Posts Tagged ‘embodiment’

The Brea(st/d) of Heaven

August 30, 2014

A group of girlfriends, including our priest, humbly shared Communion around a circle. One mother of three small children handed the consecrated bread to the woman next to her and said accidentally, if appropriately, “The Body of Christ, the Breast of Heaven”. Much laughter ensued. I was moved by the potential meaning held in her unintentional substitution for the word “bread” – it remains an unforgettable Eucharist.

I wonder what it is like to breastfeed from God, to experience mutual need and devotion, intimacy and sustenance unlike any other. Do I already? Could I intentionally?

My son’s favorite part of church is what he calls “God’s Dinner”. It may be because he gets to move his little legs and see lots of people on our way up front, or it could be that he gets a snack. I think, however, he senses something more is happening. He seems in sweet awe as he holds his two-year-old palms up to receive this spiritual food. He has a skip in his step afterwards. Back in our pew, he always asks for more.

I experienced breastfeeding my son as a kind of sacrament, an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” (Book of Common Prayer). In the wee dark hours, more than calories was transmitted. “Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you.” (BCP, Eucharistic Prayer II) It wasn’t my grace that flowed; it was the purest of God’s love feeding us both, and a passing of Peace between mother and babe.

It is no small feat to feed a child from your own body multiple times a day and night for weeks, months or years. During the harried moments of raising a baby into a toddler, it was within the calm of nursing that I remembered the profound nature of the mother role and what a privilege it is. A lot transpired in the 12-inch world we created between us in our blue denim rocking chair. It was there that my son rolled toy dump trucks and excavators across my chest, it was there we chanted about Sita and Ram during my yoga teacher training, and it was there we gazed into each other’s souls and fell deeper and deeper in love.

I often wonder, as I look at my son, if God loves me that completely. There were a few days last winter when I found myself saying, “I’m not a good person” because I had been bitchy, ungrateful, impulsive, and negative. These are the moments when I most want to contribute to God’s kingdom rather than take from it, and yet, I need time at the Breast of Heaven in order to right myself. I need to be held, to connect my soul with God, and to feel loved despite my shortcomings, maybe even, inclusive of them. Then I can be nudged towards what could be.

In the Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna, the charioteer and teacher, gradually reveals himself to the warrior Arjuna as the Divine and as Arjuna’s immortal Self. Near the end of the story, he tells Arjuna that he loves him, that he is dear to him. I found this so touching. Could God also be this Self within me offering tender love and forgiveness to my imperfect, small “s” self?  

When people say “God loves you,” it feels like fluff to me, until I give credence to God’s love as I experience it – a surrounding presence within which I “live and breathe and have [my] being” (Acts 17:28). It is a healing energy that works its way into the inner reaches of my heart. It is as if I were a nursing baby and whenever I cry for my Mother, or even make a peep, She is there. This there-ness, that’s love to me.

Do we wean from God? As happens in a breastfeeding life cycle, I know that I have received highly personalized-for-each-stage-of-my-growth Divine nourishment. Sometimes I wonder if it is time for me to stop asking God for so much, and give what I already have. I don’t think, however, that I will ever grow out of needing to hear about Jesus’ vision of justice or tap in to his meditative presence. Nor can I imagine being beneficial for my family and the world without continually accessing a power greater than myself.  

I’m heartened that when weaning a child, allowing him to continue becoming his own self, his need for his mother is no less strong, and her love for him is no less fierce and no less present. This, I suspect, is how it is with God.


Tree Lessons

March 16, 2010
One of my favorite magnolia trees in Richmond was cut down recently. She was an awe-inspiring momma of a tree – larger than the house she sheltered. Her canopy spanned the whole front yard and covered part of the roof. She lived on my street. When I asked a little girl playing on the fresh magnolia sawdust if the tree had been sick, she replied, “No, just old.” 
This weekend a friend and I went for a walk through Hollywood Cemetery. Normally, as I amble past the markers of people’s lives, I’m observing dates and calculating the lengths of lives lived. On Saturday, however, the trees consumed my attention – especially the enormous oaks with roots visibly growing out of the stone embankments of the cemetery.
I love that trees in winter, especially these grand old trees, feel no need to prove themselves. “Here I am” they seem to say, “naked, proud, and knowing.” Through them, I learn to trust nature’s cycle – even when they look dead, life is simply resting inside, waiting to reemerge.
A teacher once told me that the yoga involved in tree pose isn’t necessarily about holding perfect balance. Instead, it is about getting back in the posture with grace, patience and commitment, each time I fall out. 
On occasion in my coaching and women’s circle, I ask participants to practice grounding and taking up their rightful space in this world by embodying their favorite tree. They usually look at me a bit sideways. After some gentle coaxing, they set their skepticism aside that this could be at all illuminating. I ask them to feel their roots growing deep into the Earth and their branches reaching wide open, sky high or perhaps, in the case of willow, draping gently and gorgeously. “Breathe as your tree, let the wind and weather move you, feel your strength and your beauty.” Sometimes it works for them in the moment, sometimes not. It always works for me. Becoming a live oak centers me, calms me, and opens my heart.
In the brochure “The Method of Centering Prayer: The Prayer of Consent“, Thomas Keating writes, “The principal fruits of centering prayer are experienced in daily life and not during the prayer period.”  I hope that even if women feel a bit silly and self-conscious embodying a tree for three minutes, the effect is felt out in the world – in them and by others. I hope they are reminded of their own dignity, especially in the presence of “their” tree.