You might not initially see what breastfeeding has to do with contemplative practices. But as a professional mom who nursed three babies, let me enlighten you.
Let me first say that a nursing baby is not the tidiest package. Even the smallest of nursing babies are not very discrete. They wiggle and grunt and slurp in the process of being single minded on getting the nourishment they need and crave. They demand that their needs be met every three or four hours and are relentless until they get it. They want nothing to get in their way; and nothing but mom’s milk will silence the siren. When baby needs food, baby gets food. The world is in full chaos in the desperate moments until the craving is quelled.
When my youngest was almost one year old, I started the weaning process a bit early because I had a trip to South America planned to visit my sister who was a missionary. Those last weeks were bittersweet since I knew these would be the last times I would enjoy the special connection of nursing a child.
I was away almost three weeks. This must have seemed an eternity to a one year old who had no way of expressing the questions he probably couldn’t even form within his own little developing mind.
I will never forget the moment he saw me again. I remember exactly where I was standing when his precious brown eyes saw me, and his entire world came back into alignment as he reached out his precious arms for me.
As I took him into my arms, cooing and exclaiming over him, he gave me the biggest, most cuddly and precious priceless hug in the history of all hugs. His little arms clung to me as firmly as a baby monkey. I didn’t know he had such strength. He laid his head on my chest as if he were glued to my body. He fit perfectly, made for that place; and everything in the universe was suddenly rectified. But the most remarkable thing was that this lively, energetic, non-stop boy stayed stuck in that position for minutes upon minutes. It was as if he was taking in my very soul and reconnecting with everything he had missed for three epochal weeks. He had no other agenda but to lay his head on my chest and take in everything about me; to connect wordlessly soul to soul.
I think that single hug healed things past, present and future in me and taught me lessons that I am yet to learn.
The Psalmist talks about his soul living and existing in a similar state as that sacred moment I had with my weaned child.
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; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Psalm 131:1-2 ESV
I don’t know if my one-year-old spent three weeks trying to figure out where his mother went or why things were not as they had been before. But I know that when I returned home he was not thinking about getting nourishment from me, only of being with me. Nothing else could break his attention from clinging to me. He just wanted me. He was clamoring for nothing but my presence and love. His single-minded calmness quieted my own spirit and brought me solidly to the present moment, not thinking about the past of my trip or planning the future of reorienting to life in the States. I wanted that moment to last forever. And somehow it is still living in my heart.
This is a picture of our contemplative time with God. Oh, that I could enter that quickly and deeply into a solid connection with God at any moment. Oh, to put away all the complicated things that I try to figure out and solve in my finite little mind. What if I could stop my constant childlike motion and just cling to His chest, hear His heartbeat and long for nothing but His presence? What if I could lay aside the rest of the world and all temporal things to focus solely on Him for moments upon moments that could be filled with an eternity? I feel my spirit taking a deep cleansing breath even as I write that. I think that that too could heal things past, present and future and teach me unspeakable truths beyond rational thoughts or speakable words.
This is what our contemplative practices provide!
We practice laying everything else aside and becoming present only to our Lord. We practice clinging to our God. We practice it because it doesn’t come as naturally to us as it does to a mom-starved one-year-old. We have had plenty of practice being anything but present. We tend to live in the past or the future, missing the present moment that is sacredly elusive but which expands beyond time when we pause to remain in it.
I love that this is one of the shortest Psalms, only three verses. The Psalmist knew how to simplify things. He knew how to put aside marvelous things for the One thing that would do more to quiet his soul than anything on earth.
Children are not very self-aware, which is part of a “present” awareness. Adults are often not much better. So, as adults we might do well to start our contemplation with baby steps by first becoming present to ourselves.
Take a few deep breaths and start to notice what is in you.
Are you hurried, worried, angry, lonely, tired…?
Continue to breathe slowly and deliberately and let it come to the surface enough that you can name it.
Let it be what it is.
Notice it for a few moments without judgement.
Now invite the Holy Spirit into this present moment.
Imagine and see what He wants to do with what is inside you.
Gently let Him do what He wants, as a child would trust her mother to know her best interest.
Now with that lovingly weaned away, calm and quiet your soul and turn your focus solidly to Jesus.
Picture His face.
Let your soul rest in Him.
Breathe Him in.
Enjoy His presence.
There is no agenda, no place to get to, nothing to solve.
Now let Jesus take you into the presence of the Father.
Feel His unquenchable love.
Soak in it until it burns within you and you feel it shift something inside you.
Remain in that place.
Stay there until you can take this moment with you into the world and into your day.