Talk Books: Birth, Breath, & Death

I just finished reading a lovely little book by Amy Wright Glenn. Lyrical, gentle, contemplative, and touching, Birth, Breath, and Death explores Amy’s meditations on life as a doula, mother, and hospital chaplain. birthbreathanddeath-amywrightglenn

Amy Wright Glenn was raised as a Mormon and eventually found her way onto a different faith path, Unitarian Universalism. Her reasons for connecting with the UU church actually closely mirror my own. Amy mentions that she first finds the UU church through her interest in poetry, which I found interesting. She then explains, “I was drawn to the way that Unitarian Universalist (UU) ministers attempt to evoke wonder and exploration in the minds and hearts of their congregants” (p. 10). This attempt to engage with the “transcendent sense of mystery and wonder” is exactly what attracted me to the UU’s, as well as the respect for the interdependent web of life of which we are all a part, the affirmation of the dignity and worth of each human being, and the commitment to social justice.

Amy writes, “I had been raised to acknowledge only one entrance to God’s energy. In fact, one need not use the term ‘God’ at all. Such a term is another doorway into the mysterious heart unifying all existence. However, humans need language to direct the attention to the ineffable. There are many names for this mystery. The doorways were holy too” (p. 13).

She continues with a very UU perspective (I’ve heard of it describes as “the light shines through many windows. We respect all windows and welcome everyone, except for those who think they should throw rocks through everyone else’s window!”):

“Spiritual surface structures open human beings to encounters with the ineffable…I have no doubt when my father bows his head in a small Utah town, and when I meditate in quiet sublime stillness, we touch the same source. At their best, religious traditions affirm the wonder at the heart of existence and provide meaningful contexts for its experience. This mystery allows us to breathe, dream, love, and dimly perceive so,etching beyond time even while we live in time…The moon is simply the moon, a miracle enough” (p 16).

I connect to this sense of wonder, with no need for explanation or interpretation—isn’t it is enough, to just marvel at what is? On my other blog, I once wrote:

I also have a favorite passage from Susan Griffin about the earth in which she exclaims, “We are stunned by this beauty.” That is exactly how I feel. This relationship to the planet is what used to make me feel that a conception of deity was unnecessary—isn’t it enough to just marvel at what is, right here in front of us? The majesty and the miracle of the natural world. I am stunned by this beauty. I am stunned by the realization that we are all suspended in space, spinning timelessly through the universe on this beautiful planet, so small in the vastness of all that surrounds us, and yet so big that it is literally our whole world. Sometimes when I have a bad day or feel overwhelmed by the swirl of daily tasks I remember that old saying about, “sometimes I go about pitying myself when all the while I am being carried by a great wind across the sky.” If we really stopped to think about this—to sense how we are carried by the great wind, I think the whole world would change, how people relate to each other and to the environment would be transformed. Stop, look, listen, breathe, and feel how we spin. Together.

Moving into birth, Glenn addresses the potent, transformative aspects of birth in describing attending her sister’s birth, the birth that led her into doula work (before the birth of her own son): “Birth brings powerful and painful sensations to the most intimate spaces of the female body…I stood transfixed by the life-giving strength found in her feminine power.”

She also explains:

“All forms of birth–physical, intellectual, spiritual, or emotional–bring one to the depths. The power to give birth originates in the creative life spirit birthing all, the seen and the unseen. According to Joseph Campbell, the source of life is beyond gender and the duality of male and female. However, when symbolizing the power that creates, Campbell argues the representation is ‘properly female.’ I agree. From this universal goddess energy emanates the seasons, the mountains, the rivers, and the galaxies. Writ large, human birth embodied the process of manifesting dreams, working diligently through our labors, and bringing vital energies to life. On this level, all human give birth. All humans participate in life’s creative energy…

On this level, we all need the renewing powers of ‘rhythm, ritual, and rest.’ This phrase reminds doulas of three helpful labor techniques outlined by legendary doula trainer, Penny Simkin. Rhythm, ritual, and rest not only aid birthing women, but they support all of us to move skillfully through our life’s labors. The power of rhythm restores vibrancy through dance, music, and motion. The power of ritual opens the way to direct encounter with the mysterious wonder of life. Rest renews and restores the very cells of our often tired and over-stimulated bodies and minds.” (p. 28-29).

And, she makes some poignant observations about breastfeeding, one that almost made me cry: “…only a child knows what his mother’s heartbeat sounds like from the inside” (p. 67) and one that made me cheer: “Family and friends need to draw a fierce circle of protection and non-interference around the nursing mother-child dyad.

In giving birth to her own son, Amy’s awareness and understanding are further deepened and expanded and she explains that:

“For me, birthing was a crucible moment, a dying, a deepening, and a healing. The light of birth transformed me into a mother. The light of birth is love. Looking back I see this clearly. Love was the pain and joy. Love restored me as I rested and held me up when I transformed into a wild eyed Kali. Love chanted with me in the birthing tub and love was certainly the epidural. Love pushed my baby out and gazed at me through Taber’s eyes. Love sustains me now as I watch his sweet small mouth suckle…” (p. 68)

Towards the end of this sweet, thoughtful book, she also used a great analogy that I’m going to borrow for my human services classes. She posits the scenario in which you are passing by a pond on the way to work and notice a small child drowning. You are wearing an expensive pair of new shoes and rushing into the water will ruin them. Do you rush in? The answer is YES. No one should choose their shoes over the life of the child and almost no one would respond to this scenario by saying that they would not save the child, yet, if the pond is world poverty, we do in fact, choose the shoes every day…we just aren’t looking those children in the eyes at the time…

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

5 thoughts on “Talk Books: Birth, Breath, & Death

  1. Pingback: Tuesday Tidbits: Birth Thoughts | Talk Birth

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  4. Pingback: An LDS Girlhood by Amy Wright Glenn «

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