"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."
- Psalm 131
Even though my wife and I don't have children, my Advent reflections continually turn to the themes of pregnancy and parenthood. After all, the Christmas season centers on a birth, and we can read the Advent season as the birth pangs of waiting for delivery, and deliverance. My friends with children have testified to the exhilaration, the hope, and the anxiety of such a time. Life on the outside becomes quiet, as the mother-to-be becomes less mobile, but life on the inside is deafening, as anxious parents anticipate the first wail of their newborn child and the new life that will change theirs forever.
My mind this week turned to Psalm 131, especially the line above. The verse moves us a couple of years beyond pregnancy and birth to the image of a young child, nestled in the arms of her mother. My Old Testament seminary professor suggested that this Psalm was written by a woman, the "me" of the verse who holds her child and finds a metaphor for her quieted soul. As her child rests on her, contented and at peace, so does her soul rest in the motherly compassion of the Lord.
What a peaceful scene, you say. What a beautiful display of intimacy, you think. That is what I want my soul to resemble this Advent, you vow. But there is another thing you need to know about this Psalm. It is a "Psalm of Ascent," which is a song that was sung by pilgrims on their way up to Jerusalem. In a post-exilic reality, faithful Jews who lived outside of the land would caravan to the city on the hill for festivals and celebrations. As they went they would sing the ascent songs - Psalms 120-134 - anticipating their homecoming, distracting themselves from their sore feet and legs, staving off boredom, warding off wild animals and potential thieves.
This picture of a satisfied and beloved child is not situated in front of the Christmas tree, illuminated by a crackling fire, the aromas of turkey and pie wafting through the air. The woman and her child are in the elements, exposed, on a journey. This is quiet love on the move, intimacy with places to go and people to see.
It turns out that the picture is even more fitting for our Advent celebration than we thought. Even as we seek to reduce the clutter of the season, there is still much to do, but our souls need not mirror the external anxiety of the culture. Our challenge is to find the quiet place in our souls, carried by the Lord, as we move through the season.