Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Holy Mother of God

By Peter Paul Rubens
So, I went to church the other day. I sat there....oh no, wait, I forgot that I'm Catholic...I kneeled there, praying. I was praying that God would make me all super holy and more Christian than others so that I can feel righteous in judging some awfully gnarly things in this world, like the anatomical features of my own womanly body that He created. I hadn't noticed much when I walked into the church because I was too busy feeling the Spirit, but after some  prayer, I opened my eyes and looked around. I noticed the most vile and crude things. There were paintings....painting that showed a woman's breasts! In church! Where Jesus lives! Oh my God, this woman who apparently has an affinity for blue robes modeled for a bunch of paintings showing her indecently breastfeeding an infant - and sometimes a grown toddler! Fucking hell, even one of the paintings showed this rather old-looking naked baby just clinging on to her exposed breast, nipple and all, while He looked outward, smiling. This woman, this floozy, obviously thinks she's all that because in some pictures she is wearing a fancy crown and she always has a halo. Oh, heavenly. And just to prove how immoral she is, she is almost always flanked by flying babies, who are also naked and flaunting their wings and penises. Oh my God. Who does she think she is, just sitting there in her regal robes acting like she is the Mother of God while forcing our young, impressionable children to look at her breasts? Have mercy! I started having heart palpitations, so I had to look elsewhere and I focused my attention on the Crucifix hanging from the ceiling. I focused on the bruised, beaten, pierced body of Our Lord and all the blood that trickled down from His wounds and I prayed that I never have to see anything as offensive as a painting of some woman breastfeeding in public again. I then looked at one of my favorite statues in the church - it depicts Jesus, wearing nothing but His underwear, tied to a post, being whipped, His back a bloody mess as He received the cruel punishment for being the Son of God. I focused on those bloody gashes on His back again and prayed that the children will not ever have to view the vile images seen in those paintings of the breastfeeding woman. Then I took out my rosary and prayed to Mary, the Mother of God for a little bit, though I was still distracted by the flaunting woman in those paintings. I think I may write a letter to the Pope, asking him to have all such images removed from Churches so our children do not have their innocence stolen from them. First, I'm going to follow the Stations of the Cross around the Church and focus on the depictions of Jesus dragging that cross across town, His body full of bruises and blood until He finally had nails driven into his wrists and feet...I think they need to take those paintings down and replace them with a nice, moral Saint. Saint Agatha comes to mind. I've seen paintings of her holding a plate with some sort of jell-o molds or something. Kids love jell-o.

St. Agatha

Seriously, people think like that. Recently, someone had an image of a Renaissance (or high medieval, I forget) painting of the Virgin nursing baby Jesus removed from her page for indecency. In Facebook's never-ending witch hunt for breastfeeding images, despite their claims of allowing such images, they even managed to insult God and His mom! Asinine! I then saw a lot of debates on Facebook in the last few weeks about the appropriateness of churches housing paintings of the Virgin Mary breastfeeding the wee little Jesus. I guess I didn't get the memo that we'd be returning to the Protestant Reformation, when great works of art were defiled in order to cover up any saucy bits of flesh exposed on the subjects. There are actual discussions as to whether it's okay for people to see Jesus and His mom doing what many babies and moms actually do. I have to say it's not surprising given the fact that this country has a problem with respecting the rights of mothers to nurse their babies in public. It's been a long battle since we decided that breasts were no longer for nurturing the babies and were now only to be used as objects of sexual lust. So, yeah, I'm used to it....but, Jesus' mom? Are we really going to ask God's mum to wear a Holy Hooter Hider (comes in a lovely pastel blue with a virginal white lily print or you can get a custom designed one from Etsy with the Vatican logo embroidered on it)? Let me frank - Jesus was breastfed. I know there are some Christian traditions which are all about telling women that they are the embodiment of sin because they are women and that their bodies are shameful, but that crap doesn't fly with me. Why would God have a problem with the body that He created? He designed boobs all by Himself. He knows they can serve more than one function - nourishment, a nice place to lay one's head, a good place to hide small toys or, for the adults, a little something nice to look at. Obviously, God didn't have a problem with boobies or any other part of the womanly body because He saw fit to send his Kid to reside in a human womb, shoot out of a human vagina and nurse at human breasts. Get the hell over it already! The body isn't sinful! The sin is in shaming our bodies so much that we don't even remember what's normal about their functions anymore.

The Holy Family By Joos Van Cleve - is she mom enough?

It especially pisses me off because these are typically debates held about images seen in Catholic churches...by non-Catholic people. Dude, this art is our tradition and it's sacred. Respect that. Why are the breastfeeding pictures so hotly debated? Have you seen the imagery of Jesus on the day He died? It ain't pretty. In fact, you are more likely to walk into a Catholic church and see a variety of images of Jesus getting the crap kicked out of Him and, of course, nailed to the Cross. There's usually blood. There is no uproar over the Pieta, an image of the Virgin Mary holding her adult son, Jesus, dead and slumped over in her lap, yet we whine about an image of the same pair, only 30 years before that when Jesus was a baby at His mother's breast. Really? Where is the uproar over images of St. Agatha? She was martyred for her faith and they cut off her breasts. She is most often depicted in two ways - either in the moment of torture as they cut her breasts from her body or in her more Saintly form (fully clothed and, you know, alive) holding a plate with her own two breasts on it. Oh, but St. Agatha art gets a pass because her breasts are being removed, they are not nursing an infant. Art depicting violence towards a woman's breasts is ok. Art depicting the natural function of breasts is sinful and shameful. The hypocrisy is astounding.

Michelangelo's Pieta at St. Peter's Basilica

I guess people are getting weary over the whole breastfeeding in public argument because they keep getting beaten down by logic and reason. So, they do the natural thing when you cannot reasonably argue and discriminate against something - hide behind religion. Eyeroll. It's not going to work folks. You can stop harassing moms in malls when they feed their children. You can also lay off the Mother of God. There are other problems in the world and the sight of a mother nursing her child is not one of them. It's time to move on. Your religion doesn't give you the right to harass and judge any mother for nursing in public, whether she is the Mother of God or a mom sitting behind you in your church pew. Nothing divine or earthly gives you that right.

"Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast." - Joel 2:16

...."God bless your mother--the womb from which you came, and the breasts that nursed you!" - Luke 11:27

P.S. - a little fun trivia - an important component of Medieval and early Renaissance artwork was to communicate with worshippers back when the more common folk couldn't read. Paintings were loaded with symbolism that most people would have been able to understand. Baby Jesus nursing was a major symbol of His humanity. That's also why He was depicted nude. Let's have fun with the Van Cleve painting up there, just for a moment. Nude baby nursing = Jesus as a human. Knife = circumcision (booo) of Jesus. Old dude = it was commonly believed that Joseph was a really old guy when he married Mary. Mary's blue and white duds = her virginity, purity and motherhood. Mary's red duds = Passion of Christ and His blood that washes away all sins. Citrus fruits = weaning. It was believed Jesus was weaned onto citrus fruit. Enclosed window with garden/pastoral scene in the background = Mary's purity. Joesph is often seen at that window as a symbol of his protection of her purity. I think there is a sheep in the pastoral scene behind Joseph and that = Jesus as Lamb of God. There is a glass of wine which = Christ's blood and passion. There is a reflection of light in the shape of the cross in the glass. I'm not sure what St. Joe is reading here, but he is often depicted reading The Magnificat. Isn't that cool? The medieval paintings are treasure troves of symbolism.

1 comment:

Shanna said...

Great post! I really like your trivia at the end, that's really interesting! It's ridiculous that people have an issue with religious paintings from hundreds of years ago! Especially when you think about the type of rights women had back when they were painting. We've made so much progress in "womens rights" in the past 100 years only to be consistently told that our bodies are dirty and should be hidden. Thanks for writing this!

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