Pope Francis, and Breastfeeding, and Reclaiming Normalcy.

So as usual, I am a good mile or so behind the curve of current events. What can I say? I spend most of my time listening to people try to read i-g-h-t words, flipping pancakes and chasing laundry around. But this week I noticed rather belatedly a picture that has been circulating the internet, a picture that made me literally cry with joy when I saw it. And here it is.

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The current pope , in his former diocese, kissing a baby next to a woman breastfeeding. Not breastfeeding under an enormous blanket, not discreetly lifting a baggy t-shirt. Nope, full on, blouse unbuttoned, breastfeeding her infant. She is not some screaming angry topless activist, and yet here she is showing her breast in public in front of a bishop and she is glowing with beauty and confidence. This picture I should also note appeared next to an article on how Pope Francis encouraged mothers to feed their infants in the Sistine chapel.

We live in the great age of the image. Of seeing the unseen. We have seen things that our great-grandparents never even thought possible: landscapes of Mars, MRI scans of our brains, developing embryos, the andromeda galaxy, our favorite celebrities dressed like chickens, and yet for some the image of a woman breastfeeding openly is somehow something that still shocks us, and this is very very bad.

So why I am so exited for this photo is because it incarnates for us the answer that the theology of the body is giving to the void of normalcy in our culture. The reminder that bodies are normal, so get the heck over it, pray for chastity, and move on with your life.

This photo has further raised again the disturbing debate as to wether it is appropriate to breastfeed in church. Seriously? If we are asking ourselves this question, it is a symptom of how deeply the pornography of our culture hurts us. I recently realized this while discussing this issue, with another woman. Pornography has entered the language of our culture so much that women call into question the “appropriateness” of one of their most beautiful and womanly gifts, lactating.

This is why pornography is so sinister. Viewing those images for a man changes all women in his eyes, but perhaps, even more disturbingly, changes the way women view themselves. They become afraid of their own bodies, even of the breast in its most natural and more primary function, feeding a baby. I also sincerely think pornography and formula feeding are two sides of the same industry. If we can keep women’s breasts totally covered except in a sexual way than their visibility becomes a commodity that only the porn industry can deliver.

Furthermore, women nervous and stressed out by the overly sexualized idea of the breast are inhibited from nursing in public places. Let’s face it , nobody wants to be a social outcast, especially mothers of small babies. They get out precious little as it is. And so formula companies picks up the profits neatly on the other end.

Okay, so I got derailed on my formula rant there. . . . But back to the issue, healing certainly takes time. Is every women confident enough to be that woman in the photo? Probably not. But I think we need to admit that we are wounded by our culture and admitting that is a good first step. We should see this woman not as the ideal, but as the norm. How she is nursing is NORMAL. Hiding under a blanket to nurse,unless it is to provide warmth, quiet, less distraction or security for the infant, is not. If we are nursing under a blanket for no other reason than “modesty” it is a silent affirmation that breasts are primarily sexual. Period.

I breath a silent prayer of relief that our pope, our gay-hugging, atheist loving, foot washing, audacity of a pope (to quote Stephen Colbert) has, in his own way addressed this issue. Because babies matter, dammit, and if we call ourselves pro-life, but force mother nurse on toilet seats then we have some serous hypocrisy issues. Okay, okay, I am done ranting now. I’d better go flip some pancakes to blow off steam.

Christmas In January

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(Written on Sunday, Jan. 13th). This is the first year I can ever remember still enjoying the lights, the tree , and the Christmas music so late in the season. Normally I am sick of pine needles on the floor, wandering ornaments and the clutter of decor by this point and relish restoring order. I told myself I was going to bring down the tree today as it is usually the day we do it. After all, it is the last day of Christmas in the church calendar.

I suppose I should be thankful that the old calendar had the wisdom to stretch it out to Candlemas, in February, because this year I find myself still full of Christmas. It is still with me with its quiet joy. Looking at our tree and manger, I still feel it’s presence in the house. I do not want to hasten its leaving. I find myself thinking , “Why lengthen that stretch of winter between the taking down of the tree and the first crocus showing its head?”

Christmas is a funny thing, you cannot force it. You cannot look for it. It comes when it wants to and stays where it will. It is after all, a birth, something for the most part outside of our control.

Of course we are told not told that. Our culture has us convinced that we make it happen. But perhaps that is also the reason there is the rush to to bring down the ornaments right after the opening of gifts. We feel cheated, because we know we did not really make Christmas come. And we are only too glad to see Christmas go. It is the con man who has left us with an empty wallet and a false promises.

But, if Christmas is not a conman but a birth, then we are freed. We don’t have to be responsible for it. If Christmas is a birth all we can do is try to be ready. But birth is messy, unexpected, and it is different every time. And it is certainly not something we have any control over, as much as we would like to convince ourselves otherwise. “If only thus and such would happen, or so and so were here, or we bought thus and such, then it would be the ‘perfect Christmas’.”

We tell ourselves this every year and it is a lie. The perfect Christmas, like the perfect birth can only be seen in retrospect, but I think one factor in it is the letting go. Any midwife will tell you that a woman must be relaxed and not stressed out if she is to give birth. And what is more stressful that the feeling that something is expected of us and we might not measure up?

Christmas, like birth, cannot be planned or controlled and it can only happen if we step back and let it. To put conditions on Christmas is the opposite of Christmas. (After all, we put no conditions on a sunset, or a snowfall.).

So this year, certainly through no virtue of my own, Christmas has decided to stay with us longer. I am still feeling it daily in the true gifts to brought me. The gift of learning to cut an onion better (my father ). And in the beef in our freezer that is feeding and nourishing these growing girls daily that my father in law traveled like a wise man to bring us. It is the tiny tree that an old man in an overgrown Virginia farmhouse gave me for half price because he was kind. In the boxwood wreath that my neighbor invited me up to gather. And of course the greatest gift of all, that tiny silver baby Jesus that Ronia is still carrying all over the house and I find greeting me in the funniest places. None of these happened because of me. They were all Christmas, coming on its own terms.

And I cannot pack it her all up onto a plastic tub and shove her into a dark closet, not yet.

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