November Newsletter: Mothering Arms

[This post first appeared on my blog about a year ago. It’s been on my mind so I decided to share it for this month’s reflection.]

Thirteen years ago I was handed a tiny human to hold for the very first time. I still remember the delightful shock of seeing the curves and crevices of this new person, whom no one had ever seen before, in all her particularity. “So you’re the one who’s been living inside me!” I thought. She had a character, a personality, a uniqueness, an “I am who I am” quality about her. And she was wholly mine (ours!) to embrace, to welcome, to love, to embrace. To hold.

Holding our daughter became life’s new activity. Holding her for feeding, holding her to walk from room to room, holding her with extended family, church members, friends – and handing her to them to hold.

What a precious experience it is to hold a newborn baby! There is nothing like their newborn smell, their fragile lightness, their precious vulnerability. And the holy task – the only task we have at those moments – is to show utter gentleness toward the human being in our arms.

Holding her that first moment filled me with such a sense of awe, instantly. Over the following hours, days, weeks the initial surprise transformed into familiarity, as I came to know her every movement and expression, as I developed an intuition for what she might be trying to communicate.

In the beginning there were also hours, days, nights when I felt baffled, holding her in confusion and frustration as I attempted to understand how to meet her needs.

But eventually, sometimes after a bit of a struggle, we would melt into the restful embrace of contentedness. My arms became that place of stillness for her, that place of comfort.

Like a child with mother quieted, reads Psalm 131.

Last week as I reflected on this passage, I recalled the way I had rested in my mother’s arms as a child. Though it’s been a while, the memory was fresh and visceral. I could feel the stroke of her hand through my hair. A sense of wellbeing washed over me – a contended relaxation. I had nowhere I needed to go, nothing I needed to do. Only to allow myself to be held in my mother’s arms.

Though I’m a grown woman, this memory of being held felt so deeply comforting to me. I continued to remember it throughout that day and the days after. I hope I continue to return to it, over and over again.

For the arms holding me in this image were not only my mother’s – they were God’s.

I was resting in the love, acceptance, and tenderness of the Mothering God.

It made me realize how important those moments of tenderness with my own daughter are, even now. She is growing up, she is developing her independence, and rightly so. I want that freedom for her, and I want her to develop that confidence to strike out on her own, as I did.

But when those moments of tenderness come, I will treat them as sacred. In those times when she rests on me, she is also experiencing rest in the arms of the Mothering God. The God who will hold her and love her much longer, and better, and more fully than I ever could as her earthly mother. I have my limitations, my faults; I make my mistakes. But God is the one who will embrace her forever.

So for now, while I can, I will hold my little girl, who is not so little anymore, and I will give thanks that the Mothering God will continue to hold her all her life long.

Ponderings for Your Path

  • There are references to God’s motherly nature in scripture, but we tend to spend little time focusing on those images. Sometimes we need to be given permission to imagine God in this way. Have you ever experienced God as mother – perhaps through the gentle and loving presence of an earthly mother, or through imagining God showing you motherly love and tenderness that you didn’t receive in your life? 
  • Take a moment to still your heart, your mind, your spirit… and rest. Rest in God’s gentle, loving, tender arms, and know that you are a beloved and precious child of God. 

Onwards into November and Beyond

  • Silent Retreat 25-27 February – in person at Corrymeela Ballycastle. This weekend will be the first (hopefully of many!) in person retreats at Corrymeela here in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland. It’s oversubscribed and bursting at the seams, but anyone who missed the chance to attend this retreat should mark their calendar for the Silent Retreat I will be leading in February. Book your place here
  • Sing a New Song Online Mini-Retreat 2 January – PACIFIC RIM TIMING! We’ve been asked to offer another “Sing a New Song” Retreat, this timing favoring Pacific Rim timing – specifically Eastern Australia, where a friend of mine is based. We will be listening for the new song in our lives just after the turn of the New Year, on Sunday the 2nd of January 2022. This time, Paul and I will be the ones yawning and sipping our morning coffee at 7am in Ireland, in the cold of winter, while our friends on the Pacific Rim will be bright eyed and bushy-tailed at 6pm Australia in the heat of summer. It will also be daytime for East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, and Europe. Perhaps this is a chance to look ahead and consider what the new year could be about for you or someone you know? Book your place here
  • Celtic Psalms in Live Concert, 8pm on 12 December! For the first time in two years, Celtic Psalms will be singing some songs live at a concert in Dungannon, Northern Ireland. We have been asked to open for a band that is releasing an album and raising funds to support the homeless. Buy your ticket here
  • New Psalms for the Spirit Podcast Episodes, coming up! I’m really enjoying have some conversations for the podcast again, after a long break. New episodes will be coming out in the next few weeks. Without having planned this, the first two conversations happen to explore feminine and motherly images of God. Stay tuned, and check out previous episodes in the meantime! 
  • Spiritual Direction – I’d love to walk alongside you on your journey. Find out more about what that might mean for you here
  • Turas Pilgrimage in Ireland October 2023 – find out more here

Blessing for Our Journey

May the God who gave us life 

hold us until our anxieties have subsided

until our fears have calmed

until our hearts have cried their fill 

even as we squirm and wrestle

even as we weep in distress

even as we ourselves don’t know what we need 

until that moment when we melt

into deep rest

and deep quiet

and deep peace

in the Mothering Arms of love. 

Amen

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