Labor of Love
By Reverend Johanna Rehbaum, Concentus member
When I found out I was pregnant with my second child back in April 2016, one of my first thoughts was, “Oh no, will this interfere with my Concentus Concert?” (To answer your question: yes, I do have my priorities straight!) I quickly calculated the due date, then spoke with Gwen a few days later: I was due on December 5, and the Christmas concerts were planned for Dec. 2 and 4. “I will make it!” I said to her and to everyone else. “I will sing in those concerts!”
Part of my determination was my excitement about the program we were preparing: Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, a piece which has long enchanted me, and the Pinkham Christmas Cantata, the third movement of which was performed for my college’s annual Christmas production, and although I was not involved in it beyond listening (I was playing oboe in the orchestra), it was one of my favorites in the program.
And so, come September, I got my pregnant self to rehearsals every week. And a good thing—these pieces were hard! Harmonies were often unpredictable, and the language, whether the old English of the Britten or the Latin of the Pinkham, did not sit easily on my tongue. This was primarily true of that third movement of the Pinkham, which we all hammered into our brains over and over again, trying to wrap our minds and our tongues around the strange intervals, unfamiliar Latin, and fast pace.
My determination paid off: for both concerts, I sat my very pregnant bones on a stool in the front row, and managed to make it through these physically and mentally demanding concerts, and enjoyed every moment of it! I got choked up anytime we sang about this baby boy being born, knowing my own wee babe would soon enter this world, but otherwise was able to perform to a standard that made me once again proud to be a member of Concentus.
After the concert, a few of us went out to celebrate. As we enjoyed some hors d’oeuvres, I felt that familiar stirring in my womb: the beginnings of labor pains. “I don’t want to alarm anyone,” I said to my fellow singers, “but I’m having contractions right now!” They stopped after an hour or so, however, and baby stayed put for a couple more days.
Labor started in earnest a couple days later, at 11pm on Tuesday night. Contractions continued through the night, every half hour or so. Each time one began, I woke from sleep to do what was needed to make it through the contraction. To my surprise, the refrain that popped into my head and carried me through each contraction was that same third movement of the Pinkham, the third and most difficult verse: “Scitote quoniam dominus ipse est Deus ipse fecit nos et non ipsi nos.” I could not get it out of my head, and so those rhythms that had been hammered into my head all those months became the rhythm of my breathing and rocking through early labor.
Later, it occurred to me that I didn’t know what most of these words meant. I typed them into a Google translator. I learned that it comes from the Psalms, from the Latin Vulgate translation: “Know ye that the Lord is God: he made us, and not we ourselves.”
I smiled, recalling that long night of laboring to this refrain. Even as my son, Isaac, and I worked together on the incredible work of giving birth, and this work was done as intentionally as it was intuitively, there was also a knowledge and awareness that these marvelous bodies of ours were fearfully and wonderfully made by God to do this very important work. I was not in this alone. “[God] made us, and not we ourselves.” And the God that made us does not desert us—whether in the pain of childbirth or in the elation of a resounding chord of brass, organ and voices. Indeed this is the promise we remember when we sing, “O Come, Emmanuel”: O come, “God-with-us.” In all things, Emmanuel. In all things, God-with-us.
The name Isaac, the name of my son, means “laughter,” the sound we make when we are delighted, joyful, overcome, or disbelieving. As I reflect on the words of my labor refrain, “Know ye that the Lord is God: he made us, and not we ourselves,” I experience all of these emotions. What an extraordinary blessing to have had the opportunity to sing these words, to share them with our audiences, to present them on the harmonic ribbon of joyous song, and then to internalize them so much that they helped carry my son, Isaac, into the world.
It is my sincere hope that Concentus’ music has aided you in your own reflections on this wondrous and mysterious season, and that you, too, would be filled with laughter and blessing.
Note: Concentus values the diverse perspectives and backgrounds of all of our members. Johanna Rehbaum serves as pastor to both St. Martin Lutheran Church and Bethlehem Lutheran Church. Follow Rev. Rehbaum on Google+.