Saturday, December 16, 2006

Saturday Dec 15th

Jamie had stayed overnight at his club after a party, so we had a late lunch together and then dealt with computer problems (aaaargh!! yes, still problems....yesterday's blog was written at Sutton Library!) and then, once we'd managed to get in contact with the Internet (HURRAH FOR WONDERFUL NEPHEW!!!!!) we found out that the new film "The Nativity" was playing at just one cinema in London at 6.30pm so we hurried there by Tube.

It's good. At first I was a bit put off because there are a lot of Middle East scenes with people talking in accented English and wearing homepsun and grinding corn and things, which makes the whole unfolding story seem very far-away-and-long ago. But the actual Nativity itself - Star, baby, Wise Men, angel appearing to shepherds, beam of light over mucky stable - was suddenly powerful and one thought "Golly, it really did happen. God was born as a baby. One of us. Gosh."

We thought St Joseph was much too young - I am sure his relationship with Mary was sort of patriarchal, whereas here he was something between a brother and a terribly decent fiance - but I liked the Wise Men, and Herod was suitably horrible and plausibly so.

Afterwards we went to have something to eat - the scene where Herod gives the Wise Men a meal had made me terribly hungry - so in lieu of something Middle Eastern we popped into a Greek restuarant very near the cinema and had a tasty meal with some exceptionally nice feta cheese. J said the waitress sounded Polish and I agreed she had that sense of innate dignity that so many Poles have and which most modern Bris absolutely seem to lack. Afterwards we went to Notting Hill Tube station and there I suddenly realised I had left my specs at the restaurant - went back, and the nice waitress had them waiting for me. I said thank-you in Polish, and Jamie's hunch was right - she was Polish. Most satistfying.

Jamie says that some people claim - and people have claimed over hundreds of years, so it's worth taking seriously - that Our Lady didn't suffer the normal pains of childbirth. But in this film she does. We discussed. Surely she must have suffered pain, since Our Lord did on Calvary? And we know she suffered with him there, and stood at the foot of the Cross.....

I added that women down the centuries have taken comfort from the thought that Mary endured the same pains of childbirth that they had to endure, but J. said that wasn't neccessarily evidence.

A more complicated point, but to me a relevant one, is that one couldn't specifically eliminate childbirth pain without eliminating other pains, too - I mean, if Mary had, say, jabbed her hand accidentally on rock in the cave, would she have felt pain? Of course. Tiredness on the long journey? Naturally. Exacerbated by being with child? Of course. But then that latter part is all part of the childbirth experience - when could you say that discomfort ends and pain begins, and why would one be seen as part of Mary's ordeal but not the other?

And if the birth wasn't a normal one, but just a sort of sudden miraculous arrival with no normal birth procedure, why does the Gospel go into such specific detail about all the other homely bits - Joseph's worry about Mary's reputation, the practical arrangements such as bringing the swaddling-cloths and using the manger as a cradle? At which point does all the normal sense of a truthful account - which is partly what makes the Gospel so compellingly convincing - disappear? If the Son of God was not born of a woman in the normal way, but just arrived suddenly and painlessly into her arms, surely the Gospel would say so?

Anyway, this took us into v. deep discussion and we wanted to continue it on the Tube but didn't because of people listening, so I just went on thinking about Christmas and God coming into human history. At the cinema, a couple of nice (black, and I am sure Christian) girls said "Makes Christmas seem, like, real, doesn't it?" Yes.


Anonymous said...

The Church Fathers are all agreed on the fact that Our Lady felt no pain during her Son's birth. As she was conceived without Original Sin, and is forever Immaculate, she did not incur the punishment incurred by Eve which specifically relates to the pains of childbirth.

Given that the eternal Word could not have set up His tent in anyone else's flesh, it is important to be crystal clear on all the related facts.

I really appreciated this recent article on the subject:

Perhaps you'll write an article on it yourself one day. God bless.

Anonymous said...

I've heard/read the same comments on Mary's painless childbirth myself. I certainly hope the process was easy for her, as she'd endured so much beforehand -- the journey to Bethlehem, the search for a place to give birth, etc. As a mother myself, I must confess some skepticism about the matter, though. But I also believe that with God, all things are possible, so it may very well have been that the Lord spared Mary childbirth pangs. Interesting discussion for sure. BTW, I live in Montreal, Quebec, and we do not have ANY snow here either. Our temps have also been unusually warm, and the golfers are still golfing on the local links, cyclists are commonplace as well. It certainly doesn't look like Christmas is a week from today! Also, your mention of carolling at Victoria Station brings back memories of my 2001 trip to the UK with the Richard III Society. I visited Leicester, spent a week in York, and a few days in London. Some day, God willing, I'll get back to spend some more time in London and surrounding area. It was wonderful! Merry Christmas to you and your family, and thank you for your blog. Warm regards from Canada, Patricia Gonzalez

Anonymous said...

Joanna, I'm aghast that you can actually sing Christian Christmas Carols in a public place like a train station. I haven't seen that in the States since Christmas became politically incorrect. If it did happen here, the authorities would probably insist on a fire extinguisher close at hand to put out all the (political) fires that would be caused by hearing the name of Jesus Christ in public (in any other way than a cuss word, that is)!

Anonymous said...

I also saw The Nativity Story last Sunday with my good lady wife, children and prospective son-in-law. We all thoroughly enjoyed the film. It was very 'human' in its treatment of the ordinary folk that would actually have been there 2000 years ago. This made it very real for me and a few tears were shed as the reality of the 'story' really hit home.

I'm glad that a younger (25-ish)Joseph was chosen than the (forgive me Lord) doddering, balding and bearded old 'grandad' that is usually portrayed as the step-father of Our Blessed Lord and husband of Mary. I believe Joseph was a young, tough, loving, kind, gentle and most spiritual man, who loved the Blessed Mary and Jesus with all his heart. They in turn surely loved him deeply also. How would an old-man have walked all that way from Nazareth to Bethlehem braving not just the rough terrain but the prospect of bad weather, bandits, wild animals ad so on.

The bit where Joseph is discussing the coming birth with Mary and asks 'What can I teach Him'? Wow - can you imagine that. Awesome moment. What a great 'life model' for all men, husbands and fathers.

Anonymous said...

I agree with George about the young Joseph; if Mary and Joseph's marriage is supposed to be held up as a model, I wouldn't want him to be a fatherly figure, but rather a (chaste) husband.

And this is the question I have about the Mary labor pains argument: I understand the argument that Mary, free from original sin, might not have felt the pains as punishment, but if Christ came into the world to experience Man's life, wouldn't that include the work of labor? Not just the 'beam of light' that I think Augustine described. Also, I read this on another blog, that animals experience a labor which is, if you'll excuse me, not quite as laborious as human labor, and perhaps the Blessed Virgin's was like this? The pure mechanics of the thing make it seem like there had to be some type of 'work.'

On another note, I believe we might have met back in 2001. Did you, if you remember, give a tour of Westminster Cathedral to an American Pilgramage group lead by Robert Royal? If you did, well I am glad to stumble onto your work again, and if you did not, well, I am enjoying your blog nonetheless!


Anonymous said...

Don't forget that it is Catholic dogma that Mary remained a virgin after childbirth, which is itself miraculous, and which does chime in with a painless childbirth. I hope I don't detect any Protestant "private judgement" creeping in! Living in a culture that is Protestant (when it is Christian at all) it is very easy to unconsciously absorb a Protestant attitude and mindset (which is what seems to have happened to most of our bishops!)

Anonymous said...

Hi Joanna!!

Codswallop - with all due respect. Of course Our Lady had labour pains. She was human wasn't she? If you follow Jamie's argument (sorry Jamie!) to its logical conclusion she would have been let off enduring a nine month pregnancy with all the discomfort that that entails. (Men don't seem to think of that!) She wouldn't have had to lug her bump - bless Him! - on a donkey all the way to Bethlehem and give birth in a grotty stable. Why should labour pains be so sacrosanct? I dimly recall some pious stuff the nuns gave us to read at school about a mother enduring labour pains for the love of her child. Wouldn't Our Lady set an example there? And who on earth ever loved her child more? Christ suffered terribly, both human pains and human anguish. Our Lady's heart was pierced with sorrow. She felt anxiety (worry about her naughty boy disappearing off to the temple for one thing....she told him that in no uncertain terms!) So, sorry Jamie, it just doesn't figure. And with respect, the Church Fathers were mostly (all?) bachelor men .....
Hope your blog gets up and running properly soon. I have withdrawal symptoms without it.....
Alenka x

Anonymous said...

On the radio station LBC there was a discussion (which I only heard some of) about unusual characters and story lines that children were asked to play in their school nativity plays. Amongst them were:

The Wind (child waving arms around I suppose).

The Satellite Navigator breaking down and the wise men using a star to guide their way.

and finally

the doctor who accompanied the "Holy Family" and carried out the scans.

In my judgement this latter story line is as secular as you can get - no mention of the virgin birth or Jesus being the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity.

Our children's Christian Faith is non-existent.

Julia said...

I often read and enjoy your blog, and hoped to contact you by e-mail today but don't know how this is done. Thought you might like to read my blog for Dec. 20th, where I add a bit to your thoughtful comments on "The Nativity." Please see

Anonymous said...

That's very amusing about going out to eat after the Nativity movie -- my family thought the same thing, even earlier in the film with Mary's family making cheese, pressing olives, baking meat pies, etc.

Anonymous said...

These observations are not in any particular order, so apologies if I appear a little rambling, I just thought I would add my threepence worth to the discussion.

I am not sure that it is impossible to reconcile Mary's Immaculate Conception with her ability to feel pain during labour as she lived in a fallen world and certainly suffered in other ways as a result of the Fall [her suffering at the foot of the cross being one example]. The main reasons humans suffer worse labour pains than animals are I believe that we are 1) bipeds, therefore our legs are closer together and 2)the human head is very much larger in proportion to the body than any animal. For Mary to have experienced labour like an animal she would have had to...well, have been an animal or given birth to one.

It could perhaps be argued that Mary suffered the same labour pains as any other woman but that she 1)did not have the fear that the rest of us have of pain [and bear in mind that fear is a major reason why human beings deal very badly with pain and suffering] and 2)[a related point] would not have had the negative attitude to suffering as an attack that needed to be avoided which is an all too human approach to suffering [I can hardly imagine Mary shouting abuse at Joseph or being driven to despair during the final stages of active labour]

One should also bear in mind in any debate about childbirth that the amount of pain a woman suffers in this situation varies a great deal. A completely straightforward birth where the woman's body does precisely what it is supposed to do and the baby is in the correct position will be considerably less painful than a delivery where there are complications such as the baby being in the wrong position/getting stuck, the woman not dilating properly, the need for forceps, emergency caesarean etc. If Mary had experienced an entirely straightforward labour, it would have been uncomfortable and exhausting but not agonising.

If you have read down this far, thank you for your patience. God bless.

Anonymous said...

Let's look to the Bible for guidance. Adam and Eve had disobeyed God and committed 'original sin'.
God said to the woman; Genesis 3:16, 'I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing'.

Therefore God's original plan was for childbearing to be "easy".

Now as Mary was born without original sin, can we not infer that her childbirth was indeed painless by comparison to ordinary human beings.

Having had six children, 'all easy births', I still wish God had never planted an apple tree in the Garden of Eden.