Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Marking Childbirth: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 12 with poem by E. McNeill Poteat, Jr., Orisons

Daily Readings
Job 40 Exodus 31 Leviticus 12 I Timothy 3

Daily Text: Leviticus 12

Marking Childbirth
That childbirth defiled the mother seems rather far-fetched today. In the ancient world, however, it was common to treat this post-parturition time as having particular taboos. Cultically and religiously one suspects that this was a particular way to mark the gifts of women, though to women themselves it may have been rather burdensome. Certainly in the Christian Church with its long history of the ‘Churching of Women’ in the Roman and Anglican traditions, based on this Levitical expectation from Leviticus 12, there was little onus reflected. Rather it was an opportunity for thanksgiving prior to receiving Holy Communion. In the English Book of Common Prayer (1662) the woman kneels in a convenient place while the priest reads the 116th Psalm and leads in a prayer of thanksgiving for safe delivery. The woman makes an ‘accustomed offering’ and is admitted to Holy Communion. In the Hebrew rite there was a simple burnt offering and sin offering offered (12:6) at the end of her time of purification. Presumably the sin offering had nothing to do with the birth. There is in the Haggadah the following comment on these references. “Why should the woman bring a sin offering and require expiation? While in the pain of labor, she might have vowed ‘I’ll never let my husband come near me again!’” (185:827).

E. McNeill Poteat, Jr.

He placed a prayer wheel where the wild winds dance,
And some complained his piety was lazy;
But then his thoughts on prayer were rather hazy.
Yet God attended to his suppliance.

He knelt on scarlet plush before his lord,
And mumbled words of ancient litanies
But felt uncomfortable on his knees;
And God, lost in the gloomy nave, was bored.

Silent, she raised her eyes that burned and glistened
Like fresh lit tapers in a shadowy crypt;
No raptured praise, no murmuring, tight lipped,
But God stopped stars in flight an hour, and listened.

Collect for the Day
O Almighty God, we give thee humble thanks for that thou hast vouchsafed to deliver this woman thy servant from the great pain and peril of Child-birth:
Grant, we beseech thee, most merciful Father, that she, through thy help, may both faithfully live, and walk according to thy will, in this life present; and also may be partaker of everlasting glory in the life to come;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [490:344 The Churching of Women]


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