Pregnancy: Introducing and exploring an Eco-Theological Model from the Pacific for the World
Date added: 28/06/2017
Ola Tauafuafua (Pregnancy): Introducing and Exploring an Eco-Theological Model from the Pacific for the World
By Filomena Hunt Leituala
Presented to the
Mission Theology in the Anglican Community Workshop
Mission in Oceania: Some Contexts and Currents
Pacific Theological College June 26-28, 2017
The starting point of life is a mystery because it is an unanticipated event that takes place in the union of two sexes. The formation of life is a special occasion, a benefit waiting to unfold and manifest into form. It is a period of great success celebrating the viability of a certain being as it takes its concrete form. Overall, it is a celebration of existence and being part of the created and creation. Ola tauafuafua is a beautiful process in the making of the universe because it relates the presence and the reality of one to another. The ola tauafuafua eco-theological model encompasses the whole of creation in every living existing manifestation of being or life on earth regardless of form. This model attempts to establish a relational theological perspective which connects all life form and shares a commonality among the created forms of earth.
Ola tauafuafua is literally translated as life in its fetal state or the beginning stage of life. In simple terms, it means pregnancy or the stage of carrying a developing offspring within the human body. In the pregnancy stage, the fetus is not fully developed which means it is still in the process of becoming. In pregnancy the baby is slowly taking its final form, assuring that all its organs are in place and ready to take its first breath outside the womb. At this point, it is still attached to the mother, dependent for nutrition and survival. In other words, life is dependent on the mother, the carrier and giver in order for its development to fully progress to its final stage.
The Ola tauafuafua model proposes to express a more relational and intimate mode of affiliation disclosed between the mother and unborn child. It is a unique bonding weaved with love and sincerity of the heart. This model of ola tauafuafua is one of body experience which conveys all life forms. McFague expresses similar understandings stating “…the model of body includes all life-forms, indeed, all matter on our planet as well as in the entire universe…The primary base or meaning of the model is our own bodies as well as the familiar bodies of other animals we see about us” (1993, 16). As a result, the use of body in the idea of ola tauafuafua reveals evolution, ecological interrelatedness and interdependence (McFague 1993, 18) which are elements of a relational appropriate and friendly model.
Rethinking the Theology of God
In rethinking the theology of God, ola tauafuafua could mean a variety of things, but one in particular will be examine which is the essence of God as Mother. God as mother is a more personal approach because it is an aspect of my experience. Mothering has a more God-world relationship that is relational and non-hierarchal in the sense that it connects to all members of the immediate family. A mother’s warmth and sense of being entices people to connect, dialogue and communicate with one another. Similarly, God interconnects with the world and the whole cosmos in the same interchangeable way.
Ola tauafuafua is a given inheritance or trait of being a mother. In the process of becoming a mother, ola tauafuafua becomes an endowment which has divine means of transposing life between a union. Such is the image of God and the world. God is in the world. The perception of the world as God’s body to which ends God is presently the mother (McFague 1987, 87) expresses a phenomenon of God who is intimate, involved and included in the ongoing cycle of life. This is the significance of the ola tauafuafua in that it is the development of life. The world is the womb of God which carries the ola tauafuafua. The womb of God holds all life form. We are all in the womb of God, conversing and dialoguing with each other. We; people, animal, plants, earth, land, air, and all are related to one another. Mollenkott made a similar point stating, “Out of that all-encompassing womb God has given birth not only to all human beings, but to the whole magnificent natural creation as well” (1993, 16). The womb is a cycle of life. The womb links all the ola tauafuafua to God. The bond of a mother and child is reciprocal of growth from the mother to the child and in return from child to the mother. In familiar terms, it is a reciprocal surge in sharing traits, feelings, nutrition, well-being, and affection. Ola tauafuafua becomes the grooming stage where the mother is preparing the child for the world, and the child in return is preparing the mother for his/her arrival as well as for parenthood. Together, both are adapting to one another, ensuring progress and success of relating to one another in a smooth stage of development.
In addition, ola tauafuafua is a reflection of the revolving world. We are part of this world in motion. We are united and one with all life forms residing in the body, which we know as the world. In other words, we are small bodies linked and dependent on the bigger body; that of the world. A similar image of the ola tauafuafua is that we are in the placenta of the world. The world is preparing us to live fully and respect the environment where we reside. As maintained by McFague, “we ought to love and honor the body, our own bodies, and the bodies of all other life-forms on the planet. The body is not a discernable garment…rather it is the shape or form of who we are” (1993, 16). In the content that we are in the placenta, we rely on earth for nourishment, continuity, and existence. Earth also responds to us according to our cry and wants for survival. Earth gives freely without hesitant of the many resources it contains. Earth provides for all living things; preserving a gravitational environment which sustains life and growth. Regardless of earth form, people, animals, plants, water, landmass, and more; all are subject to one another in sustenance of life. Such is the unfolding miracle of the ola tauafuafua; God as mother gives freely of her love, service and all for the manifestation of the new life in the womb. Such is also the image mention by Phyllis Trible in the use of the Hebrew word rachum or racham, usually translated compassion, but could meaningfully be translated ‘God’s womb-love’ (Mollenkott 1993, 16). This illustration can be understood in the sense that everything which exists of the womb is given not only life but the unconditional love of God. God takes in the necessary nutrients, cautious that it does not harm the new life.
Likewise, the church is called to take on a similar role of caring for creation. The Church needs to be mindful in its approach to recognize that all things are ola tauafuafua or just in the beginning stage of life. The Church’s role is to acknowledge and firmly state its position in supporting the well-being of creation and not just humanity. The mission of God is not just for human but for all of creation. The salvation of creation is dependent on the faith and work of the church to combat violence and the injustice intentionally and unconsciously inflicted on the most part of creation. In like manners, society should encompass the same vision as the church is the threshold within societies. With the outreach function and role of the church, society may become aware of an ongoing dilemma which they have long been ignorant of. By making aware of the situation and its relevance, society will follow by example.
Furthermore, the newest awareness of combating an evil amongst our own midst will contribute in the well-being of the holistic earth. Most of us are unaware of the crisis and danger of our misuse and abuse of earth’s resources that we fail to recognize that we are taking life from earth as well. In other words, if we are made conscious of our behaviors, we may be able to control the problem. The solution begins with us. This model warns people of their unthinkable behavior on the basis that they will acknowledge earth and the entire world as the abounding womb which cares for all the ola tauafuafua. So, if human decides to treat it like a dumping ground or landfill, they will have to think twice because they themselves are part of the tube that connects to God. By treating the environment like a dirty place, they also are looked upon as filthy and unclean.
Biblical and Theological Roots
Of the many bible verses which roots the ola tauafuafua, John 1:14 stands out as the focusing site. The statement; Word became flesh and lived among us means that God took flesh and tented among us (Tofaeono 2000, 254). The incarnation of God in Jesus is our central Christian faith. God became human in Jesus as revelation of divine truth. As Tofaeono explains, “the sole purpose of God’s sending of Jesus to the world is to give and uphold life in its wholeness. Jesus set that example when he incarnated into human form. The transformation alone is the right of the unborn to have life. Jesus was once in that state of ola tauafuafua. He showed us that he is no different; neither supreme nor above creation. He maintains his grace as part of the creation in God. Jesus was one with the Spirit in God. It is a life originated and founded on God’s gracious love (Jhn. 3:16; cf. 14:19)” (2000, 255). In light of Tofaeono’s discussion, it indicates that God sending his son is not for the salvation of humanity alone, but for all creation. Jesus in the world shows that he is like us; birth and nurtured from the same womb.
However, directing attention to Jesus experience in the womb is significantly historical because this is ola tauafuafua. Jesus who is the word was in the womb of a human mother, a created being. This is an absolute phenomenon, especially when contemplating how God who creates is born through a created being. This is symbolic of a relational God who becomes involve with creation. It is an affirmation of a God who dwells in us, telling us that God is not beyond or separated but in connection with creation. God in a womb is a miraculous image because it shows that Mary, a human mother had a part to plan in conforming God. Mary had a part in nurturing, safe-keeping, and grooming God in the early stage of life. Thus, confirms that God relates to all creation mystically, unbound and freely. As Tofaeono expresses, the incarnation of Jesus is not anthropocentric, but biocentric. It is not political or a religious domination of the world…, but an act of liberation, the salvation and the redemption of the togetherness or communal life (2000, 256).
Theologically, the incarnation of God through Jesus is seen as an activity of the grace of God for all, not just human kind. The incarnation of God’s grace is experienced in every thing and in every life-form (Tofaeono 2000, 256). Jesus revealing to us in human or creation form is God’s grace affecting us on a holistic level. Considering the manifestation of God and Christ in created form, we recognize the core and root of ola tauafuafua in relation to surrounding elements, especially the environment. In any pregnancy stage of any life form, the viability of that life depends on the mother who shelters, shares, and protects the unborn life. But, the relationship does not end there; the new life is prone to its surrounding. Meaning, it notices the difference through the warmth of the sun, the voices outside and inside the womb like the beating of one’s heart; the taste of certain food, and the feel of pressure against its safety bag. These are just some association of the ola tauafuafua, but the image of it inside the womb expresses a clear association and familiarity with growth and life. In other words, the continual existence of the ola tauafuafua in the womb depends on its relation to the womb. It familiarizes itself with the inside of the womb.
Ola tauafuafua is similar to McFague’s interpretation of God as Mother when she recites,
“God is creator, the source of life, of all forms of life: that is the critical theological statement, and the theological way to imagine that statement for our time must be commensurate with the holistic, evolutionary sensibility. The picture of the universe as the visible creation coming from God’s reality and expressive of God-the picture of God giving birth to her ‘body’, that is, to life, even as we give birth to children-provides a model of kinship, concern, and affinity markedly different from the distance and difference of the artistic model” (2000, 111).
Simply put, ola tauafuafua is a vision of life in the world. The developing fetus in the womb is symbolic of life in the world. The womb is the universe with which life is cared and nourishes to fulfillment. This is an implicit image of life dependence on the world because the world is relational in the same sense that it is life in itself. The world not only provides for life within it, but is also viable in that it is alive and flourishing. Life form and the universe correlate to one another in a giving and receiving relationship.
Strengths of the Ola Tauafuafua Model
The strengths of the ola tauafuafua model is that it is from a personal experience of a mother undergoing pregnancy. Significant life events such as pregnancy, studies, and care-giving make this experience meaningful and close to heart because I can relate the matter from an understanding of my relationship to my unborn child. It is an exceptional model for parenthood. Although the mother is the bearer, the father also plays a vital role in the manifestation and development of a healthy baby. This I believe is a positive impact because it deals with the foundation within a family structure. Any relationship begins within the scope of a home. The home is where all components of viability exist. The mother, father and children are present, inter-relating and connecting with one another. The home is where life is labored and developed through maturity. Relationship indeed progresses and grows within a home.
In addition, this model is similar to other eco-theological models in the sense that it touches on relationship and is also cosmos-centric. In other words, it is non-hierarchal and non-anthropocentric. Instead it focuses on an experience that is generally found in all of creation in terms of reproduction and the vitality of life. Ola tauafuafua is a universal model that attempts to connect all of creation in the circle of life. In other words, life is what relates everything, from a tree to an insect, from a man to a fish; life is the element that ties all life form in a network.
Furthermore, this model rids of inequality, violence and injustices. It does not inflict a system that is seen from top-down but incorporates a more level, mutual framework. This mutual framework is more collective and reciprocal between the mother, the child, and the environment. It is integral in that people rely on plants and animals as much as the land, air, and animals rely on human beings.
Weaknesses of the Ola Tauafuafua Model
On the contrary, although the positive effects of models are unique and pleasing, there are also downfalls. The downfall is that what may work for some might not work for another. In other words, this model is from the eyes of a mother who chooses to see only the positive and is speaking from the experience of having multiple pregnancies. Yet, there are unknown factors invisible to the naked eye which has affected other mothers. Take for example; what is not mentioned is that every mother has a different experience with their pregnancy or ola tauafuafua. Some have experienced it once and chose not to repeat it because of the agony, duration and changes they have had to adapt to. In addition, some ola tauafuafua encounters miscarriages which is a devastating effect. There are cases of unwanted ola tauafuafua where the unborn is aborted. Thus, are just a few examples of the negative side of this model which has not been discussed or explore.
Furtherance, although there is a clear relation between the mother and the attached fetus, there is danger in relationship because not all mother reacts to their pregnancy positively. In other words, there are cases where some ola tauafuafua are born with defects because its either genetic which is acceptable, and there are some who have fail to recognize the life they carry, consuming drugs and dangerous substances.
The ola tauafuafua ecological model may best be suited for places such as the pacific because most settings within the pacific are communal. By communal, cultural values and norms are upheld and highly respected. Contrast to the west where land masses spread far out, it may not be appropriate and may go unrecognized because of the lifestyle and individuality in perception which tends to be quite common. Majority are centered on their individual well-being, individual gain, prosperity, and safety that any connection with others is perceived as unjust and non-relational.
Ola tauafuafua also has limitation in that the image of a pregnant mother can also be interpreted in light of a confine relationship between the mother and child, excluding the environment and all other around. This is another weakness to the model because some chose to see and interpret this perspective in this light. Regardless of the effort to validate that ola tauafuafua is indeed presented in light of relationship in a home, nest, forest, or water. The limitation is the shortcoming of the writer to emphasize the relevance of pregnancy in an eco-theological model.
Application of Ola Tauafuafua in Pacific Context
An everyday experience of the ola tauafuafua in Samoa and most places in the pacific is foremost a challenge. It is challenging because cultural contexts demands a lot of a mother. A mother wears many hats because of the countless responsibilities they are in charge of. Mothers are responsible for life-giving and life-promoting activities such as care giving, counseling, making ends meet through double work of both house chores and a paying job. She is an advocate and best friend to her husband and children. Such are some of the nurturing aspects of God as a mother. God is many things that are beyond our knowing. God is the true essence of ola tauafuafua because it is always nurturing and giving of love and grace for the common good of all creation.
Ola tauafuafua is an everyday experience in terms of preparation, provision and ensuring sustenance of life. Generally, the buzzing activities of capable bodies on a daily basis affirm the urgency to preserve and foster the ongoing existence of life. This is a natural stage for all life form is the intension to support and continue life. In reality, the ola tauafuafua in a woman can only be deliver and remain alive through the continual intake and well-being of the fostering mother. This means that whatever happens to the mother can also affect the unborn child. In cases where the mother’s life ceases due to an unfortunate event, the same would befall the unborn if it is not quickly removed from the mother.
However, our daily interaction and interrelationship is seen in the ola tauafuafua. For example, one of the major effects of the tsunami which overshadow the Samoan islands is the preservation of natural rain water. People use government water for everyday activities such as shower, cleaning, and washing except for consumption. People rely mainly on rain water which is contained and rewashed in clean containers for drinking. Thus is an act of interrelation with the environment; making use of the resources which are freely given through the relationship of the atmosphere and the water found on earth. Although the experience of the tsunami was disastrous and heartbreaking there is goodness out of it. One of the positive impacts as was discussed is the recognition of pure clean rain water over filtered, recycled waste-water. This is an indication of our acknowledging the environment.
Furthermore, a common trait among the pacific is that of farming. Majority of pacific islanders, such as indigenous Samoans and Fijians are rooted in farming, raising crops. They utilize the soil, the land to raise crops which feeds the family rather its through selling or personal use, the land provide for the family. Such is the reciprocal of the ola tauafuafua; continual provision between people and land, crops, and more. The same is said of the tilling of land and planting crops. Through farming people along with the land and plants are connecting and sharing with each other. People benefit from the land in that it nourish the crops to flourish; land benefit from human activities such as tilling and watering the land to enable growth. The land is home to many small organisms.
The continual relationship of all creation with one another is important and necessary in sustaining life. Every life form contributes to the growth of one another; most contributions are exchanged unconsciously through our activities. But, the most relevant point is that the more it interacts, it becomes a relationship of internalizing that model of embracing and encompassing the surrounding along with its resources.
In conclusion, ola tauafuafua is a relational eco-theological model which serves the purpose of aiding our continual existence. This model refers to a life in the stage of pregnancy. The relationship of the mother to the attached unborn is similar to the child relating to his/her surroundings being inside the womb. The bottom line is the unborn is groomed and make ready for separation and independence outside the womb.
The ola tauafuafua is an essential model relevant in tackling the current dilemma of climate change. As we have heard, there is a threat in creation due to the massive violent and unjust human activities. These human activities have polluted and damaged earth. By damaging earth, it provoked hazardous and challenging changes that may cause extinction, major loss and love of creation. For instance, the global warming or the fast melting of massive ice can cause sea level to rise, overflowing and probably sinking many low-land areas like Tuvalu, Kiribati and Fiji. Other dilemmas include the sudden changes in season, a massive heat rush and sudden natural disasters such as the repeated cyclones, flood, tsunamis, and more.
Therefore it is essential to raise consciousness about the motherhood of God in that it enhances relationship among the whole of creation. McFague suggested this when she stated “to say that God is present in the world as mother, lover, and friend of the last and the least in all creation is to characterize the Christian Gospel as radical, surprising love” (McFague 1988, 88). This is the gift shared in the ola tauafuafua; sharing and nurturing love between mother and offspring. In other words, “the picture of God as a parent (mother) is on the side of life (McFague 1988; 88 cited in Johnson and Filemoni-Tofaeono 2003, 55). The overarching bottom line is that the love of God is depicted as a parallel with the love of a mother (Johnson and Filemoni-Tofaeono 2003, 55). Thus is the reflection of the ola tauafuafua model as it seeks to bond life with another life; mother to the unborn; unborn to the world.
In addition to the climate crisis, this model of motherhood aspect also tackles evolving issues like violence and oppression. As noted by Brubaker, Peters, and Stivers, “Relationship is constitutive of who we are and what we can become. Relationship makes us or breaks us” (2006, 29). Violence has been seen in many forms. One is seen through the mistreatment of migrating laborer’s who are seeking help for their loved ones. For example a female laborer from Mexico is mistreated through low wages and long hours. In addition, abuse of power over creation is another form of violence against creation. This is in terms of a traditional mindset that men have dominion over creation. As a result, creation is abused and violently mistreated through acts such as over fishing, nuclear testing, massive destruction of trees, and more.
Thus, it is important to understand that ola tauafuafua is an indication that all life are still in its developing stage. We may presume that some have passed the developing stage into maturity, but the truth of the matter is; the ongoing experience we face on a daily basis is a sign of life in progress, development. It has not yet passed to the stage of dependence and viability to be on its own. Kanongata’a assures that “God’s female maternal womb enables our birthing to come about with force and firmness but also with creativity and gentleness, without violence” (1992, 7). In Kanongata’a’s discussion, our experience of God is ongoing; God’s revelation is renewed daily in our knowing and in relationship with one another.
In essence, it is best to consult a more meaningful model such as the ola tauafuafua model to entail the possibilities of what it means to be in connection with our environment. Its exceptional identity defines our role and place in saving our skin. It benefits both our chance for life, and also the chance for a healthy and more productive environment. Such a place is a resemblance of the temple or body of God; clean and welcoming for all new life to prosper.
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