Monday, January 10, 2011

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.

The nursing Madonna figurine illustrates the flight into Egypt that is remembered this time of year. 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.

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.

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.”

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.”

Related link:
Our Lady of Milk: 20 Images of Mother Mary Nursing (St. Peter’s List)


Trudie said...

Although I wrote "Miriam's Journey" several years before I read "Jesus in Love", one of the things that resonated with me most deeply when I DID first encounter your books was the persistent image of Jesus nursing the souls of his followers. This is part of the powerful nurturing imagery that has been so completely lacking in the Church's understanding of God's interaction with humankind, and I find the continuity between the nursing Madonna and the nurturing Christ absolutely vital!

Kittredge Cherry said...

I also find the imagery of divine nursing to be powerfully nurturing. Do you know that one of the Hebrew names for God can be translated is “Breasted One”? El Shaddai is usually translated as “God Almighty,” but women scholars propose a wonderful alternate reading. I quote from Wikipedia:

“Harriet Lutzky, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychology at John Jay College, City University of New York, has presented evidence that Shaddai was an attribute of a Semitic goddess, linking the epithet Shaddai with the Hebrew šad meaning "breast", giving the meaning "the one of the Breast", as Asherah at Ugarit is "the one of the Womb".[9] A similar theory proposed by Albright is that the name Shaddai is connected to shadayim, the Hebrew word for "breasts". It may thus be connected to the notion of God's gifts of fertility to the human race. In several instances in the Torah the name is connected with fruitfulness… "By the Almighty [El Shaddai] who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts [shadayim] and of the womb [racham]" (Gen. 49:25).