Milk from the breast of Christ

This is an extract from an essay for a Religious Studies course at Victoria University of Wellington – Manna from Heaven: “Is demythologization helpful in understanding the miracles of the Bible?”

Imaginative participation

Rather than abandoning the three-tier world of the Bible narrators, for example, participating in or imaginatively entering the worldview of the storytellers (as much as possible at this temporal and cultural distance) can also be effective in understanding miracles.

It is not necessary—although it can be useful—to strip the miracle stories of their magic and regard them from a scientific world view, so long as an alternative is provided via which the audience can respond.

Whatever the method, it needs to be appropriate to the audience’s purpose in wishing to understand and respond to the miracle:

I stand with friends and strangers in a circle around the communion table, hands folded, palms upright to receive the bread and wine. Judith Dale has spoken movingly about Hildegaard of Bingham and Julian of Norwich, including Julian’s concept of Jesus as Mother.

Elders move around the circle with the loaf of bread and chalice of wine, murmuring the traditional, “the body of Christ for you,” “the wine of the new covenant for you” to each communicant.

It is my turn to receive the wine. Rosemary looks me in the eye as she offers me the cup, and says, “Milk from the breast of Christ for you, Bronwyn.” I suppress the urge to giggle; her words are liturgical and appropriate and draw on her knowledge of me and our shared appreciation of the day’s sermon.

Recalling this incident a couple of years later, I am surprised by my response: for years I have cheerfully if solemnly drunk “the blood of Christ” as part of the communion ritual, yet the idea of drinking “milk from the breast of Christ” makes me want to gag. If I believed the bread and wine to be the actual body of Christ, if I was starving in the desert, would I prefer to drink blood or breast milk?

Yet when I allow myself to imaginatively enter a worldview where the Christ is a mother figure, the milk from Christ’s breast as a symbol of spiritual sustenance becomes attractive. Recalling my own long-ago time as a breast-feeding mother, the experience of re-creation becomes at once more “real” and more “miraculous”.

We are the body of Christ

Read “breastfeeding and the eucharist” from Lillian Keil’s Hilltop Diaries