Inter-Mission: In the womb of God

This story appears in the Inter-Mission feature series. View the full series.

by Janet Gildea


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January begins with the feast of Mary, Mother of God. Often in my prayer at this time of the year I am drawn to a quote from the Dominican mystic, Meister Eckhart: "We are all meant to be mothers of God . . . for God is always needing to be born." But during this stage of my inter-mission with cancer, God has turned the image inside out for me.

Awaiting the last two cycles of chemotherapy in the first month 2016, I find myself in a place that seems to be the womb of God. I am held there in darkness, carried by the One who "knew me when I was being formed in secret, who knit me together in my mother's womb." (Psalm 139) It is dark and silent and I hold myself very still, waiting and wondering what God's hand is doing in me now.

By this time in treatment, the effects of chemo are always with me and it is easy to lose sight of the goal. Some days it feels like a demolition project is underway. Numb fingertips and toes, fatigue, loss of normal taste, hoarse voice . . . I have to adjust my expectations at every turn. I wonder what will be left when the wreckage is cleared away. I wonder if God ever says, "Oops! I got a little carried away with the sledgehammer there. . . ."

Hope moves me forward through those moments and I start to imagine what God is remodeling in me. Maybe there are some upgrades in progress, like my hair that grew back grey and curly after my treatment in 2008. If I allow God the Creator to remodel me through this experience of cancer treatment, what might be the new possibilities for my life, my ministry, my community?

Beyond remodeling, in this womb of God I believe that I am being renewed. I am not just receiving infusions of chemotherapy every three weeks. God is continually infusing my body, mind and spirit with divine energy, just as a mother's nutrients diffuse across the placenta to sustain the fetus. These months of treatment are a time of personal spiritual renewal, even on days when I am not able to be an active participant in the process.

Through all these actions: demolition, remodeling and renewing, in the womb of God I am being re-created. How is this possible? I stand with Nicodemus and I ask, "How can anyone who is already old be born? Is it possible to go back into the womb again and be born?" (John 3:4) What is happening here? Praying my way through the nighttime conversation between Jesus and the doctor of the law I feel that this is all too much for my little faith to grasp. I have no desire to figure it out. So I return to the psalmist and pray, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, far too lofty for me to reach!"

Jesus draws me back to the Gospel as if to say, "Don't give up so easily!" I sit in silence and wait. The words rise up from within me, "For God so loved the world . . . that whoever believes might not perish but have eternal life." Love is recreating me in the womb of God. It takes time to absorb this truth, this light that shatters the darkness. That is why I must keep very still, waiting for the fingers of God to knit me together again.

A beautiful image, "In God's Hands" by Mary Southard, CSJ, came to me on a prayer card sent by a friend. For me it is precisely the womb of God where I find myself. The hands of God enfold me just as a mother caresses the child in her womb. The image helps me to stay still, attentive to the movements of the Mother God, cooperating with each delicate procedure of my re-creation.

I know from my previous cancer treatment that once I passed the halfway point my thoughts turned to "what's next" in my life. The 2016 calendar is urgently calling for appointments, commitments, plans and travel. Praying my way through this inter-mission I am invited to hold off on those activities. There is important work to be done, inner work. I pray with Jesuit Fr. Teilhard de Chardin: "Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete."

Just as in a pregnancy, the little "practice labor pains" will come later to let me know when it's time to position myself for delivery. Meanwhile I am being carried around in the womb of God, unraveled and knitted again into a new creation. "Behind and before me, you encircle me and rest your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me!"

[Janet Gildea, SC, has been a contributor to Global Sisters Report, writing on immigration and other topics from the U.S.-Mexico border. Janet began chemotherapy for recurrent ovarian cancer on October 6, 2015, an experience that she will be sharing in GSR over the next several months. Readers are also welcome to visit her blog, "Each Day Counts" at Access her Inter-Mission columns on GSR here.]