Today's lectionary readings were heavy on images of motherhood and children, especially the readings from Isaiah:
"Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you." (Isaiah 49:15)
That is, it must be admitted, a double-edged image of motherhood. But is there any other kind? I have been reading and thinking about the infancy narratives in the gospels, and I have been struck at the ambiguity and sense of unease one finds there. In Matthew, for example, Mary is utterly silent, a non-actor, only acted-upon by the actions of others (including God). In her book, "The Illegitimacy of Jesus," Jane Schaberg investigates the silences as well as the words, the actions as well as the inactions of every character, and she concludes that the pregnancy in question may well have been a result of trauma, even rape, and the actions of Joseph find their rationale and precedent in the rabbinic writings of the period and earlier. I continue to be struck, here and elsewhere, by the "otherness" of woman, especially as manifested in the need to manage her reproduction, messy and unpredictable as that tends to be. I do not mean to minimize or trivialize the question at hand: what was the nature of Mary's conception and pregnancy? Lives have been spent (and lost) puzzling over the question. It is significant.
At the same time it is timeless, and universal. A woman conceives, and entire worlds come into conflict... the rabbinic world, the world of a womb and its cycles, the world of a family and its peculiar economy, the world of a small town. Everyone takes an interest, because everyone has an interest.
I am fascinated that we still care. I am fascinated that we all still feel we have a stake in the answers.