About five years ago I began reading the Bible a little differently. I began seeing passages I had never seen before. Imagery and metaphors for God gained new meaning. What had changed? Why was I seeing Scripture with new eyes?
I am a stereotypical man in many ways. I love sports, a good action movie, and making anything in to a competition. So it should not surprise anyone that I had not really thought about breastfeeding until I was confronted with it face-to-face. My wife and I read together that breastfeeding was ideal for nourishment and building up the immune system in newborns and I was all for that. (Especially since it also meant not having to buy expensive formula!) But when my wife bought a nursing cover so that she might breastfeed more easily in public, I thought, is that really necessary? Can you not just go to another room?
This sparked a discussion about the nature of breastfeeding. My wife lovingly explained to me that she should not have to hide or be ashamed of doing something that is completely natural. Of course, my argument was, but won't you run the risk of exposing your breast? She responded that there are plenty of women who breastfeed and do not use a cover because there is nothing inappropriate about feeding your baby. And I said, "Well, I know. But…it's your breast!"
Eventually I figured out where my thinking went wrong. I was unable to see the female breast as a non-sexual part of the body. As a man, I am conditioned by my culture to view breasts sexually. Breasts are glorified and sexualized in every form of media so that they become a symbol of sexuality for both men and women. The first time bare breasts are seen is a rite of passage among adolescent boys. For adolescent girls and young women, it is about when the breasts emerge and how big they are. Female breasts have been reduced to sex objects and status symbols when in the history of the world they have primarily been seen as everyone's first meal!
My wife was right; there's nothing wrong with feeding your baby. Yes, it is physical. But it is not sexual. It's natural.
This bring me back to the Bible.
Around the time my wife decided to wean our son, I came across Psalm 131.
My heart is not proud, LORD,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed myself
and quieted my ambitions.
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the LORD
both now and forevermore. (TNIV)
This simple psalm is powerful. It speaks of the trust and hope the psalmist has in the LORD. The psalmist is not concerned with things outside of his/her control, but is content to hope in the LORD. In fact, the psalmist is so content, he/she is like a "weaned child with its mother."
Have you ever seen a hungry child that's not weaned? They mouth for their mother's breast and sometimes for others' if they are being held by someone else. They know milk is near and want it. They are not content.
God is like a mother who nourishes us and helps us grow, but eventually will wean us to trust that in all "great matters" we can have hope and be content.
Is the psalmist sexualizing God? No.
Yes, it is a physical and graphic metaphor. But it is not sexual. It's natural.