My mother, my daughter, life-giving Eve,
Do not be ashamed, do not grieve.
The former things have passed away,
Our God has brought us to a New Day.
See, I am with Child,
Through whom all will be reconciled.
O Eve! My sister, my friend,
We will rejoice together
Life without end.
— Sr Columba Guare © 2005 Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey
Watching for God in the garden, a woman – soon to be a mother. She’s vibrant, deeply loved. No one in the world is like her.
But on this day, unlike any other day, she is afraid, desperately trying to ensure that no one can see her – the real her: naked, in shock, ashamed. Behind bushes, pressed against a tree, willing herself to disappear – hoping that what happened is only a dream.
This can’t be what it’s going to feel like forever.
Leaves rustle, footsteps, and she hears her name. She covers her face with her hands.
Maybe I won’t be found.
A hand touches her shoulder, and the presence she has known all her life searches her with eyes full of concern, patience. She holds the fig leaves over her chest to keep them from falling.
“The serpent lied to me, and I ate the fruit.”
Tears run down their necks. Deep, agonizing groans. “Ahhh, how could I have done it?”
Exhaustion wins, and she sleeps curled up at the base of the tree.
“Eve,” the presence whispers, brushing hair from her eyes and handing her a sip of water. “It’s time to talk now.”
A fire crackles close by. She draws herself up and they move closer to the flame, warming her skin.
“I will crush him,” the voice says. “He will bite me; he will steal, kill, and destroy; he will strike me, but I will crush him. He’s against you forever. But I promise you, I will crush him.
“Eve, having children is painful. It hurts giving birth to them, letting them walk on their own. You will give everything for them, and it will hurt. Life will hurt, and there is no guarantee.”
“Lord? I’m so sorry.”
“You promise you will crush him?”
“Having children really hurts?
“Yes. And you will love them anyway.”
She sits, shoulders slumped, speechless, shivering.
“Daughter, you’re cold. I’ll make you some clothing.”
Eve leaves the only home she’s ever known, wondering, “How could I have eaten that fruit? How long, oh Lord, till you deliver us?”
Birthing her sons. Bleeding for them. When the older brother murders the younger, Eve is in agony. “How long, oh Lord, how long?”
When death comes, “How long?”
And she waits. And she hopes.
It was early December. Our twin girls were three. We had just gotten possession of our home, and Christmas was coming. Corey’s mom made us a beautiful Christmas sign that read, “For unto us a child is born.”
That February, we told Corey’s parents, “We may need to give your sign back – it may be too prophetic for us.” We were pregnant.
We were just coming up for air from the early days with two infants, thinking, “Oh man, we have to start collecting baby stuff again.”
A few weeks later, I was working on supper. The girls were playing upstairs, and Corey was out working. And it started. I ran to the bathroom: I was bleeding.
My daughters burst in on me, as 3-year-olds do. I tried to put them at ease, as my hands and clothes were covered with blood, and I was obviously not okay.
We called the family. We were losing this baby. A doctor’s visit led to blood tests every other day for weeks. Ultrasounds. A trip to emergency – I was hemorrhaging. There was still a flicker of a heartbeat, and I was told, “You’re still not out of the woods.”
For months, I never knew from day to day whether I would see blood or not – and how much – and at the next ultrasound, whether this little one would still be there.
I was angry that God would mess with my baby, with me. I didn’t want to listen to Jesus – for fear that he would tell me I was going to lose this child.
And in the midst of all this, this church held out hope for me, for us. Held onto hope when I couldn’t because I was still seeing blood.
Our son Jase is that flicker of heartbeat that this church held out hope for when I could not.
There’s a rustling – and the shape of a young woman appears in the doorway. “Cousin Elizabeth, are you in there?”
Elizabeth stirs from her chair where she had dozed off – tired from age, the weariness of her body, and her growing belly, now obvious under her long tunic. Mary’s eyes drift to Elizabeth’s waist, and a flash of relief spreads across her face. “It’s true!”
Elizabeth steps toward her, arms open. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Blessed are you who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
The women embrace, overwhelmed with joy at being together, being understood, surprised by these children they are carrying.
“Mary, do you know what this means?”
“I think so – Jesus is the Messiah, the one we’ve been waiting for, hoping for, isn’t he?”
“Yes child. I think you’re right.”
They sit, the fire crackling between them.
“My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,” says Mary. “God has thought of me, a humble peasant girl. Future generations are going to call me blessed, aren’t they?
“Elizabeth, I think God wants to fill our hunger – we’ve been so hungry for God’s presence. God is remembering us, remembering the promises to Abraham and all our people.
“Elizabeth, no one’s going to believe me. My parents are going to think it was Joseph. And Joseph – who knows what he’s going to think.”
“Yes, child, this isn’t going to be easy. But God is with you. Not just in your mind and in your heart but with you – in your womb – growing. Immanuel.
“Child, remember your grandmothers, God’s faithfulness to them: Eve, Sarah, Tamar, Rachel, Rahab, Ruth, Hannah, Bathsheba. God was with them. Their hope was in God even as they waited, in harrowing circumstances, for the birth of their children, children of promise. God intervened. Like God is intervening here, with you.
“You, dear one, get to carry the one we have all been hoping for – to rescue us, to free us, to crush the enemy.”
“Yes, but, Elizabeth, how will I know?”
“Jesus will start kicking you. Come, put your hand on my stomach. Feel that? That’s John: he’s going to prepare the way for your Jesus. And your Jesus is Immanuel – God with you. You’re never alone in this.”
Mary stays with Elizabeth for three months. And Elizabeth, holding Mary’s hair as she retches, whispers, “He is with you, He is with you, He is with you.”
Gently moving the hair from Mary’s face as she sleeps in exhaustion, whispering to her, “He is with you, He is with you, He is with you.”
Praying, “Oh God, be with her – this is not going to be easy.”
And it isn’t. When Mary returns home, the bump beneath her tunic spikes anger and disappointment in her parents’ eyes. Joseph is called, blamed, and retreats in silence. The whole town is talking.
And Jesus kicks. “I am with you. I am with you. I am with you”
And Mary hopes. Mary remembers. Mary waits.
As we hope, as we remember, as we wait, knowing Immanuel: “God with us.”
[Erin Julihn is a member of Coast Hills Community Church and serves on the preaching team. She lives in Surrey, B.C., with her husband and three children. Erin works as a strengths based leadership and team development consultant.
Poem and artwork by Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa. Used with permission.
The image was drawn by Sister Grace Remington from a cloistered tapestry community of nuns who make caramels for a living and commit themselves to prayer. I love its honesty – Eve, still clutching the apple – not quite free of it yet – even as the presence of Jesus in Mary enables her to crush the head of the snake – loosening its grip from Eve. I love its familiarity – both women, standing together in solidarity – knowing the struggle of life, both of them, brows furrowed – allowing the baby in Mary’s belly to comfort and be present in their circumstances through his in utero life, perhaps Mary saying, “Feel here, He’s kicking. See, he’s really coming, just like he said he would – just like we’ve been hoping.”