I’ve been absent from this blog for quite a while, due to time constraints related to my current circumstances (see previous posts). Today I’m sharing a reflection I wrote many years ago, slightly edited and updated, in recognition of Mother’s Day:
When I was growing up, there was always a controversy in my house on Mother’s Day. My dad believed that this celebration of mothers was just a ploy by “Madison Avenue” to get people who have mothers (i.e., everyone) to spend money on cards, candy, and gifts. My mother, on the other hand – the grand matriarch of a household of six active children – loved being singled out for recognition and the opportunity to be treated like “Queen for a Day.”
I admit to having inherited my father’s skepticism – and several years ago I did some research into the origins of this tradition which we celebrate every year on the second Sunday of May. I was surprised to learn that rather than being a sentimental celebration marked by candy and flowers, the seeds for the institution of Mother’s Day were sown from women’s experience of the horrible carnage of the Civil War. In 1870 Julia Ward Howe proposed an annual “Mother’s Day for Peace.” Howe and other mothers who joined her sent a message to the government, which was the original Mother’s Day Proclamation. These lines are from the beginning of her text:
“Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly:’We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says ‘Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.’ Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violenc indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace…”.
Twenty-six years ago, I was in labor with my last child – a son. It was January 1991, during the height of the War in the Gulph. To try to keep my mind off my discomfort, I turned on the TV in the birthing room. Across the screen blared details of the bombing of Baghdad…the fears of the Israelis… the slaughter of the Iraqis. As I labored, my heart was breaking, because I realized that somewhere in Iraq, somewhere in Israel, women in those distant lands were also laboring to bring forth new life, in the midst of death and devastation. Was my soon-to-be-newborn son’s life any more precious in the eyes of the Creator than the new life being birthed by my Iraqi and Israeli sisters? The powerful contractions of my body became a prayer that the killing would stop, that the madness would cease – and in those moments I understood with every cell in my body what inspired Julia Ward Howe to write the words of that first Mother’s Day Proclamation.
Healthy mothering brings forth life, and desires to sustain life. Ultimately the mother, the life-giver, beholds the mystery that life comes not from her, but through her. The deepest mystery of motherhood is that all life is gift, and that we are stewards, not owners, of that gift. Life is not ours to give or to take – our singular task is to protect it and to nurture it forward.
Imagine a world where everything we do nurtures, rather than destroys, life. Where all of our resources are expended in the service of health, knowledge, creativity, harmony, compassion, and peace. In such a world any person, male or female, parent or not, can be an active participant in the essence of mothering. All who give birth to new creations/ideas/projects that support and nurture life are carriers of the mothering principle. On Mother’s Day 2017, I invite us to ask ourselves, in the words of poet Marge Piercy : “Where out of our wavering half-tainted desires…can we birth the hard clear image of hope? Who shall bear hope back into the world? Who else but us?”