In his book, Tradition and Imagination: Revelation and Change, David Brown spends time exploring the paths and patterns of sacred art and the ways that theologies of Jesus Christ and artistic portrayals of him mutually inform one another. The ideas shape the art, and the artwork shapes the interpretation and ideas. He briefly mentioned that in medieval depictions, the wound in Christ’s side was portrayed as though it were a lactating breast. Science of the time understood breastmilk and other bodily fluids to be none other than transmuted blood, and so the words of institution for the Lord’s Supper, instructing disciples to consume wine as blood, were reasonably associated with food created by the human body, breast milk. This image is largely absent from contemporary Christian imagination, as medical advancement in the Renaissance and concern with the particularity of Jesus’ maleness replaced this image and obscured the tradition’s openness to a non-binary Christ.
What have we missed by losing this image?
I have thought many times over the last year of nourishing my son—first through my placenta and now with breast milk—how much deeper and differently I understand the Eucharist. Jesus said, “Take, eat. This is my body, broken and given for you. Those who eat my flesh abide in me and I in them.”
In the small replication of humanity, I am living these things with S. every few hours, with a depth of exhaustion and joy. I am physically and spiritually draining myself. I nourish him with a self-emptying that is profoundly satisfying.