The Sacrament of Breastfeeding #2: Sung and Suckled Eucharist

10

18 June 2013 by thaliakr

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The Quire of Canterbury Cathedral, with the altar at the far end.

That’s going straight to the blog!’ Miriam predicted as we walked out of the church service on Sunday.

We had the lucky experience of hanging out at Archbishop Justin‘s place this weekend, staying with SBJ’s English godfather, who lives in Canterbury.

It’s a pretty nice church.

Since the first, self-conscious time I breastfed SBJ in public, I’ve become pretty comfortable with feeding anywhere that suits him and me, without worrying about anyone else, particularly. I’ve fed SBJ in practically every church service we’ve been to – what better way to hear a sermon when accompanied by a small person?

On Sunday at Canterbury Cathedral, arriving at the Sung Eucharist service slightly late, we were ushered to specific seats. The whole congregation was in the quire that Sunday, the central bit of the church where the choir stalls face each other, just below the altar, and we were pointed to the very front row – an open bench, not a pew – in the very middle. Not where I would have directed a toddler and his companions, but I decided to take that as a warm welcome to my little dynamo.

It was very pleasant indeed to worship in an ancient church, part of an international congregation, led by excellent readers and pray-ers, listening to an excellent sermon (from Rev Dr Justine Allain Chapman) weaving three lectionary texts together, and listening to the superb choir singing, among other things, one of my favourite pieces, Bruckner’s Locus Iste.

SBJ was much more engaged with things than he might have been, and of course there was lots to look at, from the French family of six kids opposite us to the procession of robed servers carrying a huge, gold-covered Bible to the eagle lectern for the Gospel reading. He loved the music, piping up with ‘More! More!’ whenever it finished, and joined in with the prayers saying his ‘Ta, God’ and ”men’ as we do most days. This cherubic behaviour was, however, interspersed with demands to get ‘Down! Down!’ – who could resist the lion feet of that lectern, right in front of us?

I took him out for a run around just as communion was being prepared and was told by one of the stewards that the children would be coming in from Sunday Club soon, and they always went up first for communion, where the little ones were given a blessing.

Normally my husband and I share communion with SBJ, seeing it as a formative ritual that he will grow into, rather than one he needs to intellectually assent to before taking part. But I didn’t have the presence of mind to think through how to make that happen in the context, so was happy to settle for taking him up with me, receiving communion myself and welcoming anyone who wanted to bless him – in this case, another woman priest.

We were certainly made to feel welcome. SBJ was pretty fussy in the line as we neared the altar: ‘Down! Down! Down!’ It’s always lovely when people who have been expressionless in their observation of your noisy child give a wave or smile, and show that they haven’t been sitting there judgementally grumbling about him. The bank of seats nearest the altar was filled with visiting clergy, dozens of people in dog collars and rainbow clothing, from all over the world. They lit up, one by one, and waved to SBJ. He got high fives from everyone in the front two rows and smiles from everyone else. So nice!

After communion we rejoined Dr Godfather and Auntie Miriam and listened to that excellent choir some more. Then it was our turn to sing but SBJ was totally over it. So, not for the first time that morning, I sat down to feed him. This is what we sang:

King of glory, King of peace,
I will love thee;
and that love may never cease,
I will move thee.
Thou hast granted my request,
thou hast heard me;
thou didst note my working breast,
thou hast spared me.

Wherefore with my utmost art
I will sing thee,
and the cream of all my heart
I will bring thee.
Though my sins against me cried,
thou didst clear me;
and alone, when they replied,
thou didst hear me.

Seven whole days, not one in seven,
I will praise thee;
in my heart, though not in heaven,
I can raise thee.
Small it is, in this poor sort
to enroll thee:
e’en eternity’s too short
To extol thee.

Breastfeeding felt sacramental in two ways that morning.

I love that when Jesus instituted a physical ritual to remember him, he chose ordinary things to do it with. He could have said, ‘Stand on your head, holding a rose to remember me,’ but instead he chose the elements of an everyday meal: bread and wine.

SBJ didn’t share the bread and wine on Sunday, but he shared another everyday (every flippin’ hour!) food and was nourished, physically and spiritually, within a gathering of friends and strangers showing him kindness, as Jesus would have. Sounds like communion to me.

I didn’t ‘enjoy’ the service in the same way I used to when I could focus as much of my attention on the gathered worship as I wanted to. I spent a lot of time whispering to SBJ, pointing interesting things out, translating for him and telling him no, he couldn’t get ‘Down!’ I was working, just as I used to as a pastor, actually, so I couldn’t absorb myself in the service as some others in the congregation could.

So it was just marvellous to sing:

Thou hast granted my request,
thou hast heard me;
thou didst note my working breast,
thou hast spared me

while breastfeeding. God does note my working breast! My attention to SBJ and my nourishing of him is a form of worship, every bit as if I were able to sing more than every second line of the hymns and then pray with closed eyes.

Thank you, Canterbury Cathedral, for unexpected affirmation of the sacrament of breastfeeding. God bless all who worship and work and breastfeed there.

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Mother nurses her child in church. The stained glass window of Lansdowne Church in Glasgow, Scotland by Scottish artist, Alf Webster

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10 thoughts on “The Sacrament of Breastfeeding #2: Sung and Suckled Eucharist

  1. Katie McCarthy-Burke says:

    It’s so good to read that you’re so blessed and fulfilled. Those are the facts but what I mean is it’s so great to see in your writing that you FEEL this way and life keeps giving you encouraging opportunities that reassure you that though your practise of love to God is different now, it’s all relevant and great, you’re just dividing your attention in a different way to achieve the necessary.

    SBJ is very lucky to have such an intuitive mother who would rather risk being judged than have her son miss out on all those events we may deem inappropriate for a toddler, because it’s not always easy (or particularly enjoyable) trying to keep the pot from boiling over and engage in any social situation at the same time. In fact… Sometimes I find it impossible and frankly excruciating.

    Not only are you teaching SBJ that he’s a toddler with “normal” toddler behaviour (what toddler behaviour is ever “normal” haha!) and that it’s actually ok… in being this way you may reach others who might sit there judging because how could you be upset about an amazing woman giving her son what he deserves? Understanding, patience, love, respect… (all things that all young people certainly deserve).

    You’ve definitely got great ideas about the world and the people in it. And I love reading about them =)

    Much love xxxxxx

  2. Lovely post Thalia! Thank you. I have an integrative seminar student doing breastfeeding as her ‘friendship’ topic! I forwarded this on to her, and your previous post too. The early church were, of course, saturated with motherly images of communion, so nice to see that tradition continued. Now how to get Baptists to be traditionally rich as well. :-)

  3. Frank says:

    Ha! On the feeding every flipping hour topic, yesterday Lachie was singing (to the tune of wheels on the bus) “Mama milk Mama milk all day long.”

  4. Lulastic says:

    Ah, this is such a beautiful post. Love the start “That’s going straight on the blog!” and the nursing through that especially poignant hymn. Love your thoughts and have shared with a few of my mama friends :)

    • Oh, thanks, Lulastic, for your kind words!

      I have been a bit surprised, actually, that breastfeeding in public (and in church) is not super common in the UK. I’ll keep doing my bit for normalisation, one Cathedral at a time :)

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