by Kathleen Fogarty
Every Christmas for the last thirteen years, I’ve produced a music program at the Quaker school where I teach. We sing Nativity ballads from the Appalachian tradition, carols from European countries, and a few secular selections. The children I teach range in age from 3 to 11, and their appreciation of Christmas, like their musical talent, changes as they do.
I try to stay faithful to the Quaker values of harmony, equality, and simplicity as I prepare these programs. I ask myself each year: What does Christmas mean to me? The simple fact that our entire Christian faith rests on the monumental, long sought birth of a special baby boy sets up a struggle for the feminist in me. He was born to show God’s presence in the world, not She. Mary loved herSon, not her daughter. “Hallelujah, a Child is born to us, a Son is given to us.” This problem arises for me at Christmas time, even though I know I could just let it all be, and experience the deep truth at the center of it: God loved us enough to send a living human to show us what God is like and how to love each other.
In our morning reading and praying, my husband and I share texts from various spiritual teachers, but keep coming home to the teachings of Christ. One morning near Christmas, we read that it should be our goal in life to desire to become like our ideal: Jesus, the Christ. As I tried to allow those words to penetrate my heart, I experienced another feminist click. As wonderful a person as Jesus is, as divine an example as he is, how can I truly be like him in all things? Jesus never had a period, or breasts, or a baby, as I have. Jesus probably didn’t have to prepare meals for visitors who popped in over the holidays, and he certainly wasn’t expected to do the dishes or get along with a mother-in-law, or be a step-parent. There is no record of Jesus having sibling difficulties, and no evidence that Jesus struggled with his body image. Jesus didn’t live past his mid-thirties, so I can’t find New Testament support for my own midlife crises.
Then, it’s the morning of the Christmas program, and my mind is focused on the children. The first song offered by the youngest ones is “The Friendly Beasts”. All the 3– to 5- year–olds are adorned with paper around their necks as make-believe manger animals. We have a manger with real hay from our farm, and there is a large Baby Jesus doll, wrapped in a blanket.
But 4-year-old Ella is in tears. Between sobs, she tells me she wanted her little girl baby doll to be in the manger. She had forgotten to bring it to school for the rehearsal, but she has arranged to have her mom bring it today. I make a decision. I say “ Ella, how about if we put your baby doll in the manger with the other one. Maybe she’s Baby Jesus’ sister.”
At first, all the kids say, “ No, you can’t do that!” Then, as I gently wrap Ella’s doll in the same blanket with the first one, there is a change of heart. The children start smiling and agree that Jesus could have a baby sister, maybe even a twin sister. Ella’s tears are gone, and the light of her smile eases my struggle. Yes, maybe Jesus could have had a baby sister, possibly a twin! Or maybe the deep divine feminine was born in the manger with him, in his own combined humanity/divinity. In God, all things are possible.
© 2008 Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus. Originally published in Christian Feminism Today, Winter (January-March) 2008, volume 31 number 4.