Holy Signs (Essay)
Occasionally I post essays about faith and/or parenting that aren't directly related to my children's faith questions. Thanks for reading!
I've been in early labor twice on today's date, several years apart. No children were actually born on this date - we'll celebrate two birthdays in our house in the coming days. But twice on March 25, I've felt the unmistakable signs that new life is about to emerge. That sounds poetic, but those signs were not. There was pain and blood, worry and unease. There was also eager anticipation and hope. Signs of God are often like that, too.
March 25 is my "labor day" but it's also a feast day in the Christian church. Today is the Annunciation to Blessed Virgin Mary, as it's called in the Catholic tradition, and is one of the "great feast days" of the Orthodox church. Annunciation Day celebrates the day (not actually the real date) that the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and would have a son, Jesus. It's like a holy day for when you see those two pink lines on the pregnancy test. The Annunciation is about Jesus, of course, but it's also about the poor, young, peasant Mary: she gets a sign, and she is filled with wonder, joy, awe and fear.
I remember the first time I had early labor signs on March 25. I was out to lunch with a friend and commented about some "strange symptom" I was having. Oh my gosh you're in labor, my friend practically yelled. Nah, I'm okay, I said, it's nearly a week before my due date. It's nothing. Let's order dessert. She was right, of course, but I could not correctly read the signs, or didn't want to.
The clarify of signs is often in hindsight. We knew that job wasn't a good fit, but we needed to pay the rent. We knew that romantic partner had some red flags, but we brushed them off. We felt that maybe God was inviting us to take a leap of faith to quit/move/travel/forgive/serve but we doubted. If only we had angel Gabriel to give us a hail Mary -- which is what Gabriel literally says upon appearing to her.
I read somewhere that multitasking (which I am literally doing right now) is hard on your brain, because we're not meant to toggle back and forth. We miss things, we lack focus, we get exhausted. Better to slow down and do one thing at a time, said the article. I'm not a self-help expert, but perhaps slowing down might enable us to see the holy signs of God all around us.
Holy signs might be labor pains, but they might also be a gut feeling that something isn't right, a surge of energy for a new project, a comment from a loved one, an insight from nature or a surprising invitation from someone you haven't met yet. Who can limit the holy work of God?
The second time I went into labor on March 25, the signs were much more clear. The labor was harder, the baby came sooner. I'm not planning on any more March 25 labors (or any other days!) but this day to remember Mary's pregnancy and my own will come around every year. In Greek, Mary is called the "theotokos," literally "God-bearer." There's a way in which we all - regardless of sex - are God-bearers. The holy signs are everywhere, and within us, too. Today, I'm getting just a little bit quieter, to listen for them.