When I think about the word consolation I have in my mind an image of Miss Congeniality.
“Well, you lost, but here’s a trophy for being nice. Thanks for playing.”
My next thought would be of platitudes spoken to console a bereaved person when you really don’t know what to say, but feel you really should say something so you blurt out a bunch of words anyway (a common source of pitifully bad theology).
“Well, I guess God needed a good plumber.”
But I keep running into that word lately – consolation. In my heart I hear the Holy Spirit, in the accent of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, saying, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
It started with Psalm 94:19 which I quoted in Weeding Out the Noise. “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me your consolations delight my soul.”
Other translations use words like give me cheer or joy, or make me glad, or lighten my soul. They all agree, consolation brings good feelings.
I’ve gone looking for it, the meaning of the word, I mean. In Hebrew it is something like tanchuwm. It shows up in the last chapter of Isaiah where God promises to comfort his people like a mother. One translation talks about nursing from “the breasts of consolation.”
That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory. For thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream: then shall ye suck, ye shall be borne upon her sides, and be dandled upon her knees.
As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66: 11-13 KJV)
I mentioned to someone that I was musing over this image. She thought I was making it up. I heard her muttering as the door slammed, “God the Father is not female. He does not have boobs!”
Literal minds have problems with this poetic language stuff. I shrugged (after I winced) and reminded myself of the dangers of being a verbal processor.
I kept looking. Another similar verse came to mind.
Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me. (Ps 131:2 NKJV)
Marty Goetz, the modern-day psalmist, phrased it this way in his song version of Psalm 131.
Oh Lord my heart is quieted
My thoughts are not too proud
The shadows flee, my eyes can see You now
I do not occupy myself
With things too great for me
Here in Your stillness, is where I long to be
And I have calmed my troubled heart,
I have quieted my soul,
Like a child at its mother’s breast,
I find my strength and take my rest
In the shelter of Your arms,
There is life to make me whole
I have calmed my heart and quieted my soul.
One of my best memories is sitting in the big comfy rocking chair in the middle of a cold winter’s night nursing my sweet baby. There were some nights when I felt exhausted, but this was not one. Aggressive winds whipped up the snow and tossed it against the window, but inside the house was warm and still. The boys were asleep and there was no new mom anxiety distracting me. I whispered to my child telling her how beautiful she was and all my hopes for her. I prayed for her and blessed her as she drew sustenance from me. When her little tummy was full she pulled back, looked me in the face and gave me a smile that all mommies wait for. Then she fell asleep in my arms, warm, dry, full and contented.
I wonder if there is something about the ability to receive consolation from Holy Spirit that involves us coming simply as wee children, hungry, messy, cold, and bewildered, to draw sustaining life from him. I wonder if the virtues we tend to associate with the feminine are also essential characteristics of God and if, when we allow him to draw us near, he wants to clean us up, hold us, fill the empty places in our hearts with warm nourishing milk, and, in the stillness, whisper blessings and his plan for us into our ear. Jesus called Holy Spirit “the Comforter,” the parakletos, the one who comes beside.
This week in my dreams, and as I woke to a clear June sunlight streaming through the window, I heard this song in my heart.
Lord I come to You
Let my heart be changed, renewed
Flowing from the grace
That I found in You.
And Lord I’ve come to know
The weaknesses I see in me
Will be stripped away
By the power of Your love.
Hold me close
Let Your love surround me
Bring me near
Draw me to Your side.
And as I wait
I’ll rise up like the eagle
And I will soar with You
Your Spirit leads me on
In the power of Your love.
(From The Power of Your Love by Geoff Bullock)
There is more to this idea of comfort and consolation that I am exploring, but for today, I am learning to rest here in the stillness and let his love surround me.