Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Like a 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 myself and quited my soul,
like a weaned child with it's mother;
my soul within me is like a weaned child.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.

Psalm 131

This is one of the great images of resting and trusting in God and it leaves out most of the story. A weaned child gets to the place of peace and rest, but the weaning child is something else. It is a child who is crying for something they cannot get, crying for what they have lost. It is a child that is hungering for that which no longer satisfies and refuses the better nourishment that is put in front of them. The weaned child is an image of rest and peace, but for both the child and the mother, the process was not easy. They have earned their rest.

Friends in their writings, in both their early writings and their later journals, developed a style that mentions baptizings and difficulties yet is almost totally opaque about what was actually going on with them. Reading about our Quaker heroes presents a picture of strength in the face of adversity but does not give any idea of what the nature of their inner travails. As a result we only get a partial picture and as a result, our spiritual lives seem pale and weak in comparison.

One gets the picture that the spiritual journey is like what we would like to see in our retirement portfolios, a steady line going up and to the right. Like Jacob's ladder, every round goes higher, higher. My spiritual journey doesn't look like that at all. It looks more like my actual retirement portfolio, up some days, dropping precipitously on others and no way to tell what will happen next. My own experience of the spiritual life, though is not one of a linear progression. If there is a mathematical analogy, it is more like chaos theory. It is a path of sharp contrasts and discontinuities. I have moments of insight and awareness of the deep presence of God. I have felt myself led and held. I have had periods where faithfulness came easy and I felt the Presence so strongly that I could do no other than to be faithful. My soul was indeed calm and quiet like a weaned child.

At other times, my inner two year old has been going at full throttle, throwing tantrums and stamping its foot and saying, “No!, you are not the boss of me.” There are times when I am hanging on for dear life, and there are times when I have let go and just say, forget this. But the storm passes, and I find myself coming back to God and I find myself being drawn back into God's acceptance.

James Russel Lowell wrote the poem that provides the words for the hymn:

“Once to every man and nation, comes the moment do decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;”

I have always wished that it were that simple. I find myself being faced with choices constantly. Sometimes I feel like it is once a day, or once an hour. In the midst of the storm, I do not find the Quaker idea of the day of visitation, or the Biblical story of Lot's wife being turned to a pillar of salt because she looked back when fleeing Sodom to be particularly comforting. I find that exhortations to avoid backsliding do not speak to my condition, especially if I am backsliding. What nourishes me is the story of the prodigal son who has wasted his inheritance and is welcomed back with open arms. It is the promise implicit in Jesus' admonition to forgive each other 70 times 7 times, because God's forgiveness is even greater than our own. It is a far cry from Esau's plea, “Father, have you no blessing left for me?”

I take comfort from the psalmist:
Whither shall I go from the spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

Even when I am refusing the hand, crossing my arms across my chest and stamping my feet. Even when I am insisting on crossing the street by myself, your hand is still there, whether I take it or not. 

And yet, each little unfaithfulness, each little act of rebellion makes the next one easier. Our habitual ways of avoiding God, or running full tilt away from God, did not become habitual overnight. They became habits from our constant practice. We are called to examine every part of our life in the Light of Christ. Eventually we will have to address these habits we have built and change our habits of avoidance into habits of faithfulness. The path that we are called to is narrow and strait, but my experience of it is that it is not straight.


Will T


Anonymous Allan Kohrman said...

I enjoyed the comparison of a faith journey to one's retirement portfolio.

My pension is and will be the same month after month until I die. The temptation is to go along on an even keel, to say smugly "I found it," and to regress spirituality.

Fortunately events in my monthly and yearly meetings force me to face the possibility of spiritual barrenness.

November 08, 2010 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Sarah Hennessey said...

This post came at a perfect time for me.Spoke to some inner questions I am dealing with.

I love the comparison between "weaned" and "weaning." I do still have a temper tantrum or two with my Lord.

November 08, 2010 10:30 PM  
Blogger jeff said...

That really spoke to my condition Friend

Many thanks

November 09, 2010 7:35 AM  
Blogger Will T said...

Thank you all for your comments. Shortly after I made this post my wife came into the room and said, “I hate your analogy. Weaning is not a struggle. It is not about starvation. Where did you get such an idea? Was there a lot of crying when our children were being weaned?” I had to admit that weaning had not been a struggle in our family. And I don't know remember my weaning. So where did this image of weaning as a struggle come from.

The only concrete thing I can think of is seeing nature shows and seeing animals weaning their young. Or seeing and reading about the process of weaning cattle, in which the calves are just rounded up and put in a separate pen or pasture from their mothers. And it still seems as though behind that, there is some impression that weaning is a difficult process. I don't know where it comes from. So maybe it was not the best analogy. But there does seem to be some spiritual truth in it, even if it does not match objective reality. I am glad that even an imperfect analogy has been useful.


November 09, 2010 10:33 PM  
Blogger brenda said...


The analogy of weaning works for me. I don`t know how long your wife breast fed if indeed she did, I kn9ow that some consider weaning as the process ofgiving up the bottle for more solid foods. But I fed my last child in the natural way and he had nothing but breast milk for over a year, in fact he refused anything else and I knew from research that this was fine but even when he was introduced to solids, the breast milk was the major food item and did not go down till he was 3 or so and I continued to give comfort sucks for another year or more but one day I decided that I wanted to train him to go to sleep without and then ther conflict started, he wanted to suck and I had to refuse him. A child of this age knows its own mind better than a young baby! And this would be the age that traditionally, a child was weaned. I imagine the wean - how could he understand! But once the withdrawal had become easier for him then he could be at peace. The habit was broken.

The Lord must wean us from the world and how that is for us. Many thanks for your blogs which are an oasis in the desert.


November 20, 2010 7:14 AM  

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