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Psalm 131

My husband and I recently had neighbors preparing for a long distance move. They have four children, the youngest of which was just seven weeks old at the time. As a newborn, he slept a good bit but he really only slept for prolonged periods of time if he was being held. Knowing this could likely prevent his parents from packing, we offered to be baby holders. We would take turns snuggling him close, bouncing him if he fussed, and keeping him wrapped up warm in his blankets. He was calm and quiet for hours at a time with us and it was our pure delight to spend that time with him.

I couldn’t help of think of our sweet newborn neighbor when I read this psalm. I think of what it means to not raise my eyes too high, to not be occupied with things too great or marvelous, and to have a calm and quiet soul. It is believed by many scholars that the author of this particular psalm was a woman and it seems she is writing from her own experience as a mother. Perhaps she has a deep awareness of what it means to hope in the Lord because she has experienced the way in which her own child places hope and finds rest with her. I also can’t help but wonder if she can speak to this particular kind of hope because she herself relies so fully on the Lord as she lives in the trenches of motherhood.

We can learn a great deal about hope and trust from babies. In their earliest days, they are not aware of much beyond their basic needs and their brains are working rapidly to make connections with those who show up time after time to provide for them. What is the author of this psalm trying to show us about the link between a baby’s dependence on their parent and our dependence on the Lord? Perhaps, like babies who are reliant on those who care for them without concerning themselves with much else, we are to live in trust for our Creator who loves us and provides for us. We need not consume ourselves with things too great or too marvelous; instead, we can remember that God provides. We can find rest.

In the first verse, the author says, “my eyes are not raised too high” (NRSV). I think of a baby’s sight which is not fully developed for up to two years after birth. Sight is something that is learned over time, for in the beginning babies can only see a few inches in front of their face. Depth perception and the ability to focus on things in the distance comes much later. Thinking of how our eyes might not be raised too high, I wonder about babies who do not even have the ability to see beyond themselves and their caregiver. Their vision is only for the one who cares for them in those immediate moments. This offers a great deal of context to why those early months of bonding are so important; a parent is all their baby sees and it’s in that seeing, day after day, that trust is built and love is recognized. How might having vision for only our Creator develop our trust in God’s ability to provide what we need and to give us rest?

By comparing herself to a weaned baby who’s calmed in her presence, the psalmist is calling us to remember our own humanity in the face of a divine, all-powerful and all-loving God. Though we cannot fully understand God’s marvelous ways, we can find peace in trusting God to provide for our needs and in knowing that it’s with God that we can calm and quiet our souls. In his commentary on the Psalms James Luther Mays says, “Living in hope is having One with you who takes the terror out of need and time.”[1] By placing our hope in the Lord, we need not worry about what we can or cannot see and what we do or do not know. We do not need to be afraid or concerned about things far greater than ourselves. We can rest in the presence of one who delights in us, experiencing the calm of a child whose needs are met by those who love her most.

[1] James Luther Mays, Psalms, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox, 1994), 408.