Though a mother should forget her child, I will not forget you. What a powerful, intimate image Isaiah offers us in today’s reading – the promise that God’s love is more steadfast and committed than that of a mother holding her infant. We have all seen a mother holding a sleeping baby – perhaps the most basic, elemental love there is. She is the source of nourishment, warmth, care, affection, everything that is needed. The mother gives of herself completely and the baby receives instinctively and completely this total gift. This tender mother-love is a powerful image for our bond with our loving and merciful Creator.
And yet, in the same passage from Isaiah, we hear the cry, “The Lord has forsaken me!” These anguished words resonate when we experience the felt sense of abandonment and cry out to God in distress – these moments are part of our journey of faith. Scripture does not shy away from recognizing that reality. There is space in the Bible for honest, anguished lament – here in Isaiah and in many other places. This is genuine prayer, and a sign of faith, not faithlessness. In our lives – as in this passage – trust and lament often exist side-by-side.
We may feel distant from God, but Isaiah encourages us that, in fact, that fierce, intimate Divine love is always there. While the feeling of abandonment is present and can even be acute, the fact is that we are never outside this circle of God’s agape, never outside those loving, caring maternal arms.
We respond to Isaiah’s promise with the psalmist’s words , “Rest in God alone, my soul.” The repetition: alone, only, alone. Nowhere else is unconditional love and mercy to be found. We respond to radical love with radical trust. We can crawl into God’s lap in prayer and rest there completely.
The “trust and resting in God” that our psalm names takes on a new dimension when read beside today’s Gospel which tells us to be like birds and flowers, free from worry about tomorrow. The Sermon on the Mount is filled with challenging teachings. Today’s Gospel offers plenty of challenge as well. Jesus points to the bountiful goodness of creation, the abundance found in the natural world. If other creatures do not worry, why should we?
Of course, this is much easier said than done, which is perhaps why in the Eucharistic liturgy we pray, “Protect us from all anxiety.” Perhaps you come to today’s readings with a heart and mind filled with all kinds of concerns – family and friends who are struggling, health problems, financial worries, professional turmoil. Or maybe you, like me, are heartsick at the violence and injustice in our world, and worried about what the future holds in increasingly uncertain times.
Those who would have heard these words preached by Jesus would have had hearts and minds filled with very real concerns too: they were Jews living under Roman occupation, who faced the constant threat of violent repression. They were heavily taxed, and longed for deliverance from a promised messiah. If you’re from a class-comfortable background like me, try to imagine hearing these words if you really did struggle to have adequate food, drink, and clothing. In the face of this, Jesus advised them to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness. What transformation was Jesus offering his original listeners in these words? What transformation does Jesus offer us today?
The teaching to seek God’s kingdom and not to worry is paired with the insightful observation that we must choose between serving God and serving mammon – which is wealth. If we are honest, can we observe in ourselves how our worries lead us to grasp, to cling, to develop what St. Ignatius of Loyola termed disordered attachments. We seek security outside that only place where security can be found. And the more we cling, the smaller our world gets, the more our heart turns in on itself, and away from God and our brothers and sisters.
Jesus’ invitation: “Seek first God’s kingdom” are words that offer both great challenge and great freedom. Tremendous space is created when we can step away from our internal broken record of worries and concerns and the unhealthy behaviors we are drawn into when we seek security in anything but our loving, trustworthy God. In freedom from anxiety, there is freedom for becoming who we are truly meant to be – just as the birds and the lilies live out the fullness of who they are. We are free to live outside the dominant cultural ethos and within the light of beloved community. While our worries are legitimate, we are invited today to return over and over again with eternal trust to the loving arms of our God, just like the baby resting completely in the loving arms of a mother.
Rhonda Miska is a candidate with the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters who lives in community in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin.
Rhonda contributed as an author and translator to Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table (Paulist Press, 2015). She is a regular contributor to US Catholic magazine and Global Sisters Report. Her writing has also appeared in America Magazine, Celebration Publications, and on various Catholic blogs including Catholic Majority, Messy Jesus Business and Millennial Journal.
Rhonda is a member of the Spiritual Directors International New Contemplatives Initiative and on the advisory board of Catholic Women Preach.
Rhonda holds an MA from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.
She served with the Jesuit Volunteers in Nicaragua from 2002-2004. She has taught in Religious Studies at Clarke University and the Catherine of Siena College (affiliated with the University of Roehampton in London).
Her other past ministries include coordinating Hispanic ministry and social justice ministry at a multicultural parish, leading retreats for returned missioners, hosting days of reflection on praying with poetry, accompanying migrant children in federal immigration court, and coordinating a residential life-sharing community with adults with intellectual disabilities.
Currently, she is serving as a Spanish-language legal interpreter with Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Dubuque and co-authoring a book on holy women from the 800 year history of the Order of Preachers.