Sunday, January 2, 2011

Feeling the Itchy Straw on Your Back

This Advent season I really meditated on the image of the baby Jesus in the manager. Not the sweet plastic image slapped on a Greeting Card--but that real manager.

Itchy Straw.

Cow Slobber.

The smell of donkey dung in the air.

My question for Mommy Mary at the start of Advent is "Why did you put your baby down in a manager?"

Because I have a newborn, and the urge to protect her is pretty strong.

Mary could have just held the Baby Jesus in her arms immediately after his birth. That's the place where most newborns normally want to be. Jesus could have just come out in his special way, nursed, and they fallen asleep in that warm nook between his mother's chin and her round shoulder. That cozy place is Baby Tessy's favorite spot to nap.

Instead, Our Lady put her newborn son down.

In a real manager.

The one filled with itchy straw and cow slobber and odd donkey germs.

This newborn was not ordinary. Christ was divine. He came to earth for a purpose. To suffer greatly for love. He got down to work moments after birth starting with a strong preference to itchy straw rather than the smooth skin of his mother's neck.

Mary was a real person. Filled with grace. She somehow got Christ's mission. Against all her natural instincts she laid that newborn in the straw. Then she prayed beside his poor uncomfortable bed in wonder and awe.

This Fall, my newborn Tess spent 3 weeks recovering from her near death in the NICU of one of the world's best hospitals for Children.

Tess endured countless needle pokes from IVs and blood draws. I never thought of those needle pokes as itchy straw during her NICU stay. I'm not "More Like Mary" yet. I flinched at each and every poke Tessy received. I never shrugged off an opportunity to hug my baby girl in some intimate kangaroo care.

I hope that next time a kid of mine is in tears, or pain, or emotional suffering--I can be just a tad more holy in my reaction. I don't have to understand suffering. I don't have to like it. But I do need to realize that redemptive suffering is a great mystery that even tiny infants participate in to bring more love into our broken, cold world.


  1. You probably already know this but I wanted it add it for those that don't. Bethlehem means house of bread and here Jesus, the bread of life, is laid in a manger, a feeding trough. Already He is preparing us for the gift of the Eucharist. And Holy Mother Mary is able to follow the beautiful promptings of the Holy Spirit even when it is foreign to her natural instinct as a mother to hold her baby close. Already she does not claim him for herself but gives him to us, to eat, so that we may become like him!
    O Holy Mary pray for us.
    Thank you for your blog!

  2. I'm not "more like Mary" either ;)

    Carryl Houselander wrote in Reed of God something along the lines of "She laid him in a manger, as if her first act was to lay him on the cross."

  3. Wow! The post and the comments are amazing! Thank you!

  4. Abigail, I so enjoy the gift of you and your perspective and I appreciate you sharing with all of us.

    Thank you

  5. This is a powerful post. For some dopey reason, I always wondered why she laid him in a manger and then assumed she didn't really lay him there for long - sort of like our baby's crib that sits in our room next to our bed that our baby actually sleeps in. Thank you, and the commenters, for such insights.

  6. I've wondered about that, too, this year!!! Now that I"m a Mom and just want to hold my baby so close all the time, it boggles my mind. Like Kaitlin- Houselander put it in perspective by comparing it to the cross. Such an incredible book.

    Thanks for the great post- AND comments!

  7. I was thinking about this again at Adoration last night. The nativity scene was below the alter and I was thinking the same thing as Lauren-why wouldn't Mary just want to hold Him close? But then I thought about how worthy He is of our adoration. We don't hold the monstrance close to us-we elevate it and adore before it. Maybe that could be why Mary did this? Maybe she placed Him in the manger and then knelt down to adore Him. Maybe it was a way of elevating Him just as we elevate the Host?

  8. Yeah, something deep was happening in Our Lady's heart during that cold First Christmas night.