Reflection on Psalm 131

[This is an excerpt from my sermon for March 22, 2015. You can read the full sermon text here.]

I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

“I have calmed and quieted my soul.” This calm, this stillness, that the psalmist speaks of is a longing I have—probably a longing many of you share as well. Not just a chance to be physically still, but a chance for our souls to be calm within us. It is so hard to just be.

I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

The vision is lovely. The question is: How? How do we calm and quiet our souls, even in the best, most calm circumstances? Let alone in the chaos that often is our lives.

I wonder if the psalmist’s metaphor can be helpful here: “Like a weaned child with its mother.”

For one thing, a weaned child has reached a certain level of maturity; in the psalmist’s day, a weaned child was most likely a toddler—able to talk, walk, eat on her own. A weaned child still needs his mother, to be sure, but it is a different kind of neediness than that of a nursing infant. You may have experienced yourself—or seen—a nursing infant in her mother’s arms; you think she is resting peacefully, and then the nuzzling starts; the baby was content, but suddenly she wants the milk she knows is nearby, and she becomes restless. That doesn’t happen with a weaned child.

I’ve been thinking: If God is the mother and we are the children, what does it mean for us to be weaned?

Maybe that we can rest comfortably in the presence of God, without a sense of restless neediness.

Maybe that our prayers are not always cries for milk, for sustenance. We choose to be with God simply because we want to be in our Mother’s presence, not because we need some particular from her.

Maybe that our bond with God is deep and sometimes invisible; it doesn’t depend on external, surface connection.

Maybe being weaned means that we can sit down in that chair across from God and stay within the Divine gaze for more than two minutes.

I don’t know exactly what this metaphor means. And I certainly don’t know how to reach this state of being “like a weaned child with its mother.”

But one thing certainly seems clear: the stillness that we desire–this calm and quiet soul—is not the product of a perfectly ordered environment. It is not even the result of a fully evolved or actualized sense of self.

The psalmist’s metaphor suggests that the calm and quiet soul is dependent upon having a right relationship with our Divine mother.

The calm and quiet soul comes from being able to rest in God’s presence; to sit in the Divine gaze and know that we are being seen as beloved children. Amen.

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