of advent, let us remember Mary’s hospitality, and our own call to hospitality as we understand it in our state of life.  And I wish all of you a blessed Christmas.

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