I nursed both of my babies past their second birthdays, so I know a bit about the pleasures and trevails of breastfeeding and weaning. In fact, it is an image that has frequented my most helpful dreams throughout the past decade of my life, giving me insight into where caregiving relationships seem to be healthy or where firmer boundaries are in order to keep me from Compassion Fatigue. Life has taught me much through this unique and intimate form of relationship between mother and young child.
One way of being in relationship with God is by grasping at God outside of ourselves for comfort, like a nursing infant or toddler seeking the lactating female in the room (warm arms and milk being the most primary forms of love in the world). This is a necessary and helpful place of development for all of us—when we are young or new in seeking God— or when we are in crisis. God as Mother longs to gather us up under Her wings (Psalm 36:7, Matt 23:37) and She will never forget us (Isaiah 49:15). Lately I’ve been in an especially needy place with the distressing feelings of sadness and anxiety post-election that I’ve been processing, and calling out to God for comfort has been important to finding my footing.
However, Psalm 131, in this week’s lectionary readings, speaks to something different. The psalmist appears to be speaking from a woman’s experience, which is refreshing in a day when misogyny in our society is deeply concerning. (If someone asks you if the Divine Feminine is anywhere evident in the Judeo-Christian tradition, Psalm 131 is one of many places to celebrate.) It’s a mini-size psalm about finding Life away from arrogance, greed, and ambition; I’ll print it here for you: (New Common English version)
Lord, my heart isn’t proud; my eyes aren’t conceited.
I don’t get involved with things too great or wonderful for me.
No. But I have calmed and quieted myself like a weaned child on its mother; I’m like the weaned child on me.
Israel (i.e. People of God), wait for the Lord—from now until forever from now!
In this short psalm, we are reminded that we can come to a point in our relationship with God where we have internalized the sweet nurture and intimacy of the nursing experience to such a degree, that we are capable of sitting in the Presence of God within ourselves with just a slight shift of our awareness—through hearing the call to prayer or meditation bell, pulling out our devotional reading and lighting a candle, sitting in our familiar pew with our prayer shawl, becoming conscious of our breath in the check-out line, or practicing the presence of another person whose opinions are different than ours. As the Quakers are noted for saying, “There is that of God within each person.” Let us go and find it.
Two weeks ago I couldn’t find God in the stillness of my soul, because I couldn’t get STILL. My mind was so agitated, casting commentary and judgment upon every word I heard and reading fatalistically through every news report. I was floundering in my usual prayer forms until I finally found direction into the psalmist’s stillness by listening to a familiar CD by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, as she gave teachings on how to mindfully attend to the different manifestations of fear in our lives. We all need to find our way into the stillness in our souls where God is loving us so deeply and completely that when we finally get home to the experience of it, it takes our breath away and brings tears to our eyes…
…like a fretting babe-in-arms whose solace is only found in the arms of her nursing mama.