Sunday, November 28, 2010

Churching after Childbirth

 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, 'If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity she shall be unclean.... And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled. 
--Leviticus 12:1-4

The entire chapter of Leviticus 12 is devoted to the rite of purifying women after childbirth. The issue of blood made a woman unclean, and an offering of a lamb (or two turtledoves) had to be made before she could re-enter the sanctuary. With the coming of Christ, ceremonial laws like this one (that separated Israel from the nations roundabout) were brought to a fulfillment. The New Covenant Christians recognized that these laws no longer needed to be observed and did away with them.... Or did they?

When Augustine traveled to Kent around AD 600, he extended the Christian faith beyond the edge of civilization. As he evangelized the Jutes, many questions cropped up as the "barbarians" wondered how to best practice the new religion. Unsure on how to deal with some of these matters, Augustine referred them to Pope Gregory I. As bishop of Rome (one of the five great Christian metropolises), Gregory would have the credentials to give an authoritative answer.

Some of Augustine's questions dealt with worship. What form of mass (worship service) should be used, the Gaulish or the Roman? Some dealt with church polity. May a bishop be consecrated without other bishops being present? Some dealt with family. Within what degree may the faithful marry their kindred? Augustine's eighth question to Gregory is of special interest, however. "When a woman has been delivered [of a child], after how many days ought she to enter the church?"

Gregory, in his answer to Augustine, refers to the Leviticus 12 passage but applies it figuratively. The forty days of purification are no longer binding. "If she enters the church even at the very hour of her delivery, for the purpose of giving thanks, she is not guilty of any sin." A woman who has just given birth is like a woman during her monthly impurity. It is not a sin for her to enter the church; the priests will not bar her from entrance or from Holy Communion. At the same time, however, Gregory thinks that the more religiously minded women will, of their own accord, refrain from entering the sanctuary in the days immediately following childbirth. It is not wrong to enter during this time, but it is better not to do so.

Other church leaders took a stronger tone than Gregory insisting that there was something sinful about a woman entering the church before the forty days of purification had elapsed. Gregory's loose interpretation became the minority and over the next few centuries, the Church's position on this issue developed into dogma. By AD 1100 a ceremony had developed known as the "Churching of Women." Natalie Knodel, from the University of Durham, describes the ritual as it was conducted during this time period:
It began at the door of the church, ante ostium ecclesiae. There the mother, covered by a veil, knelt and waited for the priest to arrive to say the prayers over her that she may be allowed back into the church. The priest said Psalms 121 and 128 followed by the Gloria Patri and the Kyrie as well as the Our Father, the so-called lesser litany. These were followed by two special prayers for the occasion, one said antiphonally with the woman to be churched and the other a collect which gave thanks for the safe delivery and asked that the mother obtain eternal life. The mother was then sprinkled with holy water, before she was led into the church by the priest who said: 'Enter into the temple of God, that thou mayest have eternal life.'
The churching ceremony was celebrated with as much pomp as a baptism, or perhaps with even more. Knodel talks about the medieval woman's attitude toward this event:
[T]he practice of churching was by far not an imposition of the male church on women, but something sought after by women themselves. It was not only understood as the restoration of a woman to church and society after a time of isolation, but also as a welcome occasion for excessive feasting with her 'gossips'.... [W]omen actually looked forward to churching as a social occasion, a collective female occasion, the conclusion of the month of privilege after childbirth. For men it marked the end of a month during which they had to take care of the domestic affairs, commonly referred to as the 'gander month'. And it was after all a ceremony which focused on the mother herself, not on her husband or the child, a ceremony which acknowledged her labours and the perils of childbirth.
Interestingly enough, the "Churching of Women" ceremony continued on in the Anglican Church after the Reformation. The Book of Common Prayer (1549 and 1552) included the ritual, virtually unchanged from the medieval prototype. Nowadays the service has fallen into decline. The Roman Catholic Church states that "it is not a precept, but a pious and praiseworthy custom." In the Anglican prayer book the service changed its focus; instead of a purification and blessing of the mother, it became a simple thanksgiving for the birth of the child.

Last Sunday was my first time attending church since becoming a mother. Needless to say, our church does not observe the ceremony of churching women after childbirth. The one ritual of the day was the baptism of my twin boys, and the party that followed at my parents' home was strictly in honor of them. Although I do not covet the attention that the twins received, there is one piece of the churching service that I would have liked to hear spoken.

The 1552 Book of Common Prayer instructs the priest to say this blessing over the new mother:

O ALMIGHTIE God, whiche hast delyuered this woman thy seruant from the great paine and peryl of childe birth: Graunte, we beseche thee, (most mercifull father,) that she through thy helpe, maye both faythfully lyue and walke in her vocacion, accordyng to thy wyl in thys lyfe present; and also maye bee partaker of euerlastinge glorye in the life to come: through Jesus Christe our Lorde. Amen.
Baptism of Adam Luther Spears 
and Benjamin Oliver Spears
21 November 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Will I Ever Have Time to Write Again?

The first few days after giving birth to twins produced a lot of questions. Now, two weeks later, some of those questions are beginning to be answered.

1. Will I ever sleep again? (yes, but only in two hour chunks)
2. Will I be able to fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes? (mostly, minus a few pair of jeans that were probably too tight anyways)
3. Can I catch up on my Read-the-Bible-in-a-year schedule? (yes, I forced myself to read the first half of Acts before allowing myself the pleasure of writing this post)
4. Will I ever have time to write again? (yes, as long as I don't waste my limited free time on Facebook)

Yesterday, in between the twins' feedings, I opened up the word document containing the draft of my novel in progress (Road from the West). I looked at the document properties and saw that the last time it had been opened was on November 4, the day I went into labor. Two weeks since my last addition to the story....

Reading through a couple of the most recent pages, I began to get a feel for where I was at. The siege of Nicea had just ended. Tancred, the hero, was lying through his teeth to the Byzantine general, doing his best to smuggle the Turkish sultana out of the city. The Byzantine general wasn't buying it; he had only to give the word and the soldiers would surround them.... In between washing bottles and changing diapers, I managed to set down 500 words that decided the fate of the Turkish sultana and ended the scene. Today I added another 250 words to the manuscript--Bohemond's reaction when he hears about his nephew's exploits.

While constantly caring for the twins does make it harder to find the time to write, in some respects it makes it easier as well. Instead of gallivanting around to meetings, friends' houses, or the mall, I'm pretty much housebound. I'm a stay-at-home mom with two little munchkins (and no car) who actually has to stay at home. And as long as my laptop is here to keep me company, the chances are good that this novel will eventually materialize. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a diaper to change....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The History of a Name

In honor of the birth of Adam Luther Spears and Benjamin Oliver Spears, author Rosanne E. Lortz's husband David Spears has written a guest post explaining the importance of names and the reasons behind the twins' given names.

Names are important. I know this because my name is important. It's not a famous name or a wealthy name. It is not attached to any great invention, and you won't find it listed on any Trivial Pursuit card. My name is important because I was named after my grandfather.

I never knew my grandfather; he died July 24, 1966, in Pleiku, South Vietnam. I missed being born on this date in 1980 by twelve days. I became his namesake. It has influenced my life in incalculable ways--his name was important, my name is important.

I joined the Army in September, 2000 under the legacy and history of my name. A year before 9/11, I joined when it was unpopular and old-fashioned to sign your life away. I was no September baby, as we called the wave of incoming privates. I did it because I wanted to be a soldier; I did it because my grandfather had done it.

I always signed my name with the Roman numeral two. This was partly in fear that the Army's giant paperwork bureaucracy would somehow mix me up with my grandfather and I would not be issued boots or those wonderful brown BVDs. More importantly, I had a high bar with which to measure the conduct of my professional career. I could not be one of the guys under discipline for drinking or fighting without having tarnished the name. I could not dishonor the sacrifice my grandfather made. This higher standard worked in my favor and allowed me to rise quickly in my career. I was chosen for two sniper schools while in the service. This in turn opened the door for me to work with some of the greatest men I have ever known. I became Recon. It was an indirect gift my grandfather gave me, a name that was worth something, a name I could not let down.

In 2004 I went to war with the same patch my grand-father wore in Vietnam. We both served with the Tropic Lightning (or Electric Grapefruit, depending on your view) on our shoulders. In the course of the year I had to make a call home one night on the Colonel's SAT-phone. I had to tell my father, who lost his father "officially" to a mortar round, that I had also been hit by a mortar round. I assured him my wounds were minor; but the truth was, a few seconds slower or a few degrees of angle more, and I would have been the second of my name to die in a foreign war in a city hard for most Americans to pronounce. My father almost lost his son as well as his father, but by the grace of God I did come home.

This November 5, by the same grace, I was granted the privilege of naming my firstborn twin boys. Earlier, whenever I had thought of having a son, I agonized over the responsibility of what name to give him. When I learned that we were having twins, I knew their names right away. I had been given a great gift; there was symmetry. I could name my sons after the two platoon mates, my brothers-in-arms, my two friends, who did not come home from Iraq.

Names are important. My sons' names are the most important. They are named after two of the greatest men you will never know. They are named after men of honor and sacrifice. My boys will have the duty to live a life that is worthy of such sacrifice. They can never replace the men they were named for, but they can live up to them. They must live a life both men gave up so that new life can follow destruction and loss. One day when they are older I will explain all this to them. I will tell them that names are important. I will tell them they are named after: Adam Plumondore KIA 16 Feb 2005, Mosul Iraq, and Benjamin "Rat" Morton KIA 22 May 2005, Mosul Iraq.

David Paul Spears II

Adam Plumondore & Benjamin "Rat" Morton

Adam Luther Spears & Benjamin Oliver Spears


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

As American as Mississippi Mud

Title from one of the "Coffin Handbills" from the Election of 1828
One of the things I inherited from my mom is an eager anticipation of getting the mail each day. At our apartment it's sheer guesswork as to what time the mail will arrive. The postal worker for our neighborhood is a little erratic. Sometimes he'll have it in our box by ten in the morning. Sometimes it won't be there till five in the evening. The most disappointing day is the "no mail" day, with the "all junk mail" day following closely on its heels. Depending on how you define "junk mail" we had a lot of the latter last week. Every day brought scads of candidate flyers and political endorsements, most of which went directly into the garbage.

Out of the few flyers that I did examine before consigning them to the bowels of the trash can, I noticed that many were attacks on rival candidates. The Bill Kennemer (R) campaign for State Representative in my district seemed to send out just as many circulars vilifying Alice Norris (D) as it did those promoting Bill Kennemer's positive virtues. Sometimes this negative campaigning works in a candidate's favor. Sometimes voters have an adverse reaction to it and vote for the vilified individual. Fellow citizens who are distressed by negative campaigning often make comments like this: "Politics is getting worse and worse. Back in the good old days there wasn't this much mudslinging. Candidates used to talk about the issues instead of attacking each other."

This bowdlerized view of the past is hardly accurate, especially when it comes to American politics. Someone--no one seems to know who--once labeled negative campaigning "as American as Mississippi mud." The Election of 1828 is a case in point. Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams fought tooth and nail to attain the highest office in the United States, and the accusations they leveled against each other were far more damning than insinuations of foolish spending or inconsistent voting records.

Jackson, whose greatest asset was his military career, was accused of murdering several militia members (that he had executed for desertion). Adams' supporters produced the eyecatching Coffin Handbills to convince the public of Jackson's guilt. They also accused Jackson of adultery; his wife Rachel had been previously married to another man and the records were a little sketchy on when her divorce had actually been finalized. One newspaper took up the attack with this rhetorical question: “Ought a convicted adulteress and her paramour husband to be placed in the highest offices of this free and Christian land?”

John Quincy Adams was not exempted from the same slimy treatment at the hands of Jackson's supporters. Earlier in his political career, he had been the American ambassador to Russia. Now his opponents were claiming that he had used that position to procure American prostitutes for the Russian czar. In 1828, Adams had already served as president for nearly four years, and Jackson's lackies accused him of using government funds to buy gambling devices for the White House. (Actually, he had used his own money to purchase a billiards table for one of the rooms there.)

Mutually disgusted by the ad hominem attacks on themselves, Adams and Jackson responded in different ways. Adams reportedly forbade his supporters to engage in any more mudslinging; Jackson, on the other hand, decided to amp up the rhetoric in revenge for the things that had been said about him and his family. The Election of 1828 ended in a victory for Andrew Jackson. Unfortunately, his wife Rachel died before he could take office, and Jackson attributed her failing health to the personal attacks that had been made against her. He responded to her death with these famous words: "May God Almighty forgive her murderers as I know she forgave them. I never can."

Although the vindictiveness of the Election of 1828 proves that America, in her very infancy, indulged heavily in political mudslinging, it would be misleading to assume that our country initiated the rest of the world into this activity. Even in the days before popular elections, monarchs and members of the European nobility were stained with many rotten tomatoes flung in their direction.

Marie Antoinette is a classic case of political mudslinging at its dirtiest. Those who wanted to overthrow the French monarchy produced many slanderous (and implausible) pamphlets accusing her of sexual debauchery and deviancy; these very pamphlets were used at her trial to "prove" her crimes and condemn her to death. Even today the mud still sticks. Movies like Sophia Coppola's 2006 film Marie Antoinette portray her life as filled with rumor, scandal, and sex, certain that there must be some grain of truth in all the filth that was flung.

Looking back at Jackson vs. Adams and Marie Antoinette, one must admit that the negative campaigning nowadays is a whole lot nicer than it used to be. When I get a mailer from Bill Kennemer accusing Alice Norris of foolish spending during her term as Oregon City mayor, it gives me grist for thought not grist for gossip. It makes a verifiable accusation relevant to Alice Norris' political career and may actually be helpful to the voters. At least it won't lead to anyone wasting away from the shock of slander or suffering the punishment of an unwarranted execution.
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