“He started out head up and facing me,” my daughter Maggy is saying to me. “But now he’s turned head down, facing away from me. Perfect position.” She was something like six months along.
I wanted to know how he (we know it’s a boy in there) makes these turns, gets all lined up. “Oh,” Maggy tells me, “my midwife Kimm tells me, ‘Your baby knows what to do, you just have to give him the space to do it.’” Which is why Kimm had coached Maggy to watch her posture, sit up straight, keep her knees lower than her hips. “If you slouch all day,” Maggy says, “the baby can’t get where it needs to be, there just isn’t room to maneuver.”
So her job was simply to hold open a space so that the baby could do what it needed to do.
This stance, this way of being in relationship to life is not simply for expecting mothers; it is for all expectant people, anyone who is welcoming new life, new insight, new understanding, new surgings of compassion, new outbreaks of joy. You don’t make these things happen! All you do—all you can do—is open up a space where it can happen. This is what we mean by grace. It’s what the mystics mean by virginal conception. The blessing or gift just happens, and there is no other way to express the mystery of how it fell into our laps.
The nub of the mystery, however, is our participation in it. You can’t make any miracle happen, but you can—indeed you must—ready yourself to receive it. When I watch my daughter, I see how aware she is of her pregnancy. Everything she eats and drinks, the way she sits, the posture of her sleep, the books and blogs she reads, the way she stands, feet slightly splayed, the way she holds one hand thoughtlessly on her belly in case there should be the slightest movement from within. She is merely ‘holding open a space’ for a mystery she cannot control, but if you ask Maggy she might tell you it takes a lot of work to ‘merely hold open a space’!
The Taoists have a word for this, wu wei. It translates as “non-doing,” but is better rendered, “doing/not doing.” We are invited to participate in something remarkable, the emerging of our own authentic lives. That is not an event to which we are passive observers, couch potatoes. It takes a quiet kind of non-work, or working/not working.
This may help to explain why Paul could say, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God,” (Ephesians 2:8), and could also add, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). It’s a gift, yes, and you have to work it out in your own soul!