Forty Time


A big bottle of beer? Or, the age when I started to go grey?

Here in Ecuador, 40 is a card game from Quito that most everyone knows how to play. I first learned it when I first came here, but always forget how to play. A week or so ago, I played again with a friend, and for the first time, I realized that not only do you need to get 40 points to win, but you also played with 40 cards out of the deck. It took me 10 years, but suddenly, 40 made sense to me.

There were a few posts that went around in social media about the word “quarantine”, the number 40 related to the Bible and the year 2020, and how the numbers and words all seemed to uncannily fit together. Some of it was coincidence and a bit of superstition, there’s something in that.

Ancients were closer to nature than we are in modern civilization, and so they were good at using natural phenomena to help understand social ones. The ancient Hebrew people used numbers as one of the tools to relate the natural to the social. And the number 40 shows up in many Biblical stories familiar to most everyone.

After 40 days floating in an ark through a flood, Noah and his family step out to a new life and a rainbow. After 40 days on Mt Sinai, Moses comes down with the tablets that mark a whole new life. After 40 years in the desert, the Israelites enter the promised land and the men are marked with the sign of circumcision. After 40 days in the desert, Jesus came out with a new mission amidst John’s sign of baptism. And in the Christian tradition, after 40 days of Lent, folks come out to celebrate the resurrection amidst the renewal of Christian baptism.

Why 40? Because that’s the number of weeks of human pregnancy. The 40 is the connecting sign that means Hebrew wisdom saw these times of pause in the ark, in the desert, on the mountain, etc. as *pregnancies*. In the pause, an old life is being left behind and a new life is growing and coming to birth, followed by a sign to dedicate it.

Which brings us to the quarantine. And mothers.

“Quarantine” – a pause in isolation – does come from the number 40 in biblical references, though the pregnancy meaning probably didn’t carry over. But in that timeless, inspired wisdom, a quarantine really is a pregnancy.

In these times of the great pause, the quarantine, lockdown or whatever we choose to call it, it would be great to have the wisdom of people who have first-hand experience of being pregnant to guide us. We need people who can see all the very weird and uncomfortable social changes, and begin to relate them to the weird changes that happened in their own bodies during pregnancy. We need people who have experience noticing and nurturing – loving – the new life growing inside of them, to begin to help us all better notice and nurture forth the good “new normal” that’s preparing to emerge. We need the wisdom of people who have lived through the intense suffering that comes at birthing time, to begin to draw on that experience to help us stay focused and not lose hope when the intense social pains come (!). We need people who will help us to continue to love and embrace the new life even if it’s not the prettiest or easiest at first, because they’ve loved their newborns that way. And, we need people who can help us process the situation if the quarantine doesn’t actually end up giving birth.

We need mothers! Mary, and all mothers.

Mothers, today is your day, and I wish you a great day of appreciation. Heck, 2020 is YOUR YEAR! 🙂

The whole of human society is pregnant.

Show us the way.

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. (Lk 2:19)

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