This article was originally published in the San Marino Tribune on May 6th, 2016.
One Mother’s Day when I was ten, I walked five rainy-day miles to Peg Stevens Florist along Kenny Road; the best florist around in my mother’s estimation. Mrs. Stevens helped me select flowers, and I paid her with pocket money I’d socked away shoveling snow around our cul-de-sac during the winter months just past. In those days of free-range childhood, nobody noticed my absence, and my mother was surprised when I turned up with an armful of blooms with which to fill her favorite vase.
Motherhood is art and skill, joy and high vocation. It is hard work too. I am daily impressed by the commitment and energy I see in the young mothers around our school and parish, and I’ve been in ministry long enough to know mothers never quit their care. I laid to rest an amazing ninety-eight year old woman in Tahoe last Saturday, and each of her five children and many grandchildren rose at the reception to offer toast and testimony to her indefatigable striving for them right up to her last breath.
Scripture, searching for metaphors with which to speak of God, often has recourse to maternal imagery. God is a nursing mother in Numbers 11:12 and also in Isaiah 49:15. God is a midwife in Psalm 22, and a woman giving birth in Isaiah 42:14. God is a fierce she-bear robbed of her cubs and ready to tear apart her adversaries in Hosea 13:8. “As truly as God is our Father,” wrote the English saint Julian of Norwich, “so truly God is our Mother.”
When an infant or adult comes through the womb-like waters of baptism, that one is said to have become a child of Mother Church. That strong Mother will nurture them in the pilgrim way their whole lives long. She will not flag or quit her care. She offers formation and guidance, the sustenance of sacraments, and the fellowship of siblings and an extended spiritual family. Cyprian of Cathage famously said “You cannot have God for your Father unless you have the Church for your Mother.”
There is no perfect guidebook for motherhood, and the terrain shifts each day, each child, each unanticipated challenge and wind-blown crisis. Mother’s Day is a red-letter day, a living saint’s day, and the Hallmark Company is wise to help us find ways to say so when we are tongue tied.
When I carry flowers to my mother this coming Sunday, she will not, ravaged as she is by Alzheimer’s, have much sense for the occasion. Church has taught me that God our Mother remains fierce for that good woman who cared so well for me when she still had her wits. God our Mother has not quit on her; never quits on any of us.
There isn’t a Hallmark greeting card sufficient to say thank you to our earthly mothers for the ways they have marked us, but we’ll do our best this weekend to tell them how much we love them. We could do worse than to add a prayer of gratitude to God, in whose image these fierce and beloved she-bears have been made