I am the mother of a comfort nursling. There are some days and nights when all this tiny human wants to do is nurse.
One evening, the little one was fussy. Fussiness turned into wailing. No wait, I mean: WAILING. The husband tried comforting her to no avail.
So, I reached for her. And she lunged at me.
Lunged at the breasts. Lunged for comfort. For a couple of minutes she nursed through tears and whimpers. Then she settled into long rhythmic gulps. And then sweet sleep.
It still amazes me, friends, that the body does this. My body does this. It is an exhausting privilege. That, in fact, has become one of my primary descriptors of motherhood. The reality of raising a human being is an exhausting privilege.
A friend recently asked me how motherhood has changed my spiritual life. My response:
Huh. I actually haven’t thought about it.
I have thought about all the ways that motherhood has changed my routine, my sleep, my perspective on my career as a professor, and my relationships in my community. But I hadn’t thought about how motherhood has reshaped me as a spiritual being.
As I take a step back to consider this, perhaps the most profound spiritual shift that has occurred is in how I view God. All the beautiful images of God as mother have come to life in a new way. I have always been drawn to the mothering character of the Divine, but now the maternal descriptions I read about in seminary – from Anselm’s prayers to Julian of Norwich’s gorgeous accounts – resonate afresh with my lived experience.
Being a mother makes me long to experience the sweetness of the maternal character of God all over again. And in the trial-by-fire that is early motherhood, I too find myself lunging. Lunging for the comfort of God. The strength of God. The peace of God.
In the book of Isaiah, there is a beautiful promise of comfort for the people of Israel. God says this:
As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.
This Old Testament promise was for a weary people. A people who were full of longing for their home – Jerusalem. God, like the mother who brings her tiny one tight to her chest, pours love into the tired and broken spirits of these people.
As I cradle sweet Ruthie – and feel my heart break with her cries and whimpers – I get a tiny glimpse into the messy guts of this biblical promise.
Just for a moment I feel as if I get invited into a thin space.
Ever so faintly, I sense it. The heart of our mothering God. Heavy. Painful and beautiful. It doubly takes my breath away – like viewing the most beautiful vista imaginable while being punched in the guts. Awe and anguish in the same moment.
Ruthie stirs and stretches. And then it’s gone; the thin space closed. The two of us, skin to skin, resting in the afterglow of the presence of the Divine.