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Christmas Eve, 2009. The service was about to begin, the pews were full of churchgoers with their unlit candles and bulletins in hand. I stood up with the choir to sing the introit when my seventeen-month-old baby began to cry in the front pew, in the arms of a volunteer. I hesitated only for a moment before picking up AJ, setting him on my hip, and proceeded to not only sing, but lead the entire worship service with baby-in-arms. Wearing my black clerical robe, white stole, and maybe a little spit-up, it was not lost on me that I was connecting with Mary on this night of the holy nativity. It was one of two Christmas Eves where I was not able to hold a lighted candle while singing Silent Night.
The second Christmas Eve was two years later, when right before entering the sanctuary, this time as the pastor’s wife (we had moved for my husband’s call and I was staying at home), my son threw up all over the carpet outside the sanctuary entrance. With the help of another mom, we cleaned up the carpet, and I took AJ home. I remember the disappointment that I could not be with my family and could not observe Christmas Eve as I have since I myself was a child. AJ turned out to be fine, and had no other vomiting incidents after leaving the church.
However, in both experiences, it was the image of Mary caring for Jesus that connected me more deeply to the Nativity, Christmas Eve, and understanding our Mothering God. Upon reflection, it is less the image of Mary birthing Jesus and laying him in a manger that I connect with. It is the images we don’t see: Mary holding a clingy Jesus during his time of “stranger danger” (perhaps, in Matthew’s account, that occurred while they were in Egypt, strangers in a strange land). While Jesus may be the Son of God, I cannot imagine Jesus being unlike any other child and picking up a stomach bug at some point, keeping Mary at home with Jesus while his brothers went to synagogue with their father.
The call to both the clergy and motherhood is something I felt deeply after my ordination and marriage. I knew I wanted to be both, and Christmas Eve is the time when I have felt most connected to both calls: sharing the story of Christ’s birth while caring for my own child in need. On that Christmas Eve in 2009, one woman came up to me after the service, smiled at AJ in my arms, and said, “That was perfect.” Holding a clingy baby in his Christmas pajamas while singing Silent Night was not what I had imagined at all when I planned Christmas Eve worship, but it indeed was perfect. God knows what it is like to be a mother, because God was mothered into this world.
This post is part of the book launch blog tour for Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God. Embodied includes reflection questions at the end of each chapter, to instigate conversations that lead to support and new perspectives. The book is available this September from Bookshop.org, Amazon, or Cokesbury.
Release Date: October 8th, 2019