Like a Weaned Child

Psalm 131 (NRSV)

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But 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.[a]

O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.

If one prays this psalm as part of the divine office the translation is somewhat different.  Verse 2 reads ‘like a child in its mother’s arms, even so my soul.’  As a breastfeeding mother I used to imagine the moment when, after a full and satisfying feed the baby’s sucking would become sporadic as they drifted into sleep.  As it became little more than a nibble I would start to doze myself.  As they gradually drifted further into sleep their little head would fall back on to my arm in a drunken bliss.  Often there would be a small dribble of the last milk which they had been too sleepy to swallow.  A beatific smile would cross their face. All was well in their world.

This beautiful image for years summed up for me the mystic’s experience of God.  Utterly satisfied; utterly in love; blissfully replete.  It was my experience too of a wonderful God who provided as a mother; who would enfold me in grace and the thrill of her presence.  She was all I wanted and desired.  Nothing could interrupt our bliss.

As I came across other translations I was a little miffed to see ‘as a weaned child.’  I, to my regret not a Hebrist, wondered whether this could be a misunderstanding.  Seeing the various notes which indicate that this term in fact indicates a child of three or four years walking with his or her mother made me think again about the text.

The three or four year old has left babyhood behind.  In normal circumstances she loves and trusts the mother completely but is full of questions about the world.  She walks alongside the mother, nicely sheltered but moving under her own steam.  While she does not wish to be too separate she is independent and individual.  The symbiosis of babyhood has long gone.  She still fills the mother’s thoughts and there might also be a new baby on the scene.

This is a better image of discipleship.  God cares for and protects us – and there are times when we need the utter dependence of a baby.  Mostly however we walk with God as weaned children, teenagers, adults.  God desires our independence, our individuality; our questions and our sense-making of the world as well as our love and trust.  God our mother treasures each moment of our development but hopes for fullness of life for each of us as  functioning adults.  She will always be there for us but requires and desires more than dependence.  She lovingly holds within her heart the dependent baby but also weans us from the breast with faith in a future we cannot imagine.

Author: realmofsparks

Anne Francis is a Pastoral/Practical theologian and spiritual care practitioner. She has a Pastoral Supervision practice and is author of 'Called: Women in Ministry in Ireland.'

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: