My mother’s name is Naomi. She was born in 1933 on a farm in Yatton to Susannah and Oliver and was the sixth born of eight children. Mom remembers her childhood with fondness. She remembers playing church on the stairway with her dolls and her two little brothers. She would pin a doll to each side of her dress so they would sit beside her and so she had more “children” to care for. There were funerals for birds laid to rest in partially open, old match boxes that accommodated a viewing. She remembers coming home from school on a cold winter’s day and warming her feet by resting them on the open door of the cook stove oven, and how her mother would have plates of cooked turnip, potatoes, and beef waiting hot in the warming closet for them to stave their after-school hunger. She remembers the cutter rides through the snow and the sound of the sleigh bells ringing through the night air as they made their way to the Christmas concert at school (and Mom still has an appreciation for the rounded, muscular curve of a horse’s hind end). Mom loved to run and can still remember the feeling of her heels kicking up against her backside as she flew. She remembers the shame of having to stand in front of her classroom with gum on her nose – the gum she had been caught chewing. She remembers taking freshly made lemonade and sandwiches carried in a six-quart basket out to the threshing crew in the field during summer’s harvest.
Mom really did grow up in a home where she was treasured, a home that was safe, a home that provided the necessities and amenities couched in homemade and nonverbal love.
Mother’s Day. A day to honour our mothers. It’s a day that may conjure up fond memories and tenderness, but it’s also a day that may evoke feelings of disappointment, estrangement, and loss. Maybe your mother was gentle, loving, and wise, but maybe too your mother didn’t get you, stuck to her own agenda, and left you feeling unmoored from what is supposed to be a safe harbour. Maybe you have your own kids who cause you grief or maybe you wish you had kids to cause you grief. Mother’s Day can be a complicated affair.
Mother’s Day as we know it today was first commemorated in the early nineteen hundreds. The holiday was birthed by a woman named Anna Jarvis, who wanted to honour her own mother who had been a peace activist and cared for the wounded on both sides of the American Civil War (Wikipedia). However, Jarvis’ vision of handwritten letters to mothers expressing honest sentiment was soon coopted by consumerism. Card companies, candy makers, and carnation growers all profited from this newly recognized holiday. Seeing her vision of a day to honour mothers tarnished, Anna Jarvis organized boycotts against Mother’s Day and was even arrested for disturbing the peace. Nonetheless, the day remains as an established holiday all over the world.
The language of the Christian faith is steeped in patriarchy and the metaphor of God as a father, but I think we are remiss not to sit with the metaphor of God as a mother. What is it like to be cradled in the arms of God as mother? To be drawn into safety under the wings of our Mother Hen? To receive nurture and nutrition at the breast of God in the same way I see my wee grandson being nurtured and fed by his loving mother? A medieval mystic named Meister Eckhart is said to have described God’s activity as such – “What does God do all day long? God gives birth. From all eternity God lies on a maternity bed giving birth”. I’m told that the Turkish language has a pronoun that encompasses both the feminine and the masculine. I wish for such a pronoun.
In the meantime, I have a picture of God as mother in my own mother. She provided me with the same homemade care and love in my own childhood. When I felt and expressed some pushback in my adolescent and teen years and we didn’t like each other all that much, she remained constant and present. As I moved in adulthood and became mother to my own children, she provided nonintrusive support and guidance. Now, with my own children grown, one of my favourite things to do is to spend the afternoon with my Mom.
Age has brought with it debilitating arthritis, but Mom remains the kind of person with whom you want to spend time. She always preferred to work hard with her hands and was never much for bookishness. She said she always thought she would read when the work was done. She became a reader in her eighties. Her simple but hearty faith is sweet and honest, but in spite of that (or maybe because of that?), she has found a way to hold space for her restless children.
On this Mother’s Day, may we have some knowing and share in a reflecting of the mother love of God.