A Feminine Insight to Gethsemane


Today was NT lesson 25 on Gethsemane. There wasn’t much in the way of scriptural text assigned; the whole focus of the lesson was on the prayer in the garden (the parallel texts in Matthew, Mark and Luke were all assigned readings).

We talked about how the human side of Jesus really didn’t want to go through what was coming. He knew what would happen to him physically, and it would be absolutely brutal–not to mention the emotional and spiritual anguish in the offing. In desperation he prayed for some way, any way to avoid it. But in the end he came to grips with the reality that there was no way out, and in resignation he began to walk towards his fate.

After the lesson, a sister in the class came up to me and shared what she was thinking while we talked about that part of the lesson. She told me about when she was pregnant, she had a real fear of childbirth. As time progressed and she got closer and closer to her due date, she began to panic, because this arduous, painful, dangerous thing was coming, and she was going to have to go through with it; there simply was no way out. She was so freaked at the prospect that she even asked her doctor if she could have a c-section and get knocked out for it (he said no, they don’t do things that way).  (Interestingly, the way the delivery progressed she actually ended up needing to have a c-section after all.)

I thought that was a terrific insight and resolved to share it on the blog. As a man that’s an experience I simply don’t have intimate access to or experience with, and it never would have occurred to me to draw that kind of a parallel. But once she shared her feelings about it, I could see the terror of facing such a hard thing that you would do almost anything to avoid, but it’s inevitable, and passing on that hard thing simply is not an option.


  1. Growing up a woman in the church, that connection has been outlined for me more times than I can even recall, so there’s an interesting difference in gendered experience. Also, the 2012 collection of essays, “The Gift of Giving Life” (Austin, Axman, Farrell, Allgood, & Ripley – Madison & West Publishing) explored the nature of this connection with some really fantastic depth and insight and curiosity. I highly recommend it.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    That’s fascinating, Em F. I seriously had never encountered such a connection before.

  3. I’ve never encountered that parallel before (and I’m a woman!), but it’s so appropriate. Like the atonement, childbirth is also a total labor of love. Maybe the intense, raw experience of childbirth is one of the things that makes a mother-child bond different than any other relationship. I know how it feels to look at your newborn after delivery and thinking about Christ looking at us like that adds a new dimension to how I understand his love for me.

  4. In our class someone brought up the parallel of Eve in the garden of Eden who asked about eating the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. She asked “Is there no other way?” It was an interesting parallel.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Ooh, good one, Ann, I had never thought about that one either. I’ve just been oblivious to these kinds of parallels.

  6. cahkaylahlee says:

    I think one of the reasons why the symbols of the temple (particularly those of the veil) and the sacrament fascinate (and confuse) me so much is because there is _so much_ birth imagery in the ordinances, and yet it is always a man in the “mother’s” role. For instance, a nursing baby ‘eats’ the flesh of the mother, and an unborn baby ‘drinks’ from the mother’s blood through the umbilical cord–and it is vital to the survival of the infant that these things happen. I started taking the sacrament a lot more seriously after I made that connection.

    And I’ll second Em F on her recommendation of “The Gift of Giving Life”–there are some fabulous thoughts in there. One of my favorite essays in the book is available for free here: http://thegiftofgivinglife.com/the-book/read-excerpts/blood-breast-milk-and-living-water/

  7. I chose to birth both of my babies in a hospital without medication, and one of the reasons I did so was to have a shared experience with my foremothers. I learned so much through both of those experiences. With my oldest child’s birth I learned of my own spiritual, emotional, and physical strength. And I learned what it was like to birth a baby.

    But with my second it was a different thing completely. I knew what was coming. This was helpful as birthing was no longer a mystery. But also – I knew what was coming!!! The intensity of the contractions reached a point where I didn’t think I could go on any longer, and I started to regret my very thought out decision to have a natural labor. It was too late for the epidural, I knew there were at least several more contractions and then pushing (and crowning!) yet to endure, and I remember praying to Heavenly Father to please, just make the pain stop, to deliver me from this. I remember thinking of the words “take this cup from me.” I had never before made that connection. I experienced this amazing moment of just letting go, giving in, and not fighting what was happening to me but actually embracing it. It was spiritual, biological, and empowering.

    We enjoy a pretty comfortable existence. But a lot can be learned from pain.

  8. The birth parallel was something I learned about several years ago while studying Mosiah 14 (Isaiah 53). We discussed the word “travail” in verse 11, and although it does describe pain, suffering, and anguish in an overall sense, it also is often used to connote the more specific pain and suffering that accompanies childbirth. We also discussed that through the atonement,
    Christ becomes the “father” of the children of the covenant.
    Mosiah 5:7. “And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.”
    So it is interesting to consider that through the travails of the atonement Christ becomes a father and spiritually begets children.

  9. A question I have is that if we take as truth that Christ suffered for all iterations of physical pain for the entire human race, how do we account for his ability to suffer for the pain of childbirth given that he is a man. Do we take 2 Nephi 9:21 literally that he suffered the pain of all women also?

  10. MargaretOH says:

    I’ve also had the Christ and Atonement/ Eve and childbirth parallel brought up more times than I can count. I taught this lesson two Sundays ago and had at least two comments referencing that connection. It’s a fascinating one, particularly in the Mormon context of the Fall not being a inherently bad thing. The Fall gave us the freedom to choose, and the Atonement gives us the ability to choose poorly and be redeemed, making us free forever.

  11. Jason K. says:

    Dig this picture from a 13th-century French manuscript of Christ on the cross giving birth to the Church:

  12. Jason K. says:

    The reference is Codex Vindobonensis 2554, fol. 2v, held at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek. The manuscript dates from 1225. The catalogue record is here.

  13. In our class there was the question, “What kind of an angel comforted Christ?”. A man speculated Michael, and two women both thought it could have been Heavenly Mother. Personally I don’t know, but those two answers I thought were interesting.

  14. Thank you for these insights! When a seminary student would ask me why women couldn’t hold the Priesthood, I would explain that men were given the responsibility of administering the affairs of God’s kingdom on earth. Women had the responsibility of bearing the souls of men. I’d then cite Moses 6:59 in which God instructs Moses: ” …inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water (amniotic fluid), and blood (the mother’s), and the spirit, which I have made (God’s spirit son or daughter), and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water (baptism), and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the
    blood of mine Only Begotten…” But I never realized the similarities between Christ’s suffering in the Garden and His crucifixion to the suffering and physical risks of a women in labor and delivery. Nor had I ever thought of the comparison of partaking of the flesh and blood of Christ during the Sacrament to the growing fetus being nourished by the nutrients provided by the mother’s body. My mind is boggled!

  15. I too have loved the feminine/birth imagery in the Atonment and ordinances, such as baptism (being born of water, blood, and spirit). I’ve recently been doing some reading on the temple in preparation for an upcoming lesson, and I was intrigued to see at least one author talk about how ancients saw temples as the “umbilical cord” to heaven. I wish we would would make these connections more blatant in our lessons at church. (I’m thinking how I’ve most often heard the ordinance of baptism compared to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ — as Paul taught in the New Testament. It’s true that it is symbolic of that. But the book of Moses also shows us this other more feminine symbolism.)

    I just remember reading Mary Daly’s book (Beyond God the Father) in college (many, many years ago). She left Christianity because “if God is man, man is God.” It made me cherish teachings about Heavenly Mother and these sacred feminine images.

  16. Here is a great birth story from The Gift of Giving Life Blog which answers this question so beautifully. http://thegiftofgivinglife.com/that-post-i-need-to-write-with-the-least-flattering-photo-ever/
    Here is just one quote from it.
    “What has surprised me is how gradually that experience has come to frame everything that will ever come after it. It wasn’t a magnificent apex all contained in that little labor and delivery room. It’s an entire paradigm shift that I’ll have with me the rest of my days. Every time I contemplate the Atonement of Christ for the rest of my life I will inevitable base my perception on the extremes I felt and faced there. “If it be possible, remove this cup from me,” “Could ye not watch with me one hour?” and “began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; “ all meant something they didn’t before. And Christ said himself, “ A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.” (John 16:21)”

  17. From an adoption viewpoint (shared by a dear friend): My son’s birthmom pushed and bled and cried and went through all the pain and then told the doctor to hand the baby to me. How could I not think of the Savior and His Atonement?

  18. I recommend reading Chapter 4 The Time of Hope in Joseph Spencer’s book for more insights on suffering, contraction, and affliction from childbirth being compared to the atonement and the time between the resurrection and the second coming:
    For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope
    by Joseph M. Spencer
    Link: http://amzn.com/B00KJ4TL0M

    Oh, and I look forward to your presentation next week!

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