This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. Mark 13:8
These past weeks have been marked by the horrific murder of George Floyd by a police officer, massive peaceful protest over racial injustice, violence by some, and calls by President Trump for “domination” to control law and order. Added to the pandemic distress, it feels like we have reached the boiling point in the collective psyche which has triggered a volcanic eruption of pent-up emotional stress, fear, and anger. This adds another layer to the grief that I am experiencing, which is just one small part of the massive outpouring of grief for George Floyd and all the others who have died unjustly due to the patriarchal power system, and grief over the failure of the American people to actualize the high ideals upon which this country was founded.
Yet it seems that the pain we are experiencing may be part of the process of giving birth to something new. We may look at the constrictions of life imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the agonizing struggle for social justice in our society as signs of the birth pangs that are necessary for the emergence of new life. This is the view expressed by the spiritual teacher and social activist Matthew Fox, “A pandemic is a prelude to going deeper and birthing more fully.” This deeper meaning to be found within the painful conditions of our present time is consistent with the message of Jesus, who realized that the suffering he foresaw was “the beginning of the birth pangs” leading to a new creation.
We are living, like Jesus, in a time of kairos – a critical moment for change – that is pregnant with new possibilities. It is in such times that the archetypal energies of the feminine arise to bring forth a new birth in human consciousness. The patriarchal power system that has shaped human history with its masculine principles of domination (power-over), control (law and order at all costs, even when it manifests as cruelty), rational and mechanistic thinking (in the service of death rather than life when divorced from all feeling values) has led us to the brink of extinction for human and planetary life. This destructive patriarchal system must die so that the feminine principles of partnership through cooperation, justice based on empathy, and peace that is grounded in the realization of unitive life, can by born. But this massive transformation inevitably brings tremendous suffering as humanity experiences the labor pains that are part of the processes of dying and giving birth. If we can see the positive potentials within this process, however, we can turn from fearful to creative responses that are so needed at this time.
Within Christian tradition the crucifixion of Jesus symbolically expresses this process as “the beginning of the birth pangs.” Jesus died as a victim of the patriarchal dominator system of his day – just as George Floyd and so many others have in our time. But the resurrection of Christ points toward a future in which the death-dealing actions of the patriarchy have been overcome by the love and wisdom that is the new birth of resurrected life. Patriarchy is not the final step in our human journey, and we are now witnessing the struggle of bringing forth this new life in the birth pangs of this pivotal historical moment.
The mystic Julian of Norwich, who lived through the multiple plagues that caused devastating suffering in the 14th century, saw the agony of Jesus on the cross as the pain of labor that is necessary in order to give birth. In Mirabai Starr’s translation of her Showings, Julian says:
Our true Mother Jesus, embodiment of all love, gives us a birth that leads only to neverending joy and eternal life… In love, he labors to carry us inside himself, until we come to full term. Then he suffers the most painful blows and excruciating birth pangs that ever have been or ever shall be endured, only to die in the end. And when he had finished dying, and birthed us into endless bliss, still all this could not satisfy his wondrous love.
Julian’s extraordinary vision of the crucifixion revealed that the suffering of Jesus on the cross was not because a patriarchal Father God was angry with the human race and needed a sacrifice to pay for our sin. Nor is the suffering of human life such as our current pandemic a punishment because a vengeful God is angry with us. Jesus’ suffering, like the willing assent of the mother to childbirth, is his participation in the suffering of all humanity. This willingness to suffer in order to bring forth life is the greatest expression of love.
Jesus as the “embodiment of all love” is the incarnation of the Cosmic Christ, the Divine that manifests as all creation flowing forth from the Heart of Love. We are carried inside the Cosmic Christ, which is the womb of our earthly life, until we come to “full term” when we are born as the complete, whole human being – called, in various traditions, the enlightened, awakened, self-realized, Christed human one. The pain and struggles of our human life may be compared to the stress of labor that the baby experiences within the mother’s womb before birth, which marks the crucial transition to a new state of being that is defined by its emergence as a separate person. The “second birth” that Julian perceives as the gift of our Mother Jesus signifies the further pivotal transformation in which the individual is born into the new life of endless joy and bliss through the realization of divine unity.
To see the crucifixion of Jesus in this way is to recognize the Sophianic nature of the Christ, the feminine dimension of the Divine that was present at the birth of creation and lives as divine creative presence within the world. In ancient cultures, religious symbols and rituals celebrated the life-giving nature of the Mother Goddess and the feminine was honored and revered. With the rise of patriarchy the Goddess was suppressed, the feminine denigrated, and women as well as Mother Earth made subservient to “man.” This suffering of the feminine throughout the ages may be seen as the crucifixion of Sophia; the agony that Jesus endured on the cross is also the pain of Sophia as World-Soul. In our world torn by division – between ourselves and others, the Earth, and God – Sophia continues to suffer until wholeness and unity are restored.
The crucifixion of our Mother Jesus envisioned as a birth-giving by Julian can also be seen as the labor of Sophia who gives birth to renew our suffering world. Something new does seem to be emerging out of our contemporary crisis, and the suffering of our world is perhaps the seedbed for this new birth. We are seeing early signs of this new birth in the rising up of a new generation of climate activists in response to the suffering of our Mother Earth through the centuries of patriarchal exploitation, the “Me Too” movement that has erupted from the collective suffering of women due to toxic masculine domination, and the “Black Lives Matter” movement that has created solidarity around the world with social uprisings to protest the long standing injustice and oppression of the patriarchal power system.
It is the full dimension of the Divine, the dynamic interaction of masculine and feminine archetypal energies that can be envisioned as ChristoSophia,* which has been crucified by patriarchal domination through the ages. The restoration of the feminine dimension of the Divine – in union with the masculine – is the archetypal ground that contains the seeds for the birth of a new way of life founded on love and wisdom. This is the new birth that creates wholeness in life as the integration of the masculine and feminine principles in our image of the Divine becomes the pattern for humanity to enact partnership relationships of equality, interconnectedness, and cooperation. This is the birth that we are praying for and working toward – this is the great work of humanity today in partnership with the Divine envisioned as ChristoSophia.
We can turn to Mother Mary, human representative of the divine Sophia, as a model for accomplishing this work that has been given to the human race. When Mary heard the message of the angel Gabriel she gave her assent to give birth to Jesus with her famous words, “Let it be with me according to your word.” Through her consent she willingly accepted the suffering of giving birth to a baby, as all mothers are called to do. This suffering is due not only to the physical pain of labor, but also the stress and anxiety associated with the risky process of birth-giving. The mother might die in the process of birthing, and the baby could be born with medical problems or might not live at all. The mother’s consent includes a letting go of her former way of life in order that a future life may be born, with all the uncertainties that the process entails. As we confront the intense anxiety and immense uncertainties of our current world, we too are faced with a decision that will bring life or death. At this turning point for the human race, we must use our imagination in addition to our rational thought to help us see our role in the collective work of humanity.
Might we imagine the destruction of our Mother Earth, the distress of the pandemic, and the pain of the oppressed as the suffering of the World Soul that is enduring the labor pangs of giving birth to new life, with the outcome unknown as it always is in birthing?
Might we also imagine ourselves embodying this process of birth-giving, seeing the unknowns, the anxieties, the pain in our own lives at this time as part of the collective suffering of humanity as we struggle to give birth to a new life and a new world?
Might we realize the need to follow the pattern that Mother Mary has given to us, to “hear the message of the angel” – the messenger of God or our Higher Self – that opens our hearts to the deep purpose of our human lives as birth-givers of the new life? Might we awaken to the collective human labor that we are called to at this time and assent to this labor as the central purpose and essential meaning of our lives? Might each of us, like Mary, give our consent to participate with conscious intention in the birthing process of the World Soul, accepting the suffering that it brings and the darkness of not knowing the outcome?
We may use our imaginations to follow the suggestion of Stephen Dinan, founder of the Shift Network: “Let’s write the story of 2020 as a year not solely a a global tragedy but as a difficult birth of a new way of being. Just as the toughest life experiences can catalyze our greatest personal growth, so can this planetary emergency lead to a real evolution of our species.” We may imagine this evolutionary potential of the human race as the Child of Humanity. Just as the human child possesses characteristics of the parents yet is a new form of being, so the Child of Humanity will be born from the current human race as a new creation. Through this birthing the separate self system of ordinary consciousness will be transformed into the new life of unitive consciousness. Instead of the diversity of human beings that has created the suffering of divisiveness, diversity will be celebrated as sacred variations of the one life of humanity. Homo sapiens will give birth to homo universalis!
With Christopher Bache, author of Dark Night, Early Dawn, we may imagine this hopeful outcome for the great work of humanity:
“Only when our long labor has birthed this future Child, only then will we understand what we have accomplished. And when this moment comes, I deeply believe that, like all mothers before us, we will count our pain a small price. This birth is our gift to the Creator.”
Cynthia Avens July 17, 2020
*A more detailed discussion of how we envision ChristoSophia can be found in our 11/7/17 blog, “Revisioning the Path of ChristoSophia.”
Matthew Fox “Daily Meditations,” 5/20/20
Mirabai Starr, trans. The Showings of Julian of Norwich (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Co., 1973, pp. 165-6/
Stephen Dinan, “The Shift Network,” 3/12/20
Christopher Bache, Dark Night, Early Dawn: Steps to a Deep Ecology of Mind (State University of New York Press, 2000), pp. 277-8.