Like a Weaned Child in His Mother’s Arms

This morning we woke to snow on the ground and bright blue skies. A bit disconcerting since most of the trees still have their leaves. Some of them still green!

I had to rush to hunt up coats and mittens and boots for everyone. We forgot that in winter we need to allot an extra fifteen minutes to get everyone in coats and mittens and to clean off the car. We entered the church as the procession (complete with half a dozen saints in costumes) started down the aisle.

The heat wasn’t on in the church and I was distracted during the Gloria by the sight of my breath billowing in front of my face. Father suggested that most of the saints lived in times of unheated churches and suggested we follow their lead and offer it up as a sacrifice. I tried to remember that when my toes complained in my boots.

Ben didn’t want to be there at all. Once again we forgot to bring his blankies. (When, oh when will I learn?!) Without his comforters he was unwilling to sit through the Mass. He never got super loud but he firmly repeated “I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to go home…” Finally, I was worried that he was bothering other people and so I took him to the back of the church. The vestibule was actually a bit warmer but he kept telling me that he wanted to go home. As I knelt after the Agnus Dei, balancing him on one knee, he said it again and again and I leaned toward his ear and whispered that I understood, that I was sorry, but we had to stay. And then I pointed him again toward Jesus. “Look at Jesus. Jesus loves you, Bennie.”  It didn’t keep him from complaining but who knows maybe it helped a little.

The communion hymn Like a child rests in his mother’s arms so will I rest in you echoed again the image from of today’s responsorial psalm (I didn’t catch the first reading at all; but this is one of my favorite psalms.) As I knelt there with my heavy toddler in my arms I pondered the image.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 131:1, 2, 3

R. In you, Lord, I have found my peace.

O LORD, my heart is not proud,
nor are my eyes haughty;
I busy not myself with great things,
nor with things too sublime for me.

R. In you, Lord, I have found my peace.

Nay rather, I have stilled and quieted
my soul like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,
so is my soul within me.

R. In you, Lord, I have found my peace.

O Israel, hope in the LORD,
both now and forever.

R. In you, Lord, I have found my peace.

The weaned child on my knee seemed anything but peaceful. He was not still and he would not be quiet. He was sick and cold and tired and just wanted to be home with his blankies and his trucks in his warm house. And yet there was a certain sort of peace even in his distress. The peace of knowing that his complaints were heard by a loving ear. The certainty that he wasn’t being ignored. My arms around him communicated my love even as I calmly and firmly denied his requests.

Why do I think God’s peace will always look like a sleeping child, calm and content with a belly full of milk? Perhaps the reason the psalmist specifies a weaned child is that weaned children are not little infants. They don’t have that perfect repose of the newborn who wants no greater security than his mother’s arms. No, a small child like Ben is too well aware of my shortcomings and failures. He’s constantly pushing and testing the boundaries. Our relationship is rocky, constantly being tested. And yet when he’s really in distress he turns to me. Of course. Still, there are times when he wants me and doesn’t want me. If I come too near and try to hold him he slaps me away. He whines and tells me to go away; but if I try to leave he fusses too. What is it he wants? Should I stay or should I go? He often refuses what I know will be good for him. He doesn’t want to take his medicine, wear his socks, eat his vegetables, go to bed.

Yes, my soul may long for God’s peace but at the same time I’m reaching for it, I’m also slapping it away. I want to be in control. I want to have it only under my own terms, even if God knows that my terms aren’t really what’s good for me. And so I come to this uneasy truce. The rest that falls short of perfect rest not because God is lacking but because I can’t bring myself to fully receive what it is he wants to give me.

Afterthoughts:

In his book of meditations about the certainty that he will soon die and leave his children orphans, Leaving My Children Behind, Takashi Nagai reflects that a motherless child doesn’t have the freedom to cry that a child who has a mother does. (In the wake of the bombing of Nagasaki Nagai had chance to observe more than a few orphans.) No, the motherless child knows his cries won’t be heard by a tender motherly ear, there will be no mama’s arms to pick him up and soothe him and so he doesn’t cry with the same abandon, if he cries at all. So a heartily screaming child is one who knows there is a mother nearby who will kiss away his hurts. A complaining cranky child is one who is secure in the knowledge that there is a remedy for his ills.

So in a sense when we come to God with our troubles, when we whine and snivel and complain to him about all our ills, aren’t we like that child who is certain of his mother’s love that he knows he can slap her and push her away because she will always come back for him with open arms?

So in a sense when we come to God with our troubles, when we whine and snivel and complain to him about all our ills, aren’t we like that child who is certain of his mother’s love that he knows he can slap her and push her away because she will always come back for him with open arms? I think that image fits well with the final line from the psalm exhorting Israel to hope in the Lord. As I re-read the psalm I see that the psalmist specifies that he has stilled and quieted his soul.

Definitely it is a work for a two or three year old to find that peace. He has to learn how to put aside his sobbing. How many times have I held my children trying to be patient so that they can learn the art of self-soothing as they rest in my arms? And I specifically have tried to teach them to turn to prayer, to reach for God in those moments of distress, to find their peace in him. It isn’t an automatic thing at all but a lesson we must learn, how to still our souls so that we can know the peace He offers.

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