As a mother comforts her son

Louise Nursing Her Child by Mary Cassatt, 1898-

“Oh that you may suck fully
of the milk of her comfort
That you may nurse with delight
at her abundant breasts!

. . .

As nurslings you shall be carried in her arms,
and fondled in her lap;
as a mother comforts her son,
so I will comfort you;
in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.”

Isaiah 66, Canticle from Morning Prayer

Since I became a mother these verses have spoken deeply to me. Nursing my children hasn’t always been a pleasant experience. In fact, the first month or so after Bella was born it was incredibly painful as we sorted out her latch. But eventually we worked it out and she nursed for more than a year.

There were times when I found it tedious. Marathon nursing sessions with a clusterfeeding infant going through a growth spurt are so draining. There were more times — like when I had teething babies— that it was painful. Hot sweaty babies in the summer are sometimes the last thing you want pressed next to you. Cold drafts up my shirt in winter. Long nights when I only wanted to sleep. Car trips interrupted to feed a hungry baby. Nursing came with many inconveniences.

But overall I enjoyed the closeness, the snuggle of a little warm body next to mine. I enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment as I watched them grow, knowing I was continuing to give them nourishment from my own body. And sometimes there was just nothing better than being a nursing mother.

Now I am in my mid forties. And my youngest child is six years old. All the signs point to the unlikelihood that I will ever be pregnant again. It is highly unlikely that I will ever again be a nursing mother. I can and do hold other people’s babies, but for me the season of having that particular close bond is almost certainly over. And that makes me sad in a wistful sort of way. Pregnancy and nursing are hard, very hard. And in some ways I’m do not regret having that season in the past. But still my heart yearns for the sweetness of a baby at the breast.

* * *

And yet in these verses from today’s canticle from Isaiah we are invited not to be the nursing mother, but to imagine ourselves as the baby on her lap. Totally dependent on his mother for nourishing and for comfort. The word “comfort” appears three times in rapid succession in this passage. Comfort. God wants to comfort us and console us.

I’m fascinated by the imagery of Jerusalem as a mother.

But sometimes I find it confusing. Where am I in this passage? I want to identify with the mother. But here God seems to be asking me to put that aside, to be dependent, to allow myself to be cared for.

And what does that mean in this season of Lent?

Create a clean heart in me, O God.

Dependence. Not: ‘I see how unworthy I am, God, so I’m going to go fix myself and I’ll be back when I’ve done that, ok?’ I can’t fix myself. I cannot recreate myself. I cannot give myself a new heart.

Rather, I beg him to do it for me.

When an infant is hungry he cries until his mother picks him up and feeds him. He cannot feed himself.

That’s a hard spiritual truth to take in: I cannot feed myself. I must open my mouth and allow myself to be fed.

* * *

I’m not necessarily going to blog a reflection on some part of the Liturgy of the Hours every day. I am going to try to blog more often. But I do find that writing about the prayers helps me to ponder them more deeply. It’s a sort of Lectio Divina, allowing myself to ponder deeply one particular word or phrase or image.

And now that I’m becoming self conscious, I’ll probably stop. Or maybe I won’t. I’m trying not to let noticing a pattern in my writing become a sense of obligation that will send me into a spiral of not writing. Rather, I want to let this blog be what it always has been: a place where I write what I want when I want, as the whim strikes me. Consistency be hanged. I’ll write what I please and make no commitments and create no expectations. I’ll neither seek to keep on trend nor to buck the trend. Let it be what it will.

2 Responses to As a mother comforts her son

  1. MrsDarwin March 7, 2019 at 3:40 pm #

    “Open wide your mouth and I will feed it.”

    One of the psalms I love is the one that talks of the soul being quieted like a weaned child on its mother’s lap. Having a weaned child now, I love the way that he can sit peacefully and snuggle (and even fall asleep) without fussing to be satisfied by nursing. He doesn’t wiggle or assault me or pluck at my shirt anymore. He can actually just be content in my presence.

    • Melanie Bettinelli March 7, 2019 at 11:36 pm #

      Oh yes. I love that image too: there is a joy to a happy cuddly child who doesn’t want anything but a snuggle.

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