The Lonesome Valley of Birthing this Holy Week

Post Author: Rev. Corey Turnpenny

New life is coming into a sick and suffering world for me this Easter, just as it did that first Easter. As I sat reclined in the dim monitoring closet of my OBGYN’s office listening to the heartbeat of the new life growing inside me, I realized I was beginning to understand Holy Week in a deeper way. I feel my feet matching the footprints of Jesus as he made his way to the Holy city for the last time. My child is due to arrive just after Easter, and so this Holy Week I walk the lonesome valley of doctor’s visits, ultrasounds, and monitoring alone; even my husband is not permitted to join me. The virus has turned our world inside out and this joyous time into a time of great fear and sorrow.

Fetal heart monitoring

Last week, I felt resolved to let go of my visions for birth and instead just show up when it was time to do what I must. “We’ll just do what we have to do,” became my mantra every time a new worrying arose. But as I sat in a mostly deserted waiting room on Monday of Holy Week with my N95 mask on, I struggled to breathe and couldn’t help imagining what trying to breathe through contractions would be like with a mask on. Breathing got harder and by the time the nurse took my blood pressure things did not look good. As I reclined hooked up to the fetal heartbeat monitor, I wondered if Jesus had a similar resolve that he then lost. Palm Sunday’s mantra could have sounded like mine: “Just get to the city and do what you have to do.” But of course, just a few verses later in John 12:27, we hear Jesus is “deeply troubled.” Having defiantly removed my mask to breathe easier and hopefully lower my blood pressure, I feel some comfort at the thought that perhaps Jesus waffled a bit this week too. He showed such grace in getting in his last lectures and final blessings, and then in the garden he prays for any other way. I totally get it, Jesus. If there is any other way, I’d love to hear it too. But we both know there isn’t. The only way to new life is through death. The only way to bring this new life into the world is by entering the halls of death, risking, fearing, and hopefully, eventually trusting God will bring us out again. Knowing you’ve been through it already helps for sure, but I’m most appreciative to know you had moments of doubt and fear too.

My birthing meditation app tells me to release my fear, take long slow breaths. Good advice for us all these days. Though much harder to do through a mask when surrounded by strangers’ masked faces— even harder for those on ventilators. Perhaps as hard as it was for those who died by asphyxiation as they hung on Roman crosses. No wonder Jesus asked God why he had been forsaken (Mark 15:34). Aren’t we all wondering the same? Whether we’re staring out a window or preparing to face another day of exposure. My God, we question, why? As those words echo through time this week, let’s also remember the other words Jesus spoke as he suffered, “Forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). We have no idea what we’re doing, God. Forgive us. Forgive our doubt and fear. Forgive our self-centered focus. Forgive all the unhealthy ways we’re treating ourselves and others as we try to cope with this. Forgive us, God, we know not what to do.

But maybe, God, maybe we can use this Holy Week, use our struggling breath, to draw closer to you, to match the footprints of Jesus, remembering that Easter followed fear and despair, even death. And new life can follow our fear too.

Rev. Corey Tarreto Turnpenny (she/hers) serves as pastor of the Whitney Point United Methodist Church in Whitney Point, NY and has since 2013. She received her Masters in Divinity from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, Rochester NY. She has been a member of Young Clergywomen International since 2014. She is married to Ben, a chemistry professor who balances her religion with science as they wrangle their two dogs, 3 year old son Wade, and prepare to welcome the newest “Halfpence” to the family. Corey’s passions include environmental and social justice, summer camp, and pop culture movies and TV.

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