Divine contractions: Gods labor, our deliverance

I remember the first time I encountered the image of God as a laboring woman. I was reading Isaiah for an Old Testament class I took in seminary, and I was, it must be admitted, sort of skimming. Then I came to the middle of chapter 42, and I was stopped cold: “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant” (v. 14).

What came to mind was a photograph I had once seen, an old, grainy, black-and-white photograph from the feminist 1970s (could it have been printed in Our Bodies, Ourselves?) of a woman in a hospital bed, her long blond hair tied back from her face, her right hand on her forehead, a nurse’s hands on her engorged stomach, her face knotted in agony. Although it was just a photograph, you could practically hear a low, loud groan emerging from her throat.

So there I was sitting on my sofa, reading Isaiah and picturing that blond, anguished woman; God’s face contorted in struggle; God groaning the way that laboring woman in the photograph groaned—I pictured all that, and I felt profoundly uncomfortable. I felt disturbed.