Mary, Mother of God B – January 1, 2012 C.E. – Milk and Love
In ancient Egyptian tradition we find images of the goddess Isis breastfeeding her son Horus. Horus was the god of Egypt and a great cosmic power, the creator of everything. In ancient Hindu religion we find Yashoda suckling her son Krishna, the god who destroys all pain and sin. In the Christian religion we have images of Mary breastfeeding Jesus the incarnate god, the messiah promised by the prophets of ancient Israel. How similar are these motifs, these stories.
The depiction of Mary nursing Jesus is very popular in Portugal, Spain, and Italy but strangely and curiously never seen in the United States. What a wonderful story it tells. Imagine a peasant girl like Mary nourishing the infant God Jesus with her own warm, sweet milk.
A member of this parish, Jeanne Qualters, sent me a poem about Mary, the mother of God. It is entitled Annunciation by Denise Levertov.
to bear in her womb infinite weight and lightness;
to carry in hidden, finite inwardness, nine months of Eternity;
to contain in slender vase of being, the sum of power –
in narrow flesh, the sum of light.
Then bring to birth, push out into air, a [Man] child needing, like any other,
milk and love –
but who was God.
There is probably no more affectionate and loving experience than looking into the tiny face of a newborn baby cradled in your hands. What a feeling of warmth and tenderness when nestling that infant’s smooth face gently against your own. We can imagine the joy Mary felt when she gave birth to Jesus and nursed him. Mary treasured the acclamations of the shepherds that her son was the savior. Those words also troubled her as she wondered what was in store for him.
The same is true for every parent. Gazing at any infant today raises questions about what may lie ahead for him or her. What will life on this planet be for our children? Will there be enough for them to eat and drink? How will they afford education or find jobs? Will they be safe? In his message for today, the world day of peace, Benedict, the bishop of Rome, called upon present generations to create conditions that will offer future generations opportunities to fully realize themselves and to build civilizations of truth, freedom, love and justice for all persons.
How can you and I create these conditions?
Levertov began her poem with this line, “Hail Space for the Uncontained God.” Mary found space in her life to bear the prince of peace. What does it mean to trust in God and have a relationship with that God who lives well beyond any limit or boundary we might impose? We do need images to make God real in our lives — mother, father, lover, friend, creator, navigator, instigator. Do we also unwittingly try to confine God just to meet our expectations?
Mary the Mother of God cuddled and nourished Jesus like other goddesses mentioned earlier who breastfed their sons. Fragile at birth their children grew to become heroes like Jesus became a hero in our tradition. Every time we gather to worship we experience a similar intimacy when we embrace the word of God and share the body and blood of Christ. In this uncontained, eternal space, you and I find the strength and courage to carry on regardless of dire circumstances or predictions.
We begin another year on a day dedicated to the mother of God and world peace. We look to Mary and to one another to find ways to make space in our lives, and the lives of our children; to work for justice, personally and globally. Mary looked into her infant’s face and saw the radiance of God. Complex as it may seem we see in each other the splendor of God’s face. In the word’s of Levertov the poet, you and I respond to one another, providing each other with basic human needs — “milk and love.”