In the Christian tradition, there is an intriguing strand that images Jesus’ death on the cross as birthing, that is to say, the Crucified is seen as a woman in the travail of childbirth. This image of Jesus’ death as maternal labor is present especially among some medieval mystics, for example, in the meditations of the Carthusian writer, Marguerite d’Oingt (d. 1310). She ponders the crucifixion thus:
“Are you not my mother and more than mother? … Oh, Sweet Lord Jesus Christ, who ever saw any mother suffer such a birth! But when the hour of the birth came you were placed on the hard bed of the cross where you could not move or turn around or stretch your limbs as someone who suffers such great pain should be able to do; … And surely it was no wonder that your veins were broken when you gave birth to the world all in one day.”
The thought of Jesus’ death as a form of birthing is not that far-fetched, I think. Jesus himself evoked the image of a woman in childbirth on the night before he died: “When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish…” (John 16:21). More poignantly, Jesus dies with that psalm on his lips that images God as a mid-wife, Psalm 22. This psalm, which begins with the haunting “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?,” sharpens the tone of despair and betrayal by reminding God of the midwifery God practiced at the psalmist’s birth:
“Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
You kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
And since my mother bore me you have been my God.” (Ps 22:9f)
Jesus’ dying psalm thus links death and birth in intriguing. Some of the medieval devotional writers emphasized that link in imaging Jesus’ dying as maternal labor. Among the many ways through which we today can prayerfully approach the mystery of our redemption wrought on the cross, imaging Jesus’ travail, the tearing of his body, the water, and the blood as the travail of a mother in childbirth may not be the least.