(A brief warning for anyone who finds the subject of breastfeeding to be gross or inappropriate. If you can’t tell from the title of this post, I’m going to talk a little bit about how liturgy is like breastfeeding. If this offends you, I invite you to consider why, and possibly seek help from a mental health professional to get over yourself. Thanks!)
My beloved wife, the mom of my two little children, is my hero.
After nine months of nurturing these sweet little lives from the inside, she began doing the same after birth. While recovering from the major surgery it took to get them here, she gave more of herself to feed them as often as they needed. Through pain, tears, exhaustion, and spit up, she sustained them on her own for the first months of life. And when it was time for her to go back to her work (which, by the way, also makes her a hero to me and many others), she committed herself to feed them as long as they needed it, even though pumping breaks and quick trips home made for longer days and more complicated scheduling.
The closeness they shared was the most selfless, beautiful relationship I’ve ever witnessed. Determined, patient, pure love. I don’t think one could find a clearer illustration of Christ’s love for his church.
(I say this not to shame any mother for whom, for whatever reason, breastfeeding is not possible or practical. This is only a parallel drawn from my own observations.)
As a dad, I figure my job is to help as much as possible without being a distraction or general nuisance. Sometimes dads need to distract their babies, but not so much during the nursing ritual. And as much as babies need and love to nurse, they are so easily distracted. Loud noises, shiny playthings, and clumsy dads are always near, threatening to divert the nursing child’s attention from their important task at hand and, er, mouth. The holy ritual of nursing mother and child is irreplaceable, no matter what interesting diversions creep into the little one’s peripheral vision.
This reminds me so much of why the church needs liturgy, not just the amusing distraction that often passes for worship these days. We need the discipline of liturgy and ritual to sustain our spiritual lives, to align ourselves with our Christian mission, and to teach us to view the world through a Christ-shaped lens. The simple carbs of commercial entertainment worship are easy, addictive, and initially filling, but they don’t grow and sustain a healthy church. God, as is the case with a loving mother, knows what we need so much better than we, and has graciously given what God alone could give in Word and Sacrament.
Rachel Wrenn, a Lutheran mom and a pastor, posted her Prayer for the End of Nursing a few years ago. This is how she describes her own nursing experience:
“You knew the feeling of miracle
that awesome moment of realization
that exactly what they need
is exactly what I have in me
and everything that is me
(milk, body, heart, arms)
is given freely to sustain and nurture their life
—and then that awe-full moment of recognition
of deeper appreciation
for the words “this is my body,
given for you.”
This is my body, given for them.
God does know, friends. We don’t, but God does. We are so small, so aloof, so distractable that we will look for anything that will easily entertain us. Neither liturgy and nursing are constantly high-stimulation activities. That’s a good thing. It’s a detox from the busyness.
Before birth, that baby was inside mom, a part of her, in fact. Nursing is a gracious, if fleeting, restoration of that sweet unity. Before the estrangement of the fall, humanity enjoyed close connection with its loving God. Through worship we reconnect in a life-changing, life-giving way, live-sustaining way. It’s exactly what we need, strengthening us for our life’s work.
And right when we need it, when our souls are parched and dry, when the paucity we feel makes us cry out in desperation, God is ready and faithful to meet us once again.
Like the tiny child trusts its mother, let’s trust that what God does for us in Word and Sacrament will be enough, and will be exactly what we need.