This month we’ve been talking about embodiment and mindfulness–how to understand the mind/body connection. I thought that theme fit in well with Christmas, because in Christmas our God actually took on bodily form. The incarnation shows us that our bodies matter.
One of the most illuminating books I’ve read in a long time is Christy Bauman’s Theology of the Womb. She showed how women’s bodies, and the rhythms of women’s bodies, the fears, discomfort, and pain women experience, and the grief that often comes with women’s bodies tell us something about God in a way that we often overlook. Women’s experiences are not secondary to the story of God; they are central to it.
Christy is the cofounder of The Christian Counseling Center for Sexual Health and Trauma, alongisde her husband Andrew Bauman, who has been a frequent guest on our podcast.
I asked Christy to share some thoughts on the incarnation and Advent with us today. I’m taking this week largely off because tomorrow is our 30th anniversary, and I wanted some down time. So I’m grateful that she sent me this post to run that I think will encourage you too!
I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Nikki Giovanni be interviewed by Krista Tippett on the On Being podcast. The left side of the plane, window seat, 17C, flying over Oregon. I was a young mother of young kids so taking a flight back home alone was a rarity. My pen scribbled frivolous notes as the plane began its descent, the women’s words in the interview were like gold coins falling from the sky and I couldn’t catch them fast enough. I was captivated by it all, but particularly, the concept of manger theology.
Tears spilled from my eyes when I heard Nikki talk about how, as Christians, we look to the cross all the time, yet don’t equally look to the birth in the manger. I was stunned at her words, because I had thought of that so many times when I was in the hospital birthing room waiting to bring a child into this world.
Advent was God’s birthing room.
Every year lighting my Advent candles in preparation for Christ’s birth brought me right back to the memories of my womb.
Because we hesitate to over-glorify Mary, we fail to grasp the theological significance of the birth of Christ with as much fervor as we do the death of Christ.
What would it mean for us to study the months, the days, and the hours leading up to Jesus’ birth in the same way we observe Ash Wednesday, Lent, Easter week, and the via Dolorosa to the crucifixion?
This idea sparked something in me, something that I had been thinking and feeling for a long time. The loneliness in pregnancies and the birthing process was where I needed to start looking to understand Advent. All this time, I had been looking to friends who were pregnant at the same time for companionship, or a MOPS group that could understand what I was going through and help me wade through these waters of loneliness. It was really hard to find Jesus during that season, because in a sense, He hadn’t been born, and yet what I knew but couldn’t yet articulate was that I felt the Holy Spirit right there, so intimately growing a child in my womb.
I didn’t know how to connect to and access the relationship that I have learned from in church with my body in which I was experiencing motherhood.
I wanted to learn about the motherhood of God, because God was in my motherhood.
The Theology of the Womb
If it is true that God is a male, then His Divinity or Deity is expressed in His masculinity. Yet I am a woman, and there are parts of my body; such as my breasts, my vagina, and my womb that are telling a story about God that I have never learned or understood.
This book is an exploration of the significance of a womb that must shed and bleed before it can create. How will we engage our body which cyclically bleeds most of our life and can build and birth a human soul? How will we honor the living womb, that lives and sometimes dies within us?
I didn’t know how to articulate it at that moment, but luckily, I was part of a church midrash that was open to this idea for our Advent season.
Our pastor taught the first Sunday of Advent on Zechariah being made deaf and mute due to his disbelief until John the Baptist was born, and that our church would observe only women teaching throughout Advent. I still have the recording of that night, four of the female midrash team members discussed for hours what we would teach for the Advent Sunday sermons. Thoughts and stories flowed out of us as we laughed and cried over deliberating Mary and Elizabeth’s pregnancy journeys in conjunction with our own.
What must it have been like for Mary to find out she is pregnant before marriage, or the desperation to travel with morning sickness to live with Elizabeth and midwife her older cousin giving birth, and to travel with swollen ankles on a donkey. We laughed about the fights we would have had with our husband should we have been in such a situation. Did they fear miscarriage, pain, stillbirth, or postpartum depression or anxiety?
Those hours turned into church services that invited our congregation to reflect on the complexities of pregnancy; seasons of infertility, the womb’s fragility and fierceness, and the breaking and bleeding of the female body to give birth to a child.
Universally women’s bodies have been carrying the story of Advent in their wombs for centuries.
The Advent season is an invitation to connect with God fully through waiting and hoping.
God was there in my own pregnancies every time I went to the bathroom fearing I might find blood, or every time I looked in the mirror at my expanding belly, or felt a kick of an alien-looking being inside of me.
I felt intimate with God not as a man, but with all the feminine qualities of God, the femaleness of God.
The manger story is about the greatest birth, a birth of our Savior. The manger story is also about women’s collective story to be creators.
Manger theology invites us to know God through the holy gift of the womb, which grows, waits, and births.
It is the woman’s body that is invited to break open to learn the ways of our Creator. The birthing room is a place where women breathe deep, mother pain, coach their bodies, bleed and tear open to show us the story of God’s love for creation, just as a mother loves her child.
Advent is the story of a woman who learns to become a mother.
Advent is the story of Christ dwelling within us.
Why do we have a hard time understanding Manger Theology, as Christy calls it? Why does it seem so awkward to talk about? Is this concept freeing to you? Let’s talk in the comments!
Our Embodiment Series
- Arousal Non-Concordance: What it is and why you need to know about it
- Our Mind/Body Connection Podcast
- An Emotional Journey with Vaginismus
- Manger Theology: What Pregnancy and Birth can Tell Us about Jesus
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