This Sunday the church will celebrate that most hallowed of feasts: Mother’s Day.
The Hallmark holiday, right up there with Valentine’s Day, Grandparents Day, and Sweetest Day (apparently it’s a thing, look it up).
I’m not down on mothers. I love my mom. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her (literally). She’s been my biggest fan for as long as I can remember. And, as special as she is to me (and me to her), she’s probably more excited about the opportunity to be a grand mother this fall.
Which brings me to my wife, and mother-to-be. I love her dearly. And through my wife, I have another mom, whom I love and who has welcomed me into her family. Beyond that, I have friends’ mother’s who I count as moms. All these wonderful women are more than worthy of celebrating.
I hope you could list out similar experiences.
My beef with Mother’s Day isn’t about celebrating mothers and the selfless (often thankless) work they do for their children and their communities. It’s just that the church can get so caught up in that celebration, that it ignores those left outside.
The church hangs with the 99 and lets the one, wander off.
For every person who can list out a wonderful experience with their mother, there’s someone whose mom isn’t around anymore, whose mom wasn’t the glowing example of love and warmth.
Women will sit in pews, forced to endure a sermon about the joy of bearing a child and the pain of childbirth that ultimately leads to new life. The incredible feeling of holding another life in one’s own body.
And maybe she’s had time to come to grips with her reality. Maybe she’s made peace–as much as she can–with the reality that she’ll never have a child “with her eyes.”
But maybe not.
Maybe it’s still a struggle. And maybe she’ll wander off because there doesn’t seem to be room for her here.
Julian of Norwich, an English mystic, knew there was room for her–and everyone else–here: “So Jesus Christ, who opposes good to evil, is our true Mother. We have our being from him, where the foundation of motherhood begins, with all the sweet protection of love which endlessly follows” (Chapter 59).†
Yep, Jesus as Mother in the fullest sense. Just as Mary takes Jesus into her body and births him to life–with all the pain and joy that comes with it–so Jesus takes us into his body–with all the pain and joy (think cross and resurrection) and births us to new life.
Julian goes on, “This fair lovely word ‘mother’ is so sweet and so kind in itself that it cannot truly be said of anyone or to anyone except of him and to him who is the true Mother of life and of all things. To the property of motherhood belong nature, love, wisdom and knowledge, and this is God” (Ch. 60).†
Jesus alone is the true mother: creative (“nature”), loving, wise, knowledgeable, God.
God is mother.
Earthly mothers birth to life that will end in death. Mother Jesus births to life that ends in life.
I know, we still haven’t gotten past the birth thing. So, I did what anyone does who doesn’t know where else to look: I checked out the dictionary.
And there, it smacked me between the eyes. To paraphrase DC Talk, “mother is a verb.”
Birthing a child is no small part of the reality wrapped up in the word “Mother.” But it’s still only part, and it only lasts 9-ish months (I know, easy for me to say).
Once those first gasping breaths are taken, the work of nurturing and caring begins, sleepless nights and smelly diapers. (Generalizing here, but I’ll keep you posted come October).
The hard work of formation begins; guiding, teaching, sometimes dragging another person into what it means to be human. That’s the wisdom piece.
And it doesn’t stop there, the love of Mother Jesus continues to grow and change as we, his children, grow. Jesus allows us to fall sometimes–not because he’s left us or he’s pulled out his love, but because we have to do it our way every once in a while, until we realize how wise he really is. How he, like any good mother, has the words that lead to life (“That stove is hot!”).
So, if you’re reading this and you have wonderful mothers in this life: thank them this Mother’s day.
If you don’t have children, have chosen not to have children, or can’t have children, hopefully you can see the life-giving mothering role you’ve played in the formation of people around you: friends’ children, youth at church, or maybe a (child-like) spouse or friend.
If you feel mother-less: rest in the words of your Mother Jesus, “All will be well, and you will see it yourself, that every kind of thing will be well” (Ch. 64).†
Whether you’re a mother or not, don’t be scared to be a child of this Mother, there’s more than enough room in her family:
“But often when our falling and our wretchedness are shown to us, we are so much afraid and so greatly ashamed of ourselves that we scarcely know where we can put ourselves. But then our courteous Mother does not wish us to flee away, for nothing would be less pleasing to him; but he then wants us to behave like a child. For when it is distressed and frightened, it runs quickly to its mother; and if it can do no more, it calls to the mother for help with all its might. So he wants us to act as a meek child, saying: My kind Mother, my gracious Mother, my beloved Mother, have mercy on me. I have made myself filthy and unlike you, and I may not and cannot make it right except with your help and grace” (Ch. 63).†
† Julian of Norwich, Showings, translated by Edmund Colledge and James Walsh, (New York: Paulist Press, 1978).