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Poem “Maryam’s Labor” by Mohja Kahf Reading and Discussing

From Audio: Portable Poetry: Maryam’s Labor

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Rebel Girls Book Club
Duration: 08:38
Listen in to the an author introduction and reading the poem Christian mythology “Maryam’s Labor” by Mohja Kahf. Kahf discusses the purpose of God, struggle as triumph, and what women reclaiming Christianity may look like.
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Listen in to the an author introduction and reading the poem Christian mythology “Maryam’s Labor” by Mohja Kahf. Kahf discusses the purpose of God, struggle as triumph, and what women reclaiming Christianity may look like.
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we are reading a poem by oh he cough. We're reading a poem by her and she is a popular poet. She has written several poetry collections including Hunger Poems and emails from She Ezzard, which I'm mispronouncing. And most prominently I've seen her mentioned a lot for her novel The Girl in the tangerine scarf. She got her PhD at Rutgers in comparative literature, which is pretty cool because that's where I go now. She's also written in nonfiction. She's a professor of english at the University of Arkansas and she writes a lot about arab and muslim culture in the United States. And she grew up in the midwest but her family is from Damascus Syria. So we're breeding her today even though she writes a lot about Islam were reading her today because she's also written a little bit about Christianity. Because if you know anything about the abrahamic religions, they all kind of build off of one another, Judaism's first Christianity comes along and then Islam comes along. So all of a lot of those stories are within every tax especially islam because that is the latest religion. And the poem that we're reading today is called Miriam's Labor. This is true. These these are all facts. Do you have any first impressions from this poem? Maggie before we go ahead and read it? I think that something that has struck me about some of these texts that I feel like has been is like a theme here that's almost answered to a certain extent, is in book of longings and in the Passion of Mary Magdalene. Because hello, if this is your first episode here where the last episode in a series at this point go back start with the first Passion of Mary Magdalene episode. But there has been so much questioning, I feel like as I know happens for everyone about why there is pain and suffering and what causes that and God's relationship to all of those things. And the two novels we read really questioned all of that. And this poem also deals with that in the form of the pain and suffering that women go through in um that's this woman go through a child birth. But instead of the question, God is kind of framed as the answer here, which I think is interesting. I think in some ways this is probably closer to like a devotional text potentially than the other two mediums that are the other two texts that we've dealt with. But something about that to me feels congruent. I don't know what it is, but I feel like poetry can be really, really spiritual for people and is as much as it's crafted. It's also often very personal. I think in a way that sometimes novels aren't necessarily because sometimes when you're writing poetry, the speaker can be you and things like that. So I don't know if that made any sense, but I I see relations to the other two texts that we read. But this person, this author has sort of a different take on similar themes. Yeah, I think that's really interesting, one of the things I noticed too is that while cough grew up in western society essentially, you know, she she isn't inherently as much of a westerner I guess as our other two authors are because her family is from Syria and she writes a lot about this dynamic in her work, about being kind of of two places it seems. Um but both of our other authors in passionate mary Magdalene and in book of longings are two white women who have tried to reclaim the religion of Christianity for themselves. And so I think that maybe maybe that has to do with some of these themes about like not knowing what God is or whether God has their best interests at heart. Um and I don't know cops religion, religious background, I don't know how much religion was thrown at her versus or other two authors. So maybe that has something to do with the more devotional nature. Do you want to go ahead and read the poem now? Sure. Okay. Who do you want to start? You can start, Marianne is giving birth, her face is sweating like a laborer like a marathon runner. God is her doula massaging the small of her back with a tennis ball. Everyone else has left her honey, you can do this, she says, you and your body know how mariam understands this pain that comes in waves like the ocean rises, rises, then releases her. She does not lie down, she stands up. She is not ill from what she bears. She is powerful, she is not patient, she is purposeful, She is not second, she is self, she is soul and body. She is one. She serves the pain. She swims the crest. She lives in it, she flows with it. She has been training for it. She doesn't beg the pain to go away. It is her guide in the desert, not her enemy. It is her voice in the wilderness, calling here. Now Truth. Life be. Miriam gets the double vision of women in labor, seeing things as they are and as they more deeply can be. Everything gains epic dimensions, opens panting fully dilated, mantra chanting, pelvic rocking, crowning mariam takes what she needs from the river, the tree she is here now Truth life be. And it is Miriam space. It's flush with victory, wow, that's really pretty. I like it better. Reading it out loud. Oh yeah, that's funny. So what are, what are some of the things that you've noticed now that we've read it a second time together? I think that there's something, I think that there's something powerful about the assertion that pain in that way can be a guide and it doesn't have to be your enemy because I think that and we this is obviously a very cis gendered based poem because uh Marion, as far as we're aware is mary from the bible, but it's talking about the fact that her body isn't her betray or even though it hurts, you know, it's still her power and like this is a gift that she has which I think in some cases plays into a lot of like stereotypes about womanhood and what it means to be a mother that I think we probably need to unpack, but simultaneously I feel like there is a certain level of empowerment in like riding out that specific kind of pain and feeling like you come out of it victorious. I agree. I think that in our other theological questionings with the passion of mary Magdalene and with Two among Kids, the book of longings, we got a more pessimistic view I think, towards pain and suffering and this is really an embracing of it. And I also think that's really interesting because as Maggie pointed out, we're talking about mother mary and what we know from that bible story right now, right, is that like this is before she has given birth to jesus? So she and what's his name, What's mary's husband's name, joseph, joseph, yeah, she and joseph have been traveling all this long way and she's going to go ahead and give birth in a manger, right? Like that's the story surrounding jesus birth, but also jesus is like the Lord and savior and that I think even though we're not focusing on any sort of male deities or mail worship in this poem, I think the fact that she is giving birth to this like great, beautiful kind of chosen thing is interesting and it is flipped in a really empowering way here.
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