“Thus says the LORD: Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her,
all you who love her; exult, exult with her, all you who were mourning over her!
Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight. As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you”
It has been asked of Americans—what’s your favorite holiday? July 4th is liked a lot, and I certainly did so enjoy it this past Thursday, being in DC most of the day for quite a marvelous experience. Thanksgiving comes in with very high scores for people’s favorite holiday. Another one that does well in favor is Mothers’ Day! Some mother’s son said: “It’s such a special day, to give our mother’s some special recognition, even while they deserve our appreciation all the time, but it’s a nice Sunday holiday in May to dearly express it throughout America.” Some mother’s daughter said: “On Mother’s Day—we are collectively glad for our mother’s love. Their care, even in their nurturing start to us in our living, should not be taken for granted. My mother’s love to me has impacted my life greatly, for even my well-being now and direction found in life is due to her. I even hear now, through the medical sciences, of how her nurturing to me in infancy has left a big impact. Anyway, I love a holiday that says thanks for mothers! ”
Amen. There is joy in that image of our first reading in Isaiah 66 today of a child in its mother’s arms, at her breast, nursing and delighting in the care of its mom. What can be a better picture of human life? ‘Like even lived out in Mary and Jesus, Madonna and child?!
Today’s verse from Isaiah 66:13 celebrates a child fondled and nurtured at its mother’s breast. This motherly comfort is certainly a good thing, even a wonderful thing, as God’s Word says so. God gives Isaiah the message that the Lord God can be “mother” to us, as like a good mother caring for her children. God asks: ‘Who made mothers and motherhood? I did ! I delight in seeing children enjoying those motherly blessings given forth. Let Isaiah’s word help you to see Me in that image of mother to you.
We know how a child naturally draws near to its mother’s breast. God wants us to know how it was made that way in nature, for a child to draw near to mom. God says that we are also made naturally, even supernaturally, for us to long for our God as parent, even mother, as to draw near and intimate to be with our God, Who has given us life itself!
So, there is a spiritual message in the everyday scene of child and mom.
Many good times on earth are held on earth, even on many holidays, when one can see a mother right in the middle of its joy, as she is found loving and serving, even nurturing in the midst of the scene. Thus, on this Fourth of July weekend, I like how this opening reading provides its word picture of God as mother in the middle of things. How beautiful it is “that you be nursed by God and be in delight by it, knowing the abundance of Love and Goodness available to you. As nurslings, you, my disciples and followers shall be carried in her arms (the Divine arms), and fondled in God’s lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you, says the Lord.”
Isaiah the prophet had numerous visions, and he saw this motherly image in some more ways.
Isaiah 46:3 – “Listen to me, descendants of Jacob, all you who remain in Israel. I have cared for you (mothered you) since you were born. Yes, I carried you before you were born.”
Isaiah 49:14-15 – Jerusalem says, “The LORD has deserted us; the Lord has forgotten us.” God replies: “Never so! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!” (I am mother to embrace you.)
Isaiah 66:12-13 – “Peace and prosperity will flow to my children, as like nursed abundantly at the breast. I, God, will so comfort you.”
These nurturing Mother God or Mother Heart-of-God images come from the same Isaiah who prophesized the coming of the Christ, Immanuel, the God-Hero, the Wonderful One, Counselor, and Prince of Peace, as in the sign of a child in a mother’s arms, miraculously, of a virgin mother. She is mother to the Christ, the One Who is God and human in one. The image of a teen mother and child at breast (in Isaiah) is fulfilled in that of Mother Mary and Child Jesus.
I am told of a title of Mary as Maria Lactans (Mary Lactating—in giving mother’s milk). I am also told of a place called the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem where pilgrims of today go, as in new mothers making petition or of women praying there for the gift of motherhood. I am told of mothers who formed a league: the La Leche League. It was of seven Catholic women who founded the organization to promote breastfeeding and motherhood, and they named themselves after a shrine in Florida called Our Lady of Milk! This league is somewhat unknown to me, though I better know the NFL, the National Football League, or the NHL, the National Hockey League. There is another league I had not heard of until this week: the C.N.M.L. It’s not a sports league, but another motherhood league: the Catholic Nursing Mothers League! How about that?! It’s not a league with carrying sports balls, but for carrying and holding children and nurturing them. All members in that C.N.M.L. are all-stars and deserve trophies! So I think!
This homily segues here to talk of breastfeeding as a good practice. It is an image that sometimes has modern people becoming a little uncomfortable with, in the mother and child at breast, that is, when the child is sucking to their mom out in public, uncovered. In our culture, with the sexing up of so much, the selling of things with sexy images, and the image of the breast as a sensual pleasure zone— it can interfere with the wholeness of a mother nursing a child. The mother and child picture in life is so sublime, so natural and nurturing! Yet it so spoiled by the sex-crazed era. (By the way, I am told that breastfeeding is special but it is a difficult chore sometimes, and a little painful to the spot. I wouldn’t know, but I am told it!)
While I am comfortable with being around the nursing mother, I recall the small confusion I had as a young adult leader in a parish, in my laity days, with older teens coming for a Bible study in which I led. It was taking place in a church room. A teen mother came in with her child, and breast-fed throughout the Bible study, and I had a hard time keeping the teen boys’ attention on the Bible, with that exposure going on in the room. The teen woman was not covering up in any way, in some celebration of her motherhood, but we leaders recommended some ways to her to take in some more privacy in the act, even while staying and participating in the study.
What can be more beautiful than a mother and child at breast, though? It is an image of life and love, and of childlike dependency and nature and naturalness. That was my first thought with this Isaiah passage today. I also thought of art and artists’ love of mother and child paintings, and of Madonna Mary and Jesus Child.
Mother Mary and her son Jesus are so often depicted in this child in Mary’s arms and bosom fashion, though the majority of the works do not expose much of Mary’s body to the viewer. Some modesty is shown, which is ok. Yet one artistic rendering, showing Mary’s breast feeding the Christ child, this was quite a moving, lovely image of Our Lord. He came into the care of a mother in his earthly arrival.
In Isaiah 66:13, the prophet Isaiah gives us the word of the LORD in that motherly view, imaging the Lord as mother. : “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.”
In this verse, God compares divine comfort to that of one by a new mother. It might be the case that, only when our hearts are naturally turned to the consideration of our mothers’ great and special love for us, can we best grasp what this verse offers us. Consider the verses’ approach to God: Your mother’s love for you is a spontaneous, personal affection. She loved you when you kicked within her. She loved you when you were soiled and screaming. And through it all, she fixed her eyes and cares on you when as a child you were hurting or frightened. When a child is hurt, it is the Mom they call for. It is a mother’s kisses that cure “boo-boos” and “hurts.” Your mother knew exactly what was needed to comfort you and she adapted her hugs and words to each one of her children according to their needs. And this is exactly the kind of comfort being described here in our text: “As a mother comforts her child...”
A mother’s love moves from age to age in appreciation, even as some roles have changed in society. In 1901, Louis Albert Banks, a noted pastor and theologian of his day in America, wrote on this Is. 66:13 verse as such, in spiritual meditation: “Are you lonely? Here is a chance to creep into the motherly arms of God and find peace. Are you sorrowful? You may come and put your head upon God’s breast and weep there and find infinite comfort. Are you sinful? Then there is a heart throbbing with infinite compassion and pity and love. Come, pillow your head here, and find forgiveness.”
Ah, there it is! God wants you to ponder the scene and have yourself to be the one being cared for and nurtured and delighted by Your Maker.