With What Are You In Labor? Meditations on Scripture

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

I pour my Sumatran coffee into a favorite mug and take a sip. It warms and awakens me. I take a deep breath. Just a moment of stillness and I can sense that I am in the presence of God.

I open my scriptures and turn to Isaiah 45:7-13, a text I received to dwell in from my Spiritual Director. Engaging practices repetitively helps me enter more deeply into them each time. Sometimes I resist this discipline, but it bears fruit in times of great challenge and in times of great joy.

My spiritual director has guided me to pay attention to how I feel as I read to allow the text to search me for meaning. This is hard because I tend to be analytical. In Ignatian Spirituality, I am learning to pay attention to the affect. The affect is a response of the heart. Though it may lead to greater intellectual understanding that is not the primary goal. It is, as Theophan the Recluse describes, “to descend with the mind into the heart”.

I begin to dwell in the word:

Isaiah 45:1-13, NRSV

“Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles?’ Woe to anyone who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’ Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Will you question me about my children, or command me concerning the work of my hands? … I will make all his paths straight; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward.”

I spend a moment letting the words sink into me, noticing where I am drawn to dwell, noticing how I feel as I read them.

Then I read again.

I consider the words, images, or phrases that captured my attention. I am especially drawn to these two phrases:

“With what are you in labor?”

“…not for price or reward.”

Then I consider the question, what is God’s invitation to you in this text today?

I notice immediately my analytical nature threatening to delve into dissection mode. I acknowledge this and plunge deeper. I ask again:

What is the invitation for me in this text?

I notice how I feel about a text that blatantly confronts my tendencies toward control. I consider how these tendencies play out in my ministry… and the ways I seek to live mission.

God’s invitation leads me into a time of prayer:

God, I am still learning how to trust you fully—how to release my own agenda and control tendencies to create the space for your Spirit to freely form. So much happens beyond what is visible. I am drawn to the darkness, like that of the womb, where nothing of my own effort can contribute to the forming of a life I cannot see.

I tremble in uncertainty. I do want to command the work of your hands. I want to take over sometimes, or often.

But then you surprise me with new life in the emptiest and most unexpected of places. I shouldn’t still be surprised, but I always am.

We are slow learners, as your work can feel slow. Maybe because we too are still being formed, still being shaped by your hands. I need to remember: it is not about me and what I can do. We build your city without thought of price or reward. It is not about achievement or success. It is divine vocation.

For the times I don’t understand,

For the times I think I know best and try to make it on my own,

For the times I fail to see holy potential,

Forgive me, O God.

May I grow deeper in awareness and trust of your Spirit and what is possible beyond what I can see or imagine now. Amen.

I put down the pen and paper. I get up and move into the opening day. I feel more awake to God’s presence around me. I know that starting my day this way will not only give me peace, but will keep me open to where the Spirit may lead.

I offer these words, said so often before, that now have enhanced meaning:

God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help be fully awake and ready to respond! Grant me courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen.

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