A Secure Attachment

by | May 8, 2022

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Jarrett McLaughlin
“A Secure Attachment”
May 8, 2022
Psalm 131

Pre-Sermon:

I have long stood by the idea that a sermon is an offering – nothing less and nothing more. Don’t be fooled by the elevated pulpit – this is not from God’s lips to your ears. It is one person’s attempt to make sense of the text and to put it in conversation with the lives we are leading in the present moment.

Sermons are not meant to dictate what is faithful.
They are meant to open a conversation and invite us all to wonder together about where the Spirit is leading us. Some sermons may resonate, others might offend, but all of it is meant to stimulate thoughtfulness based in the Bible.

I believe that I am leaning a bit more into these convictions than usual this week.

Today is Mother’s Day, which is always a complicated day.

It’s a day when we honor the vocation of motherhood, but not to the shame of mothers who work outside the home.

It’s a day when we give thanks for those who bore us into this world, but not to the exclusion of those who would never be a mother.

It’s a day when many will gather with their mother and laugh, while others will grieve the great emptiness that remains after deep loss.

It’s a day when we remember the depths of care that many have known from a mother’s hand, but also acknowledge that for others that relationship was marked by absence, or even abuse.

It is a very complicated day – made only more so by the news this week indicating that the Supreme Court will be overturning Roe v. Wade. I confess that, when I read that on Tuesday, I had second thoughts about the text selected for this Sunday, but the thing about the Bible is that its message is rarely comfortable or convenient. All the same, it is with great sensitivity that I bring to us the maternal imagery from the 131st Psalm. Will you pray with me?

For your unfailing love that never lets us go, we give you thanks O God. For those who have embodied that love and put flesh on it for us, we give you thanks, O God. Bless this reading of your Word and bless us as we engage your Word. Amen.

Scripture – Psalm 131

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.

Sermon:

She dragged the chair over in the slanting, early-morning light. Climbing on top, she reached on tippy-toes for the bright red book on the very top shelf. Bringing it to me, she opened and smoothed out the pages and began to point at the odd wonders held within.

“Here’s you in the Bahamas,” she said, pointing at a picture of me and Meg desperately gripping the side of some narrow, rocky trail with a steep drop to our left.

“Actually, that’s Israel, not the Bahamas…they’re a little different. You were the size of a kidney bean during that trip.”

She turned the page and found six name badges stuck on the paper, each one bearing a single word, but together announcing in bold, block letters “NO BABY YET THANKS FOR ASKING”

“Those are the name tags I made the Sunday after you were due to be born. You took your sweet time coming into this world and I really didn’t want to have that conversation in the hallway 300 times, so…after the sixth person asked me ‘Is there a baby yet?’ I made some name tags to shut that down.

She flipped the page again and saw my studio headphones stretched out over a big tummy.

“Is this when you played the song that scared me?” she asked.

For the record it wasn’t a scary song, it’s just that Ben King’s “Stand By Me” has some rather resonant bass that made her jump.

She flipped the page again, landing on a blurry black and white picture – a sonogram.

“Is that me?” she asked, before flipping again and landing on her newborn picture.
“Awwwwwwwwww,” she sighed, and after a long pause she announced, “I love this book!”

I smiled and tucked a stray hair behind her ear, but inside my head I was thinking “Well of course you do – the book is all about YOU!”

That story is a number of years old now, but I still treasure it…all the more because I wasn’t entirely sure that we would ever have that in our lives.

This past week I received a Facebook message – it was a picture of a young woman with long auburn hair, wearing a white dress and holding up a letter with my signature on the bottom. I looked at this teenager and thought “Who is this person?”

And then I read the accompanying message and realized it was from Lisa in Kansas City. She wrote: “Maggie, the first baby you ever baptized, was confirmed. We gave her a letter you wrote her in 2007 on her baptism.”
WHAT?!? Mind…blown!

I remember holding that little squirm in my arms with the awkwardness of a young man who doesn’t know how to hold a baby. But I can also recall the ache from wanting to hold a child of my own. I remember what it felt like when it seemed like everyone was effortlessly adding to their family, except for us.

“Unexplained Infertility” the doctors called it.
We have science to thank for every one of our children.

Because that was a part of my story, I have a deep and nuanced respect for the miracle of life.
I saw all three of my daughters when they were nothing more than a blastocyst floating around under a microscope. That’s why you won’t really find me arguing about when life does or does not begin. The hopes and dreams I poured into that tiny collection of cells make that an absolutely unsatisfying argument.

Those are just a couple of my stories that have shaped me and my thoughts and feelings about what it means to bring children into this world.

I cannot get away from my stories any more than you can get away from yours. Which is another truth that I hold as sacred. My story is not everybody else’s story.

I do not and really cannot understand the different stories that might lead somebody to make a very different conclusion about a pregnancy.
My privilege has completely shielded me from those experiences, yet I pray to be the kind of person who can receive and respect those stories.

The Psalms are a helpful resource if you want to experience the broad spectrum of human experience. To read all the Psalms is to have this sense that the writers lived some very different stories from one another.

So, at long last, let’s look at Psalm 131.
The Psalmist gives us this striking image: “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.”

It’s striking for a couple of reasons. First off, it’s perhaps evidence that this Psalm was written by a woman.

But it’s also striking because in my admittedly limited experience – a weaned child isn’t really all that calm. A nursing child, sure – but a weaned child can be mad as a hornet?

Cameron Howard, professor of Biblical Studies at Lutheran Seminary, says this:

…the nursing child is utterly dependent, yet always satisfied. By contrast, the weaned child has some experience of the world. Having left the protection of constantly being at his mother’s side, he has learned that comfort and shelter do not last forever.

Food will not always be provided; safety is not always within reach. Nonetheless, amid the calamities of the world, the child may still return to the comfort of his mother, a comfort now rendered [even more] profound by the encounter with fear and hurt.

Child psychologist Mary Ainsworth was among the first to speak about attachment theory in the 1960s. The most healthy from of attachment she said, is a secure attachment. A secure attachment is when a child determines that his primary caregiver is genuinely trustworthy and can be counted on to be present in moments of distress.

A child with a secure attachment is more equipped to risk exploring the world more confidently – bumps, bruises and all – knowing that the comfort of the primary caregiver is readily available. She might get hurt, in fact she probably will, but she can risk that because underneath every injury there is a loving embrace that will make the world less threatening and frightening.

I wonder if that might be our calling in fact. I wonder what it would mean for us to have a secure enough attachment with God that we could engage the world in ways that might make it less threatening and frightening, because that is where our national debates about productive rights makes no sense.

A church member shared these word from Dave Barnhart, a Methodist pastor in Birmingham, Alabama. He wrote:

“The unborn” are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated
unlike the incarcerated, addicted or chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct;
Unlike orphans they don’t need money, education or childcare;
Unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural and religious baggage that you dislike;
They allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn.

A weaned child is going to venture out into this world, but what kind of world will he find? Will it be a threatening and fearful place? Or will it show signs of hospitality. I’d like to offer two very different examples from two very different sides of the spectrum.

A number of months ago, a colleague sent me an article about Aubry and Brian Schlackman, a couple in Texas who are fiercely Pro-Life and praying earnestly for an end to Roe v. Wade. They were also in the process of purchasing a large piece of land to create a “Maternity Ranch” where they might invite moms-to-be who are in desperate conditions to live and raise their children in a supportive community.

I believe the article was shared with a scoffing “Look at these crazies” tone, but honestly I couldn’t rise to the level of outrage that I think was expected. Here are some people motivated by a conviction that I may not share in the same way, but they are also rolling up their sleeves and making this world a more hospitable place for this collection of mothers and young children. I don’t know the Schlackman’s from Adam’s house cat, but I could respect them putting their money where their mouth is.

This week I’ve also been thinking about two people I have had the privilege of knowing. On Monday evening, the Global Outreach committee shared a meal with Pastor Leon D’Orleans from Haiti. The Church and ministry he leads – Haiti Outreach Ministries – has been an absolute lifeline in Cite Soleil, one of the poorest slums in Port-au-Prince and thus in the western hemisphere. The primary work – education and food for children in a place where children are many but hope can run awfully thin.

It has been our privilege to support Haiti Outreach Ministries for a number of years now and, as it turns out, Pastor Leon is actually celebrating 50 years of ministry to-day! We give thanks for the way his community has been hard at work making this world a little more hospitable for some very at-risk children.

I have also been thinking about Day McLaughlin, a saint of this church who died this past November. I think of her often, actually, but this past week she came to the top of my mind on Monday as well when a letter arrived with a generous contribution from her estate.

The letter was written by her son and daughter, letting me know that this gift was unrestricted in every sense of the word, AND if there was any way for that gift to support children’s education that would make her happy. Later that night I’m sitting with Pastor Leon and hearing about the massive number of students they took on because the gangs in Cite Soleil have become even worse than usual. It didn’t take long for the dots to connect.

So it is with great joy that I can announce that in honor of Pastor Leon’s 50th anniversary of his ordination and in loving memory of Day McLaughlin, we are able to celebrate this Mother’s Day by funding the education for one year for ten children in Cite Soleil, Haiti.

With the Psalmist, we can also say “our eyes are not raised too high,” just because of this one act of hospitality. The needs are too overwhelming for us to become too proud of ourselves, but perhaps, by God’s grace, it might help in some way to create a more secure attachment

Psalm 131 ends, as many psalms do,
with a statement of hope.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.

Those ancient Psalm-writers didn’t turn to hope because life was easy. It was not easy at all.

So even if you feel like the world is off kilter – an increasingly hostile place – know that there is a place for you on the chest of God our parent,
that you belong there and may find rest,
and then be sent out to make the world a less frightening and more hospitable place for all God’s children.

To God, our most secure attachment, be the honor and the glory forever. Amen.