Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 50) transports me back a few years to the Asheville office of C.A.R.S., the Center for Applied Reproductive Science. Kim and I went there in hopes of getting some help in having kids, after a dozen or so years of no luck on our own. As a non-science person who passed high school biology without learning a thing, I had a crash course in anatomy and physiology. Our doctor, Stephen Sawin was terrific, with a great manner to go along with his expertise in the fields of reproductive endocrinology and infertility. Nothing he could teach us about the physiological process, though, prepared me for the thrill of seeing a picture of the three-day old embryo ready for transfer. Without going into the painful details, it is enough to say that two attempts at artificial insemination failed, one ending in miscarriage in the first few days of pregnancy, and two attempts at in vitro fertilization also failed, each ending in miscarriages early in the third month. One particular experience is seared in our memory, of being in the C.A.R.S. office for a regular checkup, and having Dr. Sawin search for the heartbeat we had seen on earlier visits, unable to find it that day, and hearing him give us the bad news. It was as acute a moment of suffering as I’ve ever experienced, and I believe Kim would testify to the same. We were never able to have the blessing of dar la luz, giving the light to a newborn, as the expression goes in the Spanish world. Our attempts made for a period of dark grief, letting go of that child who would not see the light of day, and letting go of our dream. Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod, felt in the days when hope, unborn, had died.
Isaiah 50 is one of the keystone passages describing the emotions and griefs and losses of the figure that has come to be known as the Suffering Servant. Here, he exposes his raw feelings of defeat, as he bares his back to his abusers, his cheeks to those who tortured him, pulling out his beard. And yet, he defied those persecutors, stubbornly setting his face like flint, refusing to be disgraced, refusing to lie down in the pit of shame. He did not attempt to hide from those who mocked him and spat on him; he looked them in the eye. I remember that kind of battle, looking tragedy square in the face, as we fought for grace and hope in the midst of depressing feelings of failure and defeat, raw feelings that felt at times torturous. The prophet encourages the people walking in this great darkness to simply keep walking, to have faith in the dark, and not to be satisfied with any of the artificial light anyone might offer. Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God. His words remind me of the poem that meant so much to us in those dark days, by Wendell Berry: To go in the dark with a light is to know the light, to know the dark, go dark, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is traveled by angel feet and angel wings. For the prophet, this was not a time for enlightenment – But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.
Reproductive health is again in the limelight of our nation’s debate over policy issues regarding giving the light to embryos. Some politicians, like Paul Ryan, have proposed legislation that defines human life from the moment of fertilization, with all the legal rights and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood. It sounds simple enough, until you realize that such a policy would criminalize IVF, as these procedures generate several more fertilized eggs than are implanted. As that first cell begins to divide in each embryo, the embryologists choose the one or ones that appear to be the most promising. These are transferred, while the less viable embryos are frozen, or destroyed. According to Paul Ryan’s definition, this is tantamount to murder. As I sit here remembering our darkness and grief over those miscarriages, I realize that we didn’t experience that same sense of deep loss or extended grief over the embryos that did not implant. And it’s fair to say that our grief over the miscarriage had a different quality to it than the grief of a lost loved one who had seen the light. Not necessarily any easier, just different. Perhaps that’s why you don’t see many obituaries celebrating the lives and mourning the losses of the unborn. Public funerals for miscarriages are rare, and there are few wakes for a hope that dies unborn. All that’s to say that in this world we live in, where around 1 in 3 pregnancies ends in miscarriage, without a baby seeing the light, we are all in the dark to a great extent over these mysteries of reproduction and the beginnings of life. For Paul Ryan and others to attempt to shine a blazing torch in this darkness shrouded in mystery, and to give a clear and precise definition of what constitutes a full-fledged human being, seems to me akin to Isaiah’s description of those who were lighting their own fires and providing their own light, instead of walking through the darkness with the suffering servant, accompanied by angels as we await and trust God’s Light to eventually break through. I can understand now why so many who try to create artificial light around this issue seem so tormented in their work. The prophet said it would be so.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage transport you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.