On Breastfeeding and the Incarnation

*I originally wrote this post on Sept 22, 2017 and am re-sharing in the midst of the Advent season. Post has been imported from my old blog, found here.

Nursing on a plane

In the last two month, I’ve spent hundreds of hours with a small human attached to my breasts.

I’ve definitely enjoyed times of bonding with my baby during those hours- taking in her smell, enjoying how her hands move and hold my breasts or my hands, listening to all her noises (including her “old man” farts), finding satisfaction in hearing the light “kuh” sounds that signify her swallowing milk, noticing where her eyes move and what she’s observing, or just simply finding satisfaction in knowing that she’s being nourished and sustained.

I’ve also spent plenty of those hours simply trying to pass the time. I’ve watched the first 3 seasons of Jane the Virgin in their entirety, spent way too many hours on social media, texted many mom friends, done some (maybe too much?) online shopping, listened to podcasts, meditated to worship music, interceded for friends and for the world, and also done nothing at all- all with a small human attached to my breasts.

Many hours of breastfeeding have passed, and many more are still to come.

But the other day, while nursing Amara, I was suddenly struck by the question, Was Jesus breastfed? Did he too, spend hundreds of hours of his early years nursing, sustained from the nourishment of Mary’s breastmilk?”

And I became overwhelmed by the embodied, incarnate, fleshly reality of baby Jesus — an actual, human baby- who breastfed, cried, pooped, farted, sharted, burped, spit up, hiccuped, cooed, and kicked. I began thinking about Jesus as a newborn- covered in amniotic fluid, attached to his mama by an umbilical cord, breathing first breaths in this fallen world. I imagined Jesus’ first days, circumcised 8 days after his birth, taking in drops of colostrum, or suckling at the breasts of Mary. I imagined Mary holding a squirming, kicking, flailing Jesus, singing to him, rocking him, putting Jesus to sleep.

While thinking about these things, I noticed a tinge of embarrassment and shame creep up in me. As if it’s somehow wrong to think about the Divine in this way. As if it were blasphemous to acknowledge the very real and fleshly realities of Jesus- as messy as they may be. As if the body of Jesus was meant to be minimized or hidden. As if the humanity of Jesus weren’t as important as the divinity of Jesus.

And that’s when I realized how subconsciously Gnostic much of American evangelical theology is.

Too often when when we think of Jesus, we immediately picture a 33-year old, grown-up, (white-skinned) Jesus. More often than not, this is due to the fact that a theology centered on penal substitution nullifies the need for Jesus as an embodied, fleshly being. All we need from him is the spiritual reality of crucified flesh. All that matters is that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.

And when we think that the gospel is only about crucifixion, we erase the full power of Incarnation, denying the necessity of Jesus’ birth, childhood, unknown years, earthly ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and (eventual) return. We dishonor the particularity of Jesus’ body- a dark-skinned, Palestinian Jew, born to an unwed teen mother, raised in the ghetto of Nazareth, living under Roman occupation, executed on a political symbol of shame and disgrace. All that matters is that Jesus died- not how he lived or the body he lived life in.

To remember Jesus, as fully human (and not just fully divine), is to remember his complete identification with all of the human experience and struggle- including infancy. It reminds me that as I watch Amara growing as a baby, that Jesus is not far off, that he is in fact very near and completely sympathetic because he too was once an infant. He can identify with her in her weakness. Out of love, Jesus chose into solidarity with the fullness of human experience- in all of its fleshy-ness- and allows for glimpses of the sacred to be revealed through her own baby self.

It is because of the Incarnation, that when I breastfeed my 2 month old baby girl, I can experience the nearness and solidarity of Jesus. I can discover his presence, even amidst a pretty ordinary, sometimes messy, always corporeal act. And the act of breastfeeding can be transformed into something holy, an opportunity for communion with the Divine.

What a sign. What a wonder.

Word made Flesh.
Dwelt among us.
Full of grace and truth.

Originally published at https://erinawrites.wordpress.com on September 22, 2017.

Co-Pastor @bethelcommunitysl | Director of Advocacy @fphayward | pastor, activist, writer | married to @eubanksme | co-author of @lentenlament | she/her

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