Saturday, January 09, 2010

Nursing Madonna honors body, spirit and women

Nursing Madonna: Our Lady of Travels to Life with Reality
Photo by Trudie Barreras

An unusual nursing Madonna statue emphasizes the body-to-body connection between Mary and the baby Jesus.

Some people were shocked by the bare breasts of the Madonna when Atlanta writer Trudie Barreras put the statue in a meditation chapel at her church. The pastor regretfully asked her to take it home. For the full story about the statue, see our previous post “Nursing Madonna shocks and inspires.”

It’s important to honor the breastfeeding Madonna because Christianity has often denied women’s experiences and the human body itself. We return to wholeness and balance by valuing the natural act of nursing as holy and good.

The nursing Madonna figurine illustrates the flight into Egypt. According to the gospel of Matthew, the Holy Family traveled from Bethlehem to Egypt after an angel warned them that King Herod would try to kill the infant Jesus.

In her monologue “Miriam’s Journey,” Barreras does a wonderful job of describing the physical sensations and spiritual musings of Mary as she nursed on donkey back. Here is an excerpt:

We soon became aware
Our little Yeshua needed safety greater than was offered
By our small-town obscurity.

So my brave Joseph took us forth on a retracing of the journey
Followed by our ancestor Joseph as he was led in slavery to Egypt.

That was when reality came crashing in!
I’d thought the way was hard
When first we went to Bethlehem!
Yet now I held the babe within my arms
For every dusty, weary, jolting league.
Mile after mile, day after day,
Nothing to be seen but rocks and thorn-trees
And endless burning desert sands.
The patient donkey plodded on
While Joseph walked the path ahead,
Probing crevices for serpents, scanning horizons for raiders.

I was afraid, yet somehow I saw with doubled vision
As I gazed into that infant face,
For God was here, and we had Abba’s promise
That if we did our part, and followed faithfully,
And did not turn aside from this hard path,
The angels would be there to guide us.
And oh, the blessing of those warm lips upon my breast,
Drawing nourishment and love from my deepest being!
I knew then what I have clung to ever since –
Somehow that vast Omniscient Spirit of the Cosmos,
All Powerful, Eternal, All Supreme,
Has chosen us, weak mortals that we are
To bear Love’s fragile gifts to one another!
We matter! What a miracle, we matter!
What an awesome challenge,
Knowing that if we don’t bear our burdens in obedience
Incredible blessings for humanity are lost.
It was these thoughts that kept me going
Long after weary arms would have let go!

At last that first hard journey ended, but of course
Really our pilgrimage had just begun.

For another excerpt from “Miriam’s Journey,” see our previous post “Eros & Christ: Mary’s Ecstasy in Drama.”


eric said...

Okay, now, this is just SO cool! I love this statue.

Most art of the past 2000 years... well, most FAMOUS art, the stuff we see most often... really has depicted the "holy family" in such sterile manner that it's really hard to connect to them.

This is one piece that just drags them down into the rag-tag rough tumble dirt world in which we all live.

It ranks as one of my two or three favorite pieces depicting the holy family. The other was a statue tucked off in a corner of a convent in the middle of nowhere that depicts Mary & Jesus at Joseph's side, as Joseph is clearly either very near dying, or already dead.

I feel there is so much more value in art that depicts the reality of every day life, than the sterile oh-so-holy-they're-unreachable stuff we are so used to.

pennyjane said...

wow! i!

something we need to be reminded of over and over and over again...and still we fail. submission to God's will, trust in His love...and the nurishment He provides for us in the most spectactular ways.

that statue is beautiful and provocative....the story is profound and could easily, and maybe did, come from the mouth of mary herself.

while every mother may not birth the Messiah, every mother does birth God...what an amazing gift!

much love and hope. pj

Trudie said...

I'm so glad that Our Lady of Travels is back on the blog. How intriguing it is to me that when I obtained that statuette eight years ago in Monterrey, the big "item in the news" was the guy who tried to blow up an airplane by lighting his shoe, and now it's the similar incident of the man who "lit himself" on the Amsterdam to Detroit flight on Christmas. Now, as then, I keep thinking that however you slice it, as Miriam says, "We matter" - for good or ill. The choice is always ours.

Thanks again, Kitt, for sharing this.

Kittredge Cherry said...

I’m glad that you all enjoyed the nursing Madonna statue and story as much as I did. Thanks for taking time to leave your comments.

Eric, YES, nitty-gritty realism in religious art makes a bigger impression on me than the idealized portraits of Christian figures. Some of the famous art truly is great, but we’ve seen it so many times that it loses its power.

PJ, once again your writing is like poetry! Yes, we need to be reminded of God’s presence over and over again, but in new and fresh ways, otherwise the reminders become, as Eric noted, too familiar to make an impact.

Trudie, thank you again for sharing your piece “Miriam’s Journey” and the statue that inspired you to write it. I’m glad that you encouraged me to wait until after Christmas to run this -- it DOES seem more appropriate now, and it’s not getting lost in the flood of Christmas activity. As you mentioned, current events make the message of peace as timely as ever.