It was a simple print hung on the wall of a house I hardly knew. I was fourteen, I think, maybe fifteen, and I saw it as I was leaving. The black ink outline of a woman’s full, pregnant body, the orange flame of fire inside. I must have looked confused, or maybe I asked outright: “What is this?” because the woman who lived there tried to explain.
Mary, human body filled with fire, Jesus, Holy Spirit, pregnant with fire, flesh.
I wasn’t much older than fifteen because I was unable to understand. Art — like life — was still two-dimensional, and the idea that an image that wasn’t real could represent the true was too hard for me to comprehend.
I still see that image every Advent, burned into my memory like the fire in her belly.
Last Advent, I, too, was expecting my first child. I basked in the joy of sharing that time with the Church calendar, and I loved that we had much to wonder about. Many of our questions have been answered (she has Gabe’s eyes, my smile, and her own sense of rhythm), but there are still so many. Every morning, she wakes up new, and just when I think I have mastered this parenting thing, she changes the rules. I am grateful that we have been able to make her life beautiful and comfortable, even while so many parents struggle to fill their children’s tummies.
Last Advent, I sang in a stretched-thin gold dress for three nights. I ran out of breath on nearly every musical line, but my voice felt strong. The baby liked the music. I was happy to squeeze a six-month belly into my old concert dress.
This Advent, I had a dream of her sitting in the concert, her eyes wide with delight. I thought she would love it. Gabe, even, thought it was doable. So he dressed her in a plaid Christmas dress and tights and sweater.
She made it through the first song. She didn’t want to listen to us, she wanted to sing with us.
That’s the problem with a baby who’s used to singing: she doesn’t know when to stop.
I use the term “singing” lightly. She scream-sings, shout-sings, utters every single emotion she experiences with her voice. She doesn’t know how not to interact with people — how to just let them be — and so she is apparently a difficult concert baby (which is to be expected at nine months, I suppose).
I was sad to see them get up and leave the room, but also relieved.
Did you hear that baby in the back? Ruined every single cadence.
After Gabe took her out (they paced the entryway for a bit, went downstairs, listened through the floors), we sang a set about flowers, the idea of Mary as a Rose, Christ as a Rose. The lines flooded over me.
There is no rose of such virtue
As is the rose that bare Jesu,
For in this rose contained was
Heaven and earth in little space,
Here it was again: “For in this rose contained was Heaven and earth in little space.”
Fire in her belly.
Res miranda — marvelous thing!
As Madeleine L’Engle says, “I do not understand the incarnation. I rejoice in it.”
This is beyond my understanding. It is beyond my reason. I remember feeling the baby move inside me and wondering who this baby would become. How much harder would it have been to allow Jesus to become who he was? Just as I wrote last spring, she is her own, and Mary must have wrestled with the same feelings I have: This is my baby, and yet he is not. He was the fire in my belly, and yet…
I often think what a terrifying honor to hold the Son of God in your womb. Then I think what a terrifying honor to hold any human in your womb. I think of the women who desire a child but aren’t able to carry one. I think of the babies who aren’t wanted. I think of my own mother, the exhaustion, the stress, the deep ache of love. I yearn for a world where hearts are not broken.
Maybe we all have fire in our bellies.