Seventeen Christmases ago, I was standing in a church pew singing songs about God made flesh. I wore an ill-fitting deep-red dress that clung to my swollen body while I inhaled the air heavily perfumed from churchgoers. We sang of the holy night when Christ was born. With a sling draped from my body holding a small sleeping infant, I swayed from side to side. My son still had that brand-new velvet softness to him, downy hairs covering his skin like a baby chick. His mouth moved in a reflexive sucking motion as he dreamt. I wept quietly over the gorgeousness of him, the fierce music of the chorus, and the sharp aching of my cracked and stitched places. My firstborn son made his way onto the earth through me, and my body gave parts of itself as a sacrifice for his safe passage here. In that moment, and at every Christmas that has followed it, I couldn’t help but wish for another verse in all of the songs, another passage in the book, that would tell a fuller story of the God-bearer.
The story typically goes: an angel came to her with the news of her immaculate conception, she sang a song at Elizabeth’s house, and she traveled to Bethlehem where she gave birth in a barn. I want to see the chapter that details Mary’s morning sickness. I want the image of her falling to her knees, retching, as she spits into the grass. I want her to tell me what it felt like in the quiet dark of the day, before the sun came up, to lay in bed and watch the sole of the incarnate God’s foot move across the stretched skin of her abdomen.
I want to know about the cankles and stretch marks and the sheep’s wool Mary gathered together to make a body pillow so she could get to sleep at night. I want to read about God-given indigestion. I want to listen to the music of the biological mother of God, her whispers and songs and loving intonations. I want in on the hundreds of little secrets she shared with the fetal deity in her womb after being told by the midwives that they suspect sound travels well.
How often did Mary rock and moan during those sacred days, as her back ached and her breasts started to feel heavy and sore? How did she handle the doubled blood volume coursing through her veins, the increased sex drive, the limbering of every ligament as her body prepared to be a vehicle for its most holy passenger? What did she feed herself, knowing every bite would also nourish the one whose law is love and whose gospel is peace?
I want to know what it felt like to have God-made-flesh pass through the flesh God created. To feel the Lord traveling through the walls of her birth canal, stretching her perineum to its breaking point. What wounds did God rend on the way to save us? What blood did she shed in the sacrament all birthing ones offer, “this is my body, broken for you.” What cries and moans welcomed God-with-us into waiting hands of the one who delivered the deliverer? Was there a chorus of women in that barn who came to assist the woman giving birth by the livestock? Did they kneel on straw and bear witness to the most primitive act of a woman and the most astounding reality that she had birthed the son of God? I imagine the midwives of Bethlehem came with care and tenderness to stitch, clean, and comfort her—I imagine these experts in birth as they surveyed what Christ’s placenta looked like, the one Mary’s body made and formed.
If we take it on faith, we accept these unnamed truths: God chose to gestate, inhabit, pass through, and be sustained by a woman’s body. This means God chose and wrote the script for every detail of the process, writing the good news of the incarnation into each line. Christ came through us, as us, so we could know the love that would do anything for us.
God, the ever-intentional one, decided to come to humanity through the vaginal canal of a woman. God chose to be nourished and nurtured, to latch onto the breasts of a woman, to empty her engorged milk ducts one hungry gulp at a time. God chose need: for skin-on-skin contact, for warmth, food, digestion, and rest. God chose the tar-like meconium waste and the black umbilical raisin that’s left days after the cord is cut. God chose to be tethered to and then severed from God’s mother. God must have known the poetry of this scene: that thirty years after Mary’s nipples cracked and bled into the mouth of Christ as she gave her body as a living sacrifice, he would return the favor.
This is the sixth part in a series from Ash Parsons on Embodiment.
Cover image by Alexander Krivitskiy.