From Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
It is a cold word, hollow-sounding, devoid of warmth, almost iron-clad in its finality: barren. Elizabeth is a barren woman. Could anything be more devastating in a culture that prides women on the fruits of their womb? Imagine her wondering what Zechariah might secretly think of her who can bare him no heir. What must God think of her? Elizabeth is known for her devoutness, yes, she is barren, apparently forgotten by God? Perhaps she is as her society claimed, held in God’s disfavor on some level. All her long married life, she carries this curse, this disgrace, this burden. Elizabeth is barren.
Elizabeth carried the ache of her barrenness for most of her life. She is denied the essence of what it meant to be a woman in her historical time and place. What might she have been like? How did her unmet desire affect all aspects of her life? How many of us with unmet longing can relate to her? Elizabeth’s barrenness is a testimony to the embodied nature of our spiritual lives. We worship and pray with all of who we are, our at times unyielding flesh and spirits. Every time Elizabeth prayed she did so in her barren body. She prayed with that which she yearned for God to bless and touch.
Barrenness does not simply mean that a woman cannot have children. Infertility can be fraught with all kinds of unmentioned trials and varying levels of pain. And rarely is it clean. It is messy. Enduring a miscarriage is a horrifying experience of encountering life blood seeping from your body. Not to mention the emotional trauma of infertility, the self-inflicted guilt, feelings of failure, the possible onslaught of depression. Only after we acknowledge the physical reality of barrenness can we begin to consider how such pain can transfer to other forms of barrenness. Then we can adequately name other empty spaces in our lives that feel as painful as the ache of a womb that refuses to carry life, the purpose for its creation.
Eternal Life-Giving God, barrenness is an affront to your creating spirit. Grant us strength to endure the pain that comes with barrenness. Grant us grace to acknowledge the pain that barren women endure. Help us resist the temptation to embrace shame where you call us to embrace compassion. Amen.