WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

New Levels of Sacred

By Caitlin Cotter Coillberg

A wicker bassinet, lined with bedding, with infant clothing draped on the edge.

Breathe deeply, until sweet air extinguishes the burn of fear in your lungs and every breath is a beautiful refusal to become anything less than infinite.
—D. Antoinette Foy

content warning: pregnancy loss

I’ve always found early morning a holy time—not that I necessarily want to be awake then; sometimes what is holy is also difficult—and as a new parent, early morning has taken on new levels of sacred. Now I hold my crying son against my chest and he quiets, breathing warm against my neck, as I murmur lullabies. That warm breath makes my eyes prickle.

In Judaism, my spouse tells me, life begins with first breath, and as I stand there swaying, life in my hands, I find myself thinking about the ancient Greek concept of pneuma, breath of life and inspiration, of the Latin verb spiro that the Internet assures me means both “to breathe” and “to be alive.” (Should I text one of my Latin teacher friends, I wonder, in the dizzy joy of morning? Probably not now, when it’s just me and the first birds and our unhoused neighbor down the block singing in this new day…) And I think of when I birthed our baby. Before then he was a possibility, a fetus, an image on an ultrasound, a kick against my insides. With that first cry, first breath, he became a person in the world.

When we lost an earlier pregnancy at twelve weeks, it was the possibility, the dream of a baby, that we grieved; that we will always grieve. I watch our son’s breath too closely sometimes, remembering the fetus that never became a breathing baby. Grief and joy are a weight in my arms in the early morning light. Rainbow baby, we call our newborn: a child born after loss. We knit him rainbow things, draw him rainbow dragons, take photo shoots of him with the first page of Harry Potter, that chapter title clear in the camera of my phone: “The Boy Who Lived.”

In the first part of my labor, before the blessed epidural (the sacred, indeed, comes in many forms), I sang through the pain, song helping me to breathe. Breathing in and breathing out, quietly singing, I continue to carry my pain and my joy forward.

May we carry joy into each new day, and practice hope even and especially in the midst of grief and uncertainty. May we have the courage to love, again and again and again, and may we love with the fierce determination our world and lives demand.