We received this post from Carol Vezzani who contributed to our book the beautiful essay “My Angel in Gethsemane” in our Atonement chapter.  Carol also blogs at   http://anunsuccessfulblog.blogspot.com.  I enjoyed this post because I love the idea of Mary being proactive and empowered about her birth.  Enjoy! –Robyn

 

Empowering Mary: A Paradigm Shift on the Nativity Story by Carol Vezzani

I’ve always felt at least a little uncomfortable with the common modern renditions of the conditions of Christ’s birth: Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem, poor and alone. They reach the one inn in town, Mary obviously ready to pop, if not already in labor, only to find it crowded and run by a grumpy and inhospitable innkeeper who gruffly forces them to leave. In despair and urgency, they take refuge in a stable among the animals and filth. Alone and in the most squalid of circumstances imaginable, the Christ child is born and laid in the manger where the cows and goats continue to nibble the hay out from under his head.

The entire basis for this account is these 4 verses from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2–

 

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judæa, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5 To be taxed with Mary his aespoused wife, being great with child.

6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

 

When you read what is there, there really is so little that is concretely declared about the circumstances. I have no problem with people inventing details to flesh out a story that is so important to so many. The problem I have is with those invented details being perpetuated and taught as truth down the generations.

It started with the innkeeper. Even as a child, I was uncomfortable with the birth story having an invented villain. No where in the Bible does it mention an innkeeper, and yet he consistently makes an appearance, turning the holy couple away out of selfishness and greed. My first childish thoughts were, “That is so unfair. No one knows that he was mean or selfish. Maybe he was nice. He even let them stay in his stable. What, should he have kicked out someone who was already there? He did the best he could.” It wasn’t until later that I realized–there may never even have been an innkeeper at all. And I think that’s the point. I can invent details that please myself, but I do not claim that is actually how things were, any more than the “traditional” details.

Some other thoughts are on the accommodations available to Mary and Joseph. The Joseph Smith Translation of the bible renders the word as “inns” rather than “inn,” and some research into the original Greek (on the internet–don’t judge) points out that the word translated as “inn” in this circumstance is not the same as that meaning a public house for travelers, but rather a guestroom in a private residence. This makes sense. Bethlehem is Joseph’s hometown. It seems only natural that he would have family to stay with. But, being a time when everyone came home, the houses were probably crowded.

Since having my own babies, I have connected more with Mary in this story. The more I thought about her, the more I felt offended on her behalf even more than on the innkeeper’s. Why should she be depicted as the simpering, whimpering, powerless victim? I personally think God would have picked a Mother for the Christ with a little more gumption than that. Having traveled to a different state in order to have a natural home birth, in the basement of a friend’s house where the rest of the family who owned the house went about their business upstairs, I know what it is like to have a baby far from home, in a busy house that doesn’t belong to you. And let me tell you, there could be plenty of “room” to live and eat and sleep at night and still “no room” to have a baby. And at this point my imagination started to run. I can only imagine Mary, coming on to her time, looking around that crowded house and thinking, “No. Way.” OK. Say she is demure and kindhearted. She won’t kick anyone else out of the house just for her, but still. She goes to Joseph.

 

Mary: There’s no room here. I can’t have my baby here.

Joseph: There’s no where else to go. The city is full.

Mary: I don’t know. Not here.

Joseph: Mary, there is no where else.

Mary: There has to be. Somewhere. I can’t be here with all these people.

Joseph: Where, Mary? Where? The entire city is full.

Mary: I will find a place!

Joseph: Where are you going to go? The barn?

Mary: Yes!

 

Her nesting instincts kick in and she starts cleaning.

OK, that’s the funny way it goes in my mind. Truthfully, there were probably many female relatives and a midwife or two there to anticipate her need for solitude, and clean for her. Nowhere says that Jesus was born on the first night they arrived. They had time to prepare for this journey. They would have planned time to prepare the circumstances for his birth.

Again, I emphasize that I am not claiming this is what happened. I am only saying that this narrative fits with the facts as laid out in the scriptures as well as any other does, and it feels a lot more respectful of the Holy Mother as a woman and a powerful daughter of God.

jesus-birth

With Christmas approaching I have been pondering the concept of “humble birth.”  We speak of Christ’s birth as being under humble circumstances. In fact one popular hymn begins, “Jesus once of humble birth” (Jesus, Once of Humble Birth, Hymns, 196).  One of the primary’s songs describes his birth this way:

This is the stable, shelter so bare;

Cattle and oxen first welcomed him there.

This is the manger, sweet hay for a bed,
Waiting for Jesus to cradle his head.
(“The Nativity Song,”Primary Songbook, 52)

For Mary this experience had to be humbling, “Although Elohim must have lovingly observed the birth from a heavenly vantage point, even Mary’s extraordinary travail increased the irony. The tiring journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem when she was great with child, the exclusion from the inn, the natural anxiety of bearing a first child, and Mary’s isolation from her own family must have weighed heavily upon her soul” (Gary L. Bunker, “The Ultimate Paradox“). We do not know the exact circumstances of Christ’s birth but Martin Luther remarked,

No one noticed that in a strange place she had not the very least thing needful in childbirth. There she was without preparation: no light, no fire, in the dead of night, in thick darkness. . . . And now think what she could use for swaddling clothes—some garment she could spare, perhaps her veil. . . .

Think, . . . there was no one there to bathe the Baby. . . . The mother was herself midwife and the maid. (Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther [New York: Mentor, 1950], p. 173). 

But Mary had accepted this fate when she said to the angel Gabriel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”  (Luke 1:38).

As I have pondered Mary’s willingness to accept the circumstances that came upon her, I can only respect her humility.  The Guide to Scriptures defines it as,”To make meek and teachable, or the condition of being meek and teachable. Humility includes recognizing our dependence upon God and desiring to submit to his will” (source). Humility is not cowering.  It is much more powerful than that. It is accessing the power of God through submission to Him.

So what does this mean for us?  Sometimes we are given circumstances with a pregnancy or birth (and life) that is not what we wanted.  Last May I was asked to give doula support for a hospital birth to a couple who had previously had all of their babies at home with the assistance of midwives.  This birth could not be at home this time for a valid medical reason.  It was difficult for the mother to choose a birth in the hospital but she did.  This was to me “humble birth.” They had to accept the challenges that this birth would bring under circumstances that they did not want.  They asked a lot of questions and made the best of their situation.  Their little baby is seven months old now and continues to grow healthy because his parents with meekness accepted the circumstance they were dealt.  Many couples humbly choose a homebirth after much reflection too.  Humble birth isn’t about where the act took place so much as it is about the attitude we take towards the event.  Do we reverence the divinity with which the gift of giving life was appointed? Do we seek God’s will throughout the process?  Are we partakers of humble birth? I love the Nativity story.  I can relate to Joseph Fielding Smith when he said,

There is no story quite as beautiful, or which can stir the soul of the humble quite to the depths, as this glorious story can of the birth of our Redeemer. No words that man may utter can embellish or improve or add to the eloquence of its humble simplicity. It never grows old no matter how often told, and the telling of it is by far too infrequent in the homes of men. Let us repeat this wondrous story (Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith, 310-318).

I never tire of hearing the story of our Savior’s birth.  Last week our Primary children performed a humble version of the Nativity at our ward Christmas party. It was perfect in its simplicity. May you also rejoice in the humility of our Savior’s birth. Wishing you a Christmas season filled with love and light.

#LIGHTtheWORLD
To read The Gift of Giving Life buy your copy at your local LDS bookstore, or buy it on Amazon, where we have it at holiday pricing right now!

 

 


 

 

I had a unique lullaby for each of my sons.

  • My oldest, I made up a little song for him.
  • My youngest was “You are my sunshine”
  • My middle, Carson, I sang him a Hymn from the French Hymnbook called “Souviens Toi.”

I served my mission in France and it is a beloved Hymn there.

It is about remembering the pre-existence and your arrival on earth. (lyrics under the video)

“Souviens Toi” can be found in the French Hymnal

You can imagine my joy when Carson got his mission call to France! It was sort of unbelievable and awesome all at the same time.

Well, last week I had probably one of the coolest experiences as a mom.

He called me on P-Day (also unbelievable and awesome!) and he was with a bunch of missionaries on a district Pday. They were in the church singing hymns.

They started to sing Souviens Toi and I joined in. There I was singing his lullaby WITH him while he is a missionary in France. It was this beautiful full circle moment.

One that as a Mom you dream of.

We both ended up teary eyed. I asked if he and his companion would record them singing it for me.

I got that video this week and wanted to share it with you.

In case you are curious of the translation…

here is a beautiful translation I found.

Verse 1: What do you remember, child, of life before this earth—
When you were a spirit-child before your mortal birth?
Heavenly Parents held you near, not that long ago;
Your eyes still reflect the light from our first holy home.
Search your spirit’s memories, before the light grows dim;
Store those visions in your heart while the veil is thin.

Verse 2: Tell me of that blessed place, what do you recall?
Forests, gardens, brooks, and fields? Bright celestial halls?
Rivers falling to the sea; shores where breezes blow?
Flowers like soft jewels in the woods; mountains white with snow?
Is the sunset rosy grey, lighting gates like pearls?
Do lamps beckon travelers home to that forgotten world?

Verse 3: Now do you remember, child, when we lived as friends?
Where we learned our Savior’s plan: love that shall not end—
Justice satisfied through grace; mercy lights the way;
We will work to learn His laws; we gratefully obey.
There, before the dawn of time, we accepted Him,
Someday, reunited, we will raise our grateful hymn.

Coda: Souviens-toi, mon enfant
What do you remember, child?
Always remember Him.

Based on the French hymn, Souviens-toi, melody from the New World Symphony by Antonin Dvorak; lyrics by the Comité linguistique français de l’Eglise de Jesus-Christ des Saints des Derniers Jours. Lyrics translated from the French by Lisa Bolin Hawkins.

If you think this is a beautiful Hymn – please help it get into the new Hymn Book!

Did you know that you can add your voice to what gets in there?

Sarah Elizabeth Thomas Beach

Sarah Elizabeth Thomas Beach: Midwifery as a Calling

It is true that many early midwives found their profession by necessity with little or no training. Sometimes the nearest neighbor had to do when a baby was on its way.  However, in September 1873, President Brigham Young saw the need for women to receive medical training, particularly in obstetrics and midwifery. The first woman to graduate medical school as a part of this effort was Dr. Ellis Shipp. She organized trainings throughout the Mormon settlements for women who were called and set apart as nurses and midwives. (You can read more about Dr. Ellis Shipp and her work in this post: Birth of an Early LDS OBGYN.)

Sarah Elizabeth Thomas Beach is one of the women who received this formal medical training. Sarah crossed the plains in utero and was born to English emigrants in Salt Lake City, Utah, in January 1853. Her father was a blacksmith and her mother was known to help others who were sick by using the herbs she had gathered and dried. Sarah likely learned this skill from her mother. 

After marrying and having a family of her own she moved with her eight children to the area of Menan,  Idaho, in 1886 where she began her work in midwifery. She travelled back to Salt Lake City to take part in one of Dr. Shipp’s trainings. They were not only taught to care for women during the childbearing cycle but also given basic medical skills training. She was taught to set bones, sew up a cut and take care of the sick. Her daughter, Eliza, recorded, “Nearly all her time was spent in caring for the sick going night and day, in all kinds of weather and all kinds of sickness. I heard my father say when she was dressing in the middle of the night with a cold wind blowing, ‘I hate to see you get up out of a warm bed and go out at this time of night.’” A midwife of her day did not have a car with heated seats, that’s for sure. She would have gone by buggy, horseback or even on foot. And sometimes she took her baby with her to a birth.

Sarah received a blessing in 1897 from the Apostle Francis M. Lyman. Her daughter recorded that the blessing was fulfilled, “To the day of her death her mind was keen, extra bright and many times in her practice as a midwife, I have heard her say how on many occasions in her practice when everything seemed to be against mother and child, she heard the prompting of the spirit, which had been promised her.”  Her daughter, Eliza, witnessed their bishop testify that her mother had saved his wife’s life. 

Across boundaries of religion, race, and status it seems that most midwives express having been called to it the work and inspired in their care. To one person it may be divine inspiration and to another intuition. Either way, it is an integral part of midwifery. 

I did not find Sarah’s story on my own. It was given to me by one of her descendants, Vanessa, whom I met through a midwifery assistant training course. I asked for her thoughts about her ancestor and she shared, “I didn’t learn that my great, great grandmother, Sarah, was a church called midwife until a few years after I became interested in midwifery myself. I feel so proud of her and all she did to help bring spirits through the veil and take care of those who were earthside. It must have been a calling that required a sharp and inspired mind, gifted hands, and a loving a selfless heart. Talk about a woman with grit! She was also a mother of twelve, six of whom preceded her in death. Her time on earth certainly stretched and refined her as she answered God’s calling to be a wife, mother and a midwife. I asked that God would send her to be present at my recent homebirth, to guide the midwife and process if need be. It gave me peace of mind to imagine her in attendance. It might seem out there, but why wouldn’t our ancestors be interested in helping us, as we are in helping them?” Vanessa’s grandmother, Rachel, had fifteen children. As their grandmother and midwife, Sarah presided at fourteen of those births.  And like Vanessa, I like to think she has continued to preside over births for her posterity. 

(For more information on early medical and obstetrical training in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints you can read this post: Midwifery as a Calling.)