Mary (And Joseph’s) Brood
And there were in the same ocean, mouth brooders, abiding in the sea, keeping watch over their children by night.
This jawfish dad has a mouth full of babies! Talk about a caring father. Many fish are “mouth brooders,” often the dads. Those circles with white eyes – that’s his brood of babies. For a week or more after he and mom have created fertile eggs, dad holds the brood, gently, safely, inside his mouth. Periodically he carefully opens up so the babies can aerate and eat a little, then closes up for safety. And no food for dad during this gestation week.
We think “to brood” only means to be a grumpy or anxious worrier. But the original meaning is, like “breed,” to sit on (like a hen) or hold carefully your “brood” of fragile young until they can live on their own.
I thought all fish reproduced by “broadcasting” their young, just shoot egg and sperm out into the water and hope they meet. End of parenting.
But this jawfish taught me that brooders are slower, more patient and gentle. Their broods are smaller than the broadcasters’ but more likely to survive.
I’ve been sharing various “ocean birth narratives” in these weekly posts during this Advent season as part of my Blue Theology Ocean ministry. The whole universe is groaning with new birth this season; maybe whales or molly fish (last week) can show us how pregnantly possible is all of creation.
In the Christmas story new life comes from both broadcasters and brooders. Angels shout from the heavens, shepherds glorify and praise God for all they have heard and seen. Broadcast and shout out the good news and it will spread and take root.
At our Blue Theology retreats here on Monterey Bay for youth and adults we tell parables of these broadcasted multitudes; a fish goes forth to spawn, the prodigal spawner.
But we also preach the good news of brooding, how we are led beside the still waters, our souls restored by the spirit hovering over the deep. Rereading this other birth narrative, I see that Mary is a brooder, pondering, treasuring these things in her heart. Joseph too, I imagine, like these mouth brooders, a dad come later to parenting, is just as caring and gentle with his brood. And both of them, like all parents, sacrifice their own needs for those of their brood. (Which can involve a little brooding of the anxious sort!)
And there were in the same ocean, mouth brooders, abiding in the sea, keeping watch over their children by night. Blessed new birth to all holy brooders.
Plan for a Blue Theology Retreat by Monterey Bay in 2020! We are booking youth groups, adult or intergenerational groups, and guided personal retreats, all year round. Bluetheology.com . I post these Wednesday ocean devotions here and on Facebook.