The Nursing Child

One of the biggest surprises to me as a new mother was just the sheer importance of nursing for both the child and the newborn. When my first child was a newborn, I remember my husband coming home, looking around at the house (which looked a bit like a scene from a war zone, to be quite honest), seeing our sleeping baby in the swing, and then asking me (very hesitantly), “So… um… what did you do today?”

And the answer? I nursed. A lot. And then I slept when I wasn’t nursing.

So! You can imagine that, in a time without bottles or formula in which only the very rich could afford to have nursemaids, most people knew the importance of nursing. In the Old Testament, an entire psalm revolves around the concept of a weaned child in his mother’s lap:

NABRE

Psalms 131

1A song of ascents. Of David.LORD, my heart is not proud;nor are my eyes haughty.I do not busy myself with great matters,with things too sublime for me.2Rather, I have stilled my soul,Like a weaned child to its mother,weaned is my soul.3Israel, hope in the LORD,now and forever.

And why is this an important imagery? As I quickly found out with my first child, a nursing child will cry and twist and try to take off your clothes in order to nurse! That’s the only way they can really speak of their hunger. A weaned child? A weaned child won’t do that. And so, you don’t have to have a wrestling match with a weaned child.

More importantly! By the time a child is weaned, they trust in you to provide them with the food they need. They can enjoy being with you without needing you to provide them with something. So, this psalm is about having trust and peace in the Lord in a way that most people would intimately understand.

Then, in the New Testament, this exchange happens!

NABRE

Luke 11

27While he was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” 28He replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

(Incidentally, this is why we celebrate the Annunciation so much… because Mary hears the word of God and observes it with her Fiat! So, this biblical passage is in no way dishonoring our Blessed Mother, but rather honoring her for accepting God in the first place!)

So it should be no surprise that, in a world in which nursing a child is seen as providing life to a child, the devotion of the nursing Virgin was quite a popular devotion back in the day! And there were many artworks that revolved around this devotion, especially in the Renaissance.

Many of these artworks showed Mary openly nursing, which is a bit odd to look at in our modern day. However, I liked this artwork, as it shows Mary being rather discrete.

The Virgin Nursing the Child, by Luis de Morales, c. 1560-65. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain. Via IllustratedPrayer.com
The Virgin Nursing the Child, by Luis de Morales, c. 1560-65. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

It is such an intimate scene that really brings home to me the fact that Jesus really was that newborn king. After all, He looks just like a helpless baby. Which is what He was!

In this picture, Jesus is acting like any other infant. It looks like He’s just finished nursing, with His head drooped back and his eyes closed. And Mary is pulling Him off as He nods off to sleep, still clutching in His tiny hands what He had probably been holding onto, likely when He was nursing.

It is a reminder to us of the humble origins of Jesus. God could have chosen to come however He wanted. And yet, He — God Himself! — came to us as a helpless newborn who was born of a virgin in a stable. And, as a newborn, He absolutely relied on His parents — Mary and adopted father Joseph — to take care of Him, as He was too weak to do anything for Himself.

And help Him they did!

Yet it is another reminder to us of the words that Jesus spoke to us as an adult when he urged us to humble ourselves. From the very beginning, Jesus humbled Himself. And in His humility, He was great.

Let us take heed of Him and follow Him!

Questions to Ponder:
  • Look at Mary’s face. What thoughts do you think are coming across her mind as she watches Jesus?
  • Remember a time that you were absolutely helpless. How did it feel?
  • Has there been a time where you took care of someone who was helpless? What sort of things crossed your mind as you took care of them?

 

Dear Jesus,

Thank You for coming to us. May we emulate You and seek to be humble so that we may more fully follow You and enter into Your Glory.

Amen.

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of three, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer

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