Seven years, little ones, seven years.
What does seven years mean in the mystery that lies after death? Or even before it: in the far-flung eons of space and time, in a universe so vast and so old the human mind cannot comprehend it, what is a life? My thirty-one years are the fragment of a comma in the epic tale of the universe. Even should I live to the century that some of my great-grandparents gained, what is that to billions of years and trillions of people and a universe squintillions of miles across? I am like a breath, my days like a shadow that passes away. A single beat in the pulse of the universe.
So what are two lives? Two lives in the murky darkness of a womb, a double tick of life-clocks, winding down and ceasing, four eyes never seeing the sun. The heartbeat of the world encompassed in two tiny bodies, beginning and then ending in a few short months. Two lives that barely existed, seven years ago erased from the world like the footprint in the sand that is licked by a wave.
But their footprints on my life are indelible, tattooed into flesh and blood, a throbbing, pulsing monument.
What is the measure of two tiny lives? How can I trace the path they left behind?
It is a path that has led through grief.
But also– a path that has led from new wounds to new ideas and then to healing and new growth. Destruction and reconstruction. Lament and joy. Despair and hope. Confusion and illumination.
The end of their lives was the end of the safe world where I had all the answers, where life and God and faith made sense. I felt like a castaway, set adrift in an empty ocean, alone and terrified.
But was I actually a prisoner being set free?
I grew up abhorring doubt and uncertainty. I colored inside the lines. I followed all the rules. I knew my place.
And then they died, and the lines became meaningless squiggles, and the rules stopped making sense, and I grew too prickly, too thorny, too hard in some places and soft in others, to fit into my place. And the doubt and uncertainty I so much feared moved into my bed, penetrated my most vulnerable, hidden places. Life was chaos and I was awash in it, afraid, alone.
Day by day, month by month, year by year passed. I learned that I was not alone; the chaos was known to many others.
One day I found that it was refreshing to splash the color freely, to create my own picture. And then I began to see that I had no desire to lose my prickles, my thorns, my hard edges or soft centers, to fit back into the old place. And then I realized that the rules had actually never made sense, and I was free to walk away and find new guidance in new places.
After years of painful wrestling and struggling, I am making my peace with doubt and uncertainty, learning that the walk of faith is less of the confident stride and more of the limp from the brush with the Divine. I am learning to live in the rainbow between black and white, learning to accept that certainty and faith are not the same thing, that doubt is not trust’s contradiction. I am learning that it is natural and normal for faith to evolve, to be unmade and remade.
The physical conception of my little ones led to my miscarrying God.
We all conceive God– a seed implanted in the center of our spirits, the fundamental spark of each human existence that yearns after the Divine flame from which it was engendered. We are each Mary, overshadowed by the Spirit and carrying the DNA of the creator within us.
But that seed of the Divine is fertilized by innumerable elements of the environment into which we are born. Part of the unmaking of my faith is learning to stop equating a conception of God with the God that Is. This does not mean we abandon all conceptions of God. We are finite humans– we must have a way of relating to the infinite Divine, and so we speak of God as parent, God as shepherd, God as ruler. We must conceive God– but it behooves us never to forget that each of our conceptions will always be, to some extend, bastards of the Divine. We are not capable of anything purer, given our human limitations. This is nothing to make us ashamed, but it should put us on our guard– if the way we conceive of God is leading us away from love, kindness, goodwill, and compassion, then it is time for that image to die, for us to find a new metaphor, a new way of relating to the Divine, that will get us back on the right track.
Before the existence of my two little ones, my conception of God produced fear, ceaseless striving, weariness, loneliness, guilt, shame, the suppression of my questions and doubts. I buried alive my true self, convinced that only the sacrifice of all I was would please this god. I feared this graven image of the Divine, served it faithfully, tried to love it, blindly trusted it to keep me safe. And like all idols, that god proved inadequate, small, and petty, threatened by my pain and my questions, displeased by my rage and my doubt, impotent in the face of trauma, judgmental in the face of my despair. The death of those tiny lives was the beginning of the crumbling of that god. It felt like the end of my world. So we will always feel when a god we have worshipped proves unworthy and false. But only with the death of the old faith can there be the birth of a new one. Every shattered idol moves us a little closer to the living God.
I don’t want to give the impression that I have achieved Enlightenment. It is much easier to write poetically about faith than it is to live it out day to day. And yet even that language skirts rather close to the old idea that “real faith” meant an absence of struggle. I try to believe, in the ordinary miseries of human life, that faith is the struggle. I try to believe that choosing to get out of bed every day is a spiritual practice, because when I can see no point to life and God has disappeared, I push back the covers and plant my feet on the ground anyway.
I search for God. My mouth stumbles on prayers but my heart pleads that I will be overshadowed, may it be to me as you have said, and I yearn for a new seed of the Divine to be implanted within me. I conceive God as Mother, cradling me tenderly against Her breast. I conceive Her birthing Her creation, tenderly nurturing us, watching over us the way I watch my own children. I picture Her as a weaver, Her skillful fingers moving over the tapestry of time, catching threads and binding them so that the picture is a beautiful one. I imagine her an artist, adept at finding the light in the midst of shadows. I see Her as a composer, blending melodies to create a sublime symphony. She is not a stately sovereign dictating history from on high– the Potentate God I used to fear– She is in the story, the whole universe infused with Her essence, no place or time where She is not present, bringing life and love and wholeness to Her creation.
Images and metaphors are ways to reach out towards the Divine Real. My daughters’ stillbirth created the fertile space in my heart for the conception of a God who leads toward healing and wholeness.
This then, is the measure of two tiny lives; this is the legacy of my Livia, my Lucy:
I do not have peace from being sure that I have all the answers, but because I know I do not, and that’s okay.
I do not have to pretend to be joyful in hiding, stifling, and masking my true self– I can have the joy of embracing and being my true self, unafraid and unashamed, trusting that the God who made me this way delights in me.
In my shadow days, my wretched days, I can question the goodness, love, or even existence of God, without feeling the need to censor myself, or to worry if my doubt is acceptable. I am loved and held.
I no longer live in terror that my living children, or anyone I love (or all the trillions of people who have never “prayed a prayer” or “professed Christ”) will “go to hell”. If there is a God who is good, then nothing and no one will be lost forever. The Divine became incarnate in a Man who told of a shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to go after the one.
I no longer have to deaden my compassion, empathy, and humanity to fit a warped definition of love that holds people at arm’s length until they conform– I can seek to understand, accept, and embrace each person in my life for who they are, without judgment, with love. I can trust that spark of the Divine inside them, however shadowed it might be. I can choose to see each person as a beloved child of a God who will not abandon them.
I no longer see the kingdom of heaven as something of the far away future. It is the mission of every God-seeker to work toward making the kingdom of heaven visible in the here and now. I can make the eternal love and ultimate flourishing of every living creature my North Star.
Sweet little ones, laughter of God, star-dancers, butterfly babies: when you left me, I felt the pain like prison walls around me.
But now I know you were unlocking the door. And from your place in our Mother God’s arms, you call me out into freedom.