A few years ago when I was still working as a birth doula, I had a client who was in the throes of labor and having a pretty rough go of it. She was nearing what’s called “transition,” which is typically the shortest but most intense (read PAINFUL) portion of a woman’s labor. Her husband needed to step out so it was just the two of us in the quiet of her hospital room for a few minutes. In between contractions, she was starting to look a little desperate and I sensed she was nearing her limit.
But instead of giving me the look that all doulas are familiar with, the look that is a cross between, “I don’t think I can do this much longer,” and “MAKE IT GO AWAY,” she turned to me, still breathing hard, and whispered,
“I feel like… I don’t know, like,… I should say a prayer or something.
Not because this is hard but because it feels holy.
Which is weird because I don’t really believe in God.”
Immediately another contraction took hold and we didn’t speak of it again. But nearly every birth has a moment like that. A thin space. A space where the sublime pierces the veil of our often drab daily life and is just palpable enough that it feels possible to lay hold of it. A space where one can divine the nearness of God.
Since leaving the doula profession I haven’t experienced thin spaces with near the frequency or regularity as I once did. Or I maybe I have but I’ve been too distracted or busy to notice. Whatever the case, one week ago, when we dropped our boys off for their first day of school, we found ourselves in just such a space.
There was a modest gathering outside the front doors of the school. Maybe 30-40 people, tops. There were a few EMTs in uniform, a firefighter and two police officers. I saw several teachers and administrators and staff. There was music playing and cheering and a red carpet. The idea behind it was to follow in the footsteps of other schools around the country and even here in Seattle and encourage kids, especially kids of color, and dispel stereotypes with a “high 5 line.” We didn’t have a huge turnout, compared to other schools, but it didn’t matter.
It sounds like such a minor thing, doesn’t it? A High 5 line. But let me tell you what it felt like to walk through that line. My youngest was too afraid to walk through the line alone so we walked together and I feel emotional just thinking about it now at my desk a week later.
To have a group of people, strangers really, smiling at you and cheering for you, giving you high fives and telling you how incredible you are and that they are rooting for you? Isaiah had been so nervous beforehand but when I turned to look at him as we burst through the front doors of the school, he was radiant. Gryffin, too, who had walked through the line in front of us, was flush with the energy of it.
We stayed and looked on as other people walked through the line and both Jason and I nearly wept as we watched. Muslims in hijab walked through the line. Homeless kids walked through the line. Refugees walked through the line. So many people of color walked through that line. Each one surrounded by wild cheering and raucaus clapping. It was incandescent.
Look at these pictures. This is what the Church should look like. It’s what heaven looks like. If we wonder how to welcome the poor, how to embrace the refugee, how to engage those with different beliefs, this might be the place to start. Too simplistic? Silly, even? Yeah, probably. But we perceived the nearness of God on that red carpet last Wednesday so maybe a High 5 Line is the perfect place to start.