Creative Team Building and Leadership Resources - In our Elements

Obeying in the Dark

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

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.



  • September 6, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    at what point does it become a life? no two page treatise just when does life begin?

    Comment by jim

  • September 7, 2012 at 4:53 am

    I don’t know, Jim. That’s the point – we’re in the dark on this.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • September 7, 2012 at 5:48 am

    I believe live begins at conception…Having said that Deanie and I have two sons in heaven that we are eager to meet…Stan its never to late to adopt..We have three grandchildren from Brizal ,,what a blessing

    Comment by Bill

  • September 7, 2012 at 8:07 am

    I was not aware before today that you and Kim had been through so much. I am a single person, never married, and also feel I have walked in darkness. Sometimes the loneliness is overwhelming.
    Yet, I taught elementary school for 32 years. I wasn’t perfect as a teacher, but I sure gave it my best. I cared for two parents in their illnesses. Again, I did my best as I taught school full time. Yet, I know I was not alone. There was a Spirit that kept me going.
    I feel so blessed to have been called to be president of the little group of Baptist Peacemakers of RI. In a sense I bring commitment and the best I can give.
    As for Paul Ryan I feel he is playing God in making decisions on right to life. Our wonderful God as lived in the life of Jesus brings compassion and light in the darkness of decisions that are made regarding birth control, IVF, abortion etc. No one can play God in these areas. No one can tell God what is right. We must not judge others. We must love with all our hearts with deep understanding and compassion. Life is full of difficult decisions. When I told the doctors not to put my poor father through more chemo to give him a month more of suffering, was I a murderer?

    Comment by Janet Davies

  • September 7, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    It’s actually decisions to abort a pregnancy that seem to be like playing God. It is choosing to end a seemingly healthy life on one’s own time table. It is done over and over in our nation just because the new life is an “inconvenience”. It must surely be a disgusting sin to our Lord.

    Comment by Joey

  • September 7, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    Joey, while I can understand your position and your feeling, it is essentially the same view as the Pope and the majority of Christendom, which believes that any form of birth control is playing God, preventing a seemingly healthy life on one’s own timetable, because of “inconvenience.” Biblically speaking, that was disgusting enough to God that Onan was struck dead for practicing the withdrawal method. Unless you share in this belief, then you’re in the same murky boat as the rest of us, trying to make difficult and complex decisions about reproduction and health and whether or not to allow that single cell embryo to grow and eventually become a child or not. And, you really have no idea what the motives are for abortion. To say that it is just because the new life is an “inconvenience” trivializes what is often an extremely difficult decision making process, a process that includes prayer and guidance from the Holy Spirit for many women and families.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • September 7, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    In the cases I mention whether to take a life or not is no prayer, Stan. Many by their own admission feel like “they just aren’t ready for kids” and turn to abortion. May be fine by your standards, I find no reason to believe it is acceptable by God’s standards.

    Comment by Joey

  • September 7, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    stan, sorry for your loss and janet, no you are not a murderer. The question I would ask you is this, it is ok to kill a baby in the womb when?

    Comment by jim

  • September 8, 2012 at 5:16 am

    Joey, there is a spectrum of options for birth control for women who are not ready to bear children. Abstinence and the rhythm method are the only acceptable options by God’s standards according to most of the Christian world. For the rest of the world, when we are talking about the cases you describe, for people who simply do not want to bear children (not cases of rape and incest), there is a range of contraceptive methods, such as the Pill or condoms or IUDs, which I believe is more “acceptable” than the morning after pill, which is preferable to early stage abortion, which is preferable to late term abortion. Again, I am only describing this range of “acceptability” or preferability for the cases you describe, not when the health of the mother is at stake or there are other traumas mitigating the decision process. As a matter of “convenience”, late term abortion is far more problematic than the morning after pill. I don’t know of anyone who would say choosing late term abortion simply for “convenience” sake as you describe is “fine” by their standards. For me personally, I don’t know the answer to Jim’s question, other than to say I have no problem with the morning after pill, and I do have a problem with late term abortions, unless the health of the mother is at stake. Now, for the two of you, can you explain why you do not abide with Rick Santorum and Paul Ryan and the orthodox Catholic teaching that any form of artificial birth control is tantamount to “playing God” and taking the life of a child designed by God? Please read Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter, Humanae Vitae, and tell me why you think they are wrong. And please explain why, if abortion is, as Jim describes, “killing a baby in the womb” that we don’t see obituaries and funeral services for early term miscarriages? If, as Paul Ryan’s proposed legislation suggests, these day old embryos are full fledged humans, with all the rights and privileges of personhood, why do we not grant them the right and privilege of a funeral service and decent burial?

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • September 8, 2012 at 7:20 am

    I’m glad you have a problem with late term abortions Stan. That was really my point and I’m relieved that you don’t support this practice. I have not read the letter you mention and frankly don’t care to invest the time. I think you can pull this thing way off topic with the various means of birth control. Would someone also be playing God by cancelling a romantic evening with their wife and potentially preventing conception of new life?

    Having a funeral service and decent burial is not what determined whether it was indeed a life. I don’t know many who would want to have these services after aborting the pregnancy anyway. Many openly share the feelings of guilt they endure for years after such an act.

    Comment by Joey

  • September 8, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Joey, it’s not off topic to deal with the very real legislative proposals that would limit much more than late term abortions. Why would you not want to invest the time to really consider what the majority of the Christian world believes, and to see what the implications of their biblical understanding are for your own viewpoint? Read the encyclical; it will answer your question about the couple canceling the romantic evening.

    It would be simple if we could all just say, “I don’t care what the rest of the Christian world thinks, I just want my own personal interpretation and viewpoint to be enacted into law.” That’s not how things work in a democracy, Joey, we have to consider other viewpoints, and implications of our own viewpoints. As for funerals, yes, it is one of the determining factors of what we as a society consider to be a full-fledged human. When people want to claim they know when human life begins, but they do not act on their beliefs, as in this case, it calls their belief into question.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • September 8, 2012 at 9:41 am

    The example of a romantic evening was not a question in my mind, Stan. I don’t agree with abortion. Call me silly. You can find folks who will disagree with pretty much any belief you want to name. I’m not as interested as yourself at seeking those people out. I just want to live a Christ filled life. Have a good one.

    Comment by Joey

  • September 8, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Joey, I think you have misinterpreted my motives, if you think I am interested in “seeking those people out” who disagree with any belief you want to name. I’m interested in biblical truth, and living out the Way of Jesus. The question of abortion, birth control, and reproductive health is a complicated issue, one in which the easy answers of “I’m against it” are inadequate. I don’t think you’re silly for being against abortion; I simply hope you will consider the complexity of the issue in the larger context of the arguments around birth control and women’s reproductive rights, and that in the end, you and others on the Republican side of politics would join forces with those of us on the Democratic side, and together we could agree on proven strategies for diminishing abortions. Germany and Norway and other countries have given us the model for how to greatly diminish the abortion rate, and it involves having a strong universal health care system. So together, all pro-life people from both political parties should rally together behind Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and work to strengthen it, as a way to achieve our common goal of saving lives.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • September 8, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    its moral not economic stan.

    Comment by jim munsey

  • September 8, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Jim, you can’t really separate morality from economics. At least the Bible doesn’t make that separation. Scripture talks about the theme of economics more than any other moral issue. And, since you have the goal of diminishing abortions in our country, if you learned that an economic solution would work far better than criminalization, why wouldn’t you support the solution that works? Unless you place a higher moral value on protecting the interests of private insurance than you do protecting the unborn.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • September 8, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Stan, you spend too much time in the woods. The constitution speaks to the pursuit of LIFE,liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Life should be protected and you need to watch the movie 180.

    Comment by jim

  • September 9, 2012 at 5:03 am

    Jim, your silly little smart aleck comments are not appropriate to this topic (“you spend too much time in the woods”). Please stick to the conversation, and when a question is asked, please respond to the question. That’s how dialogue works. We are all trying to protect life, and there are serious questions on how to do that, and when human life begins. The reality is that criminalizing abortions does not protect life. Some of the Latin American countries which do not have legalized abortion have the highest abortion rates, and some of the European countries which do have legalized abortions have the lowest abortion rates. Why would you not want to learn what works and implement it? Is it more important to you to judge and punish women than to actually save the lives of the unborn?

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • September 9, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    It has been documented over and over that 95% of abortions are due to convenience, less than 5% are due to the hard cases such as rape, incest or birth defects. So right off the bat you can eliminate 95% just by stopping abortion on demand.

    Comment by jim

  • September 9, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    Jim, it has been documented that “stopping abortion on demand”, that is, criminalizing abortion, does not lower the abortion rate. In fact, countries and regions around the world with the most restrictive anti-abortion laws have the highest rates, whereas countries and regions with the most liberalized laws have the lowest rates. I ask again – are you more interested in prosecuting and punishing women and their doctors, or are you interested in saving lives? If it is the latter, then I’d suggest you join forces with those of us working to improve our health care system, and use the models of those countries with the lowest rates. I’m wondering if you would do that, even if it meant advocating for a public option or single-payer plan, or if your belief in private insurance overrides your desire to protect the unborn. How pro-life are you, really? Is laissez faire capitalism more important to you than saving lives?

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • September 9, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    I have no problem with a single payer system, but you don’t understand the issue. I am interested in protecting life, not insurance companies. I also support a single payer system but that has nothing to do with abortion. absolutely nothing. Doctors should be prosecuted for this because they should protect life, it is big business for them and follow the money trail cuz.

    Comment by jim

  • September 10, 2012 at 5:18 am

    That’s great news, Jim (your support of single-payer insurance). I encourage you to spend more time supporting that than worrying about legislation to prosecute doctors, since countries around the world have found out this simply does not work to save lives. Put more effort into education, health care, and contraception, and you cut down on the money trail and big business you refer to .

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • September 10, 2012 at 8:06 am


    Comment by jim

  • September 10, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Jim, let me see if I understand your one-word reflection correctly. “ridiculous.” Are you saying that you ridicule the efforts of countries like Germany and the Netherlands, whose abortion rates are less than half of that in the US, because they focus on health care and contraception instead of a punitive approach? And that you prefer continuing down the path of countries like Peru and Chile, who do have very restrictive laws against abortion, but whose abortion rates are more than twice that of our country, and on top of the punishment inflicted on doctors and women, cause tens of thousands of deaths among the women who get unsafe illegal abortion? Do I understand you ridicule correctly?

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • September 10, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    I am just trying to understand how you were raised as far as I remember in a conservative bible believing home and you have departed from that in so many ways. Its just hard for me to understand why you can’t see this. But it is your choice and this is America so hope that works for you.

    Comment by Jim

  • September 10, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    Jim, I was raised in a Bible-believing family. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to live for a year with my Dad when Kim was away in grad school and I am confident, from the many conversations we had that year, along with my conversations with he and my mom when I was in college, and with my dad in the years before he died, that neither of them would say that I had or have “departed” from my upbringing. I continue to believe the Bible, to follow Jesus, and to share the good news with others. Just because you equate Christianity with right-wing ultra-conservatism doesn’t make it so, and the wide diversity of political and theological viewpoints among our family proves that it is not so. Remember, our grandfather was not only a Bible believing Sunday School teacher; he was a strong union man, and raised your mother and mine to be union supporters, something that today’s brand of Republicans would not see as possible. From now on, by the way, should you want to continue the dialogue, please respond to questions raised to you before raising different questions or changing the subject. That’s how civil dialogue works.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

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