I wonder when Mary first experienced “the quickening”… the movement of a tiny baby Jesus in her womb. In my own experiences of maternity I remember it was long after my obstetrical team first detected an early fetal heartbeat.
(It is a profound moment that we modern parents experience: the audio detection of a human heartbeat in the womb, let alone the video rendering of an unborn child via an ultrasound exam!)
A healthy pregnancy, eventually, yields a profound knowledge of the presence of another. We women who have been privileged to become biological mothers, especially, cannot deny when it begins to occur.
A woman is not alone in the mystery of a growing nascent life inside her body. Another heart beats within. Another’s blood is circulating. Another unique soul awaits something more.
We mothers come to know our biological children in a way that defies proper explanation.
This heartbeat and these first stirrings are an advent of that first encounter face to face. And we await the birth of this tiny one that we know somewhat dimly, and yet intimately.
In my imagination, on the night Jesus was born, I wonder if Mary nuzzled him close to hear his Sacred Heart beat. And as He grew, I wonder again, of the many times the Child Jesus drew close to his mother’s breast only to fall asleep to the rhythm of her heartbeat under his ear.
It is a holy and sublime thing – both within the context of marriage, or within the context of the parent-child relationship – to fall asleep close enough to another person to experience the peaceful beating of their heart… Yet all of us, regardless of circumstance, did precisely that, at one time, within our mother’s womb. We were not alone in that dark confine. Comfort came from the heartbeat and nourishment of another who submitted and committed their body and lifeblood to our wellbeing and protection.
Closeness. Heartbeat. Blood. Life. Relationship.
These are not just the proximities of maternity; they are the stuff of the once-invisible and inexpressible God entering our humanity and cleaving to us in ways unimaginable yet tangible.
It was, indeed, the start of something new… God who came as the Christ Child. Immanuel, “God-with-us”, taking on human flesh (Is 7:14.)
And Mary gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger… (Lk 2: 7.)
Still, God had something more in mind. What started with Mary’s maternity had ramifications for all of us.
For one day, many years later, at the Passover, the Lord Jesus vivified the bread and wine that was at that table. Consecrating bread and wine, he gave it to his friends, with the admonition to “do this” in perpetuity. (Lk 22:19-20.)
More than a sign, the Eucharist is his true Body and Blood. (Jn 6:53-56)
It is a way that we might share in receiving him inside our very selves.
Do we dare contemplate this? The heartbeat of the Holy One, the life of the Jesus himself – his Body, his Blood – inside our very being?
For as Mary said yes in receiving him, so must we. For He is the Truth, and the Life. And He made for us, a Way (Jn 14:6.)
Christ, who came to be God-with-us, came to love us: to baptize, forgive, heal, and to actually live inside us in a way that defies proper explanation in that it is transcendent.
And we have seen these transcendent moments before…
The Passover meal was God’s gift to the Jews to remind them of his intimate love, protection, and nourishment for them en route to their freedom from slavery to the Promised Land.
The Eucharist is the Savior’s gift to humanity to remind us of his intimate love, protection, and nourishment for us en route to freedom from sin and death to the promise of Heaven.
Finally, in receiving the Eucharist, we experience the closeness of Another – The Holy Other – God REAL and PRESENT with us and within us: His heart beating with ours…his holy blood pumping… his very life within us. It is the closest of relationships.
It is an invitation to draw ever nearer, this Christmas, to the One who loves us beyond our imaginations, tangibly.
It is the Advent of our meeting him… One Fine Day… “face to face” (1 Cor 13:12).
©2010 Patricia W. Gohn
About the Author
Pat Gohn is a married empty-nester with three adult children and four grandchildren. An author, catechist, speaker, and host of the Among Women podcast since 2009, her books include the award-winning Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood, and All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters. She works in Catholic publishing as an editor. Visit PatGohn.net