27 April, 2007

Who is weaning whom here?

My wife and I are of the notion that it's time to wean our daughter. Our daughter is of the notion that it's time to wean us of such a silly idea. The jury's still out on who's winning this fight.

While trying to convince my daughter to go to sleep, I realized that the Virgin Mary had to wean the infant Jesus and to lay him on his bed. This wasn't so much a moment of insight—I was aware of this in theory—as an experience of awe. I may be a pious sort, but I am not so pious as to imagine that the baby Jesus expressed no dissatisfaction with this phase of his life. I'm quite certain that on at least a few days he expressed this displeasure with some eloquence. It took me an hour to get my daughter to sleep tonight, and every now and then her protestations reached hysterical levels. Someone walking by might have gotten the impression that she had suffered some injury. Believe me, it wasn't fun to stand there holding her and cooing and singing to her, hoping she would calm down and fall (back) asleep. If Jesus had to be weaned from the breast, then there must be something sacred about this unpleasant affair.

I reckon that the infant Jesus also played with older relatives the same way that my son played with his sister last night. I never caught the details, but they sat opposite each other with the quilt draped over their heads, pushing their hands up against it, and laughing or even screaming with delight every few seconds. I wouldn't have thought that there was so much entertainment to be had with a quilt that, according to my father, is older than I am. Apparently I've been a grownup just a little too long.

I suspect that modern Christians have forgotten just how sacred family life is. I say this because I cannot remember the last time I heard Christians talking about how Jesus must have experienced these aspects of life. I've heard some romanticizations of the sweet aspects, but on the sacred unpleasantness of family life, I strain to find anything in my memory.

Is my memory that bad? These days the only Jesus I seem to encounter is a political one, either the fire-breathing dogmatic or the peace-loving hippie. People don't seem very interested in talking about the Jesus who entered history and grew up in the messy unpleasantness of family life. Christians seem increasingly interested more in finding ways to rationalize an evasion from our responsibility of forming and raising holy families than in finding ways to encourage and support them.

...Or maybe I'm just projecting my own conflicts onto Christendom at large. I have the vague notion that modern attitudes don't jive with the Christian tradition. The only solid evidence I can think of offhand are medieval paintings of the Virgin nursing the Child Jesus. They painted her with her breast hanging out of her robes and everything. In several of the paintings, the artist portrays Jesus looking up to Mary and grasping her jaw with some force.

Paintings like this strengthen my suspicion that medieval Christians, superstitious and ignorant thought they may have been, had a lot more wisdom than we like to admit. Honestly, I can't imagine how such a painting would be popular today among Christians. The conservatives would be shocked that Mary's breast was showing, and the liberals would be outraged that we were wasting time on such pieties rather than solving the problem of the high cost of infant formula.

What would Jesus do? I suspect he'd suck some more milk, caress his mother's jaw, and then cry a little when she put him down to sleep. He'd probably sob quite a bit more when she put him down to sleep without suckling him first. A preview, perhaps, of the sorrows that were to come. Perhaps the sword had already pierced her heart.

1 comment:

Clemens said...

My little Episcopal book club discussed the first chapter of Gary Wills' 'What Jesus meant.' They loved it, at least partly because he addresses what it was like to have Jesus as a child, a teenager, and as a son and sibling. You are right - it is not much talked about.

Then, neither is the nature of the Trinity anymore, and that is where you have to come to grips with exactly what Jesus was/is. Back in the first 6 or 7 centuries of Christianity it was a burning question, one over which wars were fault.

The medievals WERE much more aware of this on a whole lot of levels. They were neither as ignorant nor as superstitious as we like to think (we being so much more civilized and sophisticated). When it came to the facts of life, physical and spiritual, they probably did better than we can.

Anyway - a nice post.