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Transformation: An Illustrated Nine-Month Reflection

December 5, 2016, in Articles > Art & Creative Works, by

Before finding out I was pregnant, I had been speaking with friends a lot about the idea of transformation. Baha’u’llah writes:

…is not the object of every Revelation to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions? 1

Pregnancy, the most literal human example of transformation I could experience, inspired a kind of search. By engaging meaningfully with the ever-changing circumstances of our lives, we give ourselves the opportunity to transform. As I clocked the seemingly endless google searches of pregnancy and thought of my own rite of passage into motherhood, I yearned to read about the spiritual dynamics of this transformation. The following drawings and musings are my reflections about my spiritual transformation. 

I read about the role of “mother”, which I was about to assume, like a candidate for a job might scan the qualifications they would need to bring to it.

Abdu’l-Baha writes:

O ye loving mothers, know ye that in God’s sight, the best of all ways to worship Him is to educate the children and train them in all the perfections of humankind; and no nobler deed than this can be imagined. 2

This is such a beautiful description of motherhood. Like a candidate, I wondered how I might be cut out for training a new soul in all the perfections of humankind. Abdu’l-Baha also writes:

Although the bestowal is great and the grace is glorious, yet capacity and readiness are requisite…we must develop capacity in order that the signs of the mercy of the Lord may be revealed in us. 3

So I asked myself how that capacity might be developed?

Clearly there are many material preparations necessary for welcoming a new person into our family but it was less clear how to make space for the spiritual preparations. In my search, I read chronicles of pregnancy that shared the more internal truths. Among these were Louise Erdrich’s book A Blue Jay’s Dance: A Birth Year and Beth Ann Fennelly’s Great With Child: Letters to a Young Mother. Erdrich writes about the dual nature of birth, calling it a physical prayer: “Birth is intensely spiritual and physical all at once. The contractions do not stop. There is no giving up this physical prayer.” In order to become imbued with these new capacities required, sacrifice was in order, some kind of letting go, some kind of pain. This was a recurrent theme for me as I approached the due date.

 “When you have come to the edge of all light that you know and are about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: there will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.” – Patrick Overton. July 2016, ink pencil on paper.
“When you have come to the edge of all light that you know and are about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: there will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.” – Patrick Overton. July 2016, ink pencil on paper.

In one of The Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah writes that we should hasten towards calamity, saying “My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy.” 4 Early on in the pregnancy I mused about death and about the nature of the pain and suffering that awaited both me and my child as they would enter this world. I wrote:

A good death. A good trial. Then you know. You know that God’s love is shown in a myriad ways. And that our love for Him is shown through our dedication to walking that stony path and slowly, gently, coaxing ourselves to love the very stones that pierce our feet. What are children but the very best of those stones? That allow us greater strength, perception and understanding? You are not something on my checklist, you are not something to show off or parade around. You are a soul that belongs only to God. You are not bounded or circumscribed by my limited understanding of life, you will go farther than me, you will be stronger than I. You are not a collection of blankets and toys and nappies and contraptions I don’t understand yet for bathing and entertaining you in future any more than I am the lines on my resume or the letters after my name. I never thought I was entitled to the miracle of your existence. And yet, souls enter and exit this world every moment of every day.

In the quiet of the country, I am slower, more patient. Your father stokes the fire, boils the kettle. The wind blows fiercely and we sit outside in the wildness together. March, 2016. Ink pencil on paper.
In the quiet of the country, I am slower, more patient. Your father stokes the fire, boils the kettle. The wind blows fiercely and we sit outside in the wildness together. March, 2016. Ink pencil on paper.

Erdrich describes labour beautifully, “thrown down, I rely on animal fierceness, swim back, surface, breathe, and try to stay open, willing. Staying open and willing is difficult. Very often in labor one must fight the instinct to resist pain and instead embrace it, move towards it, work with what hurts the most.” Another Hidden Word challenges us, “let it now be seen what your endeavours in the path of detachment will bring”. 5 There’s something ominous and exciting about meeting our edge in this way. I wrote,

There’s a sense of magic in this process. That something only grows because God wills it to. We move out of the way. We pull the veil from the incoming shaft of light, of life, we scratch at the grime that forms on our hearts. When I wonder and panic at my own limitedness, the smallness of my strength, I am forgetting this.

In The Seven Valleys, we read that the steed of the Valley of Love is pain. Many women describe being unable to recall the pain of labour. Beth Ann Fennelly describes it as having to do with the fact that “during hard labor, you go to a place beyond language. It isn’t so much that there are no good words to describe what you’re going through as there are no words. You’re a white wave in a white sea, without boundaries or cognition…we use the word ‘disembodied’ a lot, but truly it applies here because the body breaks free from the ego.”

You are fully formed. Strong within me. Taking up all the space you can. June, 2016. Ink pencil on paper.
You are fully formed. Strong within me. Taking up all the space you can. June, 2016. Ink pencil on paper.

After my son’s birth, I wrote the following:

There is no time, just light and dark, sleep and wake, a cycle and the feeling of being right in the very womb of life, a cave where miracles happen, where nothing goes as planned and the rolling rushing waves of pain cast the pearls of pure and goodly issue on the shores of life. And in giving in, we are made new. We are made new. 

I’m curious to hear from others who (and I’m sure all of us have in some way!) have gone through moments that were particularly transformative. What were the material conditions and spiritual dynamics that allowed you to engage with that event or time? Is there a particular habit of prayer or creativity that allows you to reflect on this kind of process?

“Victories are won usually through a great deal of patience, planning and perseverance, and rarely accomplished at a single stroke.” –Shoghi Effendi. January, 2016, ink pencil on paper.
“Victories are won usually through a great deal of patience, planning and perseverance, and rarely accomplished at a single stroke.” –Shoghi Effendi. January, 2016, ink pencil on paper.

Footnotes & Citations
  1. Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan[]
  2. Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha[]
  3. Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace[]
  4. Baha’u’lla, The Hidden Words, #51 from the Arabic[]
  5. Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, endnote[]
Posted by

Esther Maloney

Esther loves stories. Over the last decade, she has worked in both theatre and film as an actor, director, writer and producer. She currently serves as coordinator of Illumine Media Project, a grassroots youth media initiative closely linked with community building activities in Toronto, Canada. Esther is pursuing her MEd at the University of Toronto. She lives in a very tall building that faces the sunset with her tea-loving husband and wide-eyed baby boy.

Discussion 12 Comments

This is a beautiful and thoughtful article, and the artwork is moving. Thank you for sharing this, Esther.

Martha (December 12, 2016 at 6:36 PM)

Thanks for your kind comment Martha, I’m glad you enjoyed the artwork.

Esther Maloney (December 12, 2016 at 4:52 PM)

What an amazing article Esther! Thank you for sharing ❤️

Farida Ciotti-Aiff (December 12, 2016 at 8:58 PM)

Thank-you Farida for your comment, I’m really glad you enjoyed it.

Esther Maloney (December 12, 2016 at 4:54 PM)

Esther, transformation? Franklin and I were just invited to serve in Haifa. It’s coming… I Lova and am a bit envious of your ability to put your inner journey into words.

Joan (December 12, 2016 at 10:35 PM)

Hi Joan! It sounds like a new chapter is around the corner for you both and probably rife with opportunity for transformation. We don’t all have your quilting skills so we have to struggle along somehow! 😉 Thanks for posting and sending love.

Esther Maloney (December 12, 2016 at 4:56 PM)

Beautiful article so much needed for comingvup parents to be armed with perfect preparations.

sahar anwari (December 12, 2016 at 5:25 AM)

Hi Sahar, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. It’s true that as parents prepare for the birth of their children, there’s a desire to be ‘perfect’ or find the perfect ‘way’ of doing things. Perhaps what is perfect is just the continual search or our striving all the way through. Thank you for your comment!

Esther Maloney (December 12, 2016 at 4:58 PM)

Your creativity and insight are inspiring! Wishing you both–all three!–many years of “bringing forth pearls”!

Nancy Ackerman (December 12, 2016 at 11:22 PM)

Thank you Nancy for your kind post and encouragement.

Esther Maloney (January 1, 2017 at 2:01 AM)

This is amazing. Reading this, I felt all the strength and capacity for transformation that lies within us. Thank you for reminding me to go back to that transforming experience that was carrying and birthing my children to take on the next transformative step in my life! (You also made me want to go through pregnancy again, but that’d be CRAZY!!!!)

Justine Rastello (December 12, 2016 at 9:14 PM)

Haha yes Justine! The thought of going through pregnancy again does make me swallow hard, but embracing transformation…I think we all need constant reminders to open our hearts to it. Thank you for posting and I’m looking forward to reading more of your work too!

Esther Maloney (January 1, 2017 at 2:02 AM)

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