As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you;
Today we honor mothers, motherhood, and maternal bonds. We think of mothers as being creators, bringers of life, caregivers, protectors, friends; they are patient, interested in their children’s growth and activities. They are supportive yet set and maintain limits; they are understanding and good listeners. They are more interested in peace and harmony than justice; more guided by loving than winning.
True to the nature of a mother, Mother’s Day as we know it today had its origins in the voices of women calling for peace, reconciliation, and unity after the Civil War ended in 1865. In 1868, Ann Jarvis called for the creation of a “Mother’s Friendship Day”, but her voice fell upon deaf ears.
In 1870 Julia Ward Howe wrote her Mother’s Day Proclamation as a pacifist reaction to the bloodshed of the Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. She held the belief that women had a responsibility to change and mold society at the political level. On June 2, 1872 she led a “Mother’s Day” anti-war observance, and for ten years this celebration was held in Boston, but society was not yet ready to permanently embrace the idea.
A few years later, on May 13, 1877, a Mother’s Day observance was held at a church in Albion, Michigan. Juliet Calhoun Blakeley stepped up to the pulpit to encourage other mother’s to support efforts against alcohol abuse. Her two sons were so moved by their mother’s sincerity that they encouraged fellow businessmen to honor their mother’s vision.
In the early 1880’s the Methodist Episcopal Church of Albion set aside the 2nd Sunday of May to honor mother’s contributions. Then in 1904 Frank Hering, President of the Fraternal Order of Eagles made a public plea to establish a “national day to honor our mothers.” The appropriateness for honoring mothers was slowly seeping into our cultural awareness.
But it wasn’t until Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Jarvis, with the help on local businessman John Wanamaker, established a ceremony in a church on May 12, 1907, in Grafton, West Virginia that the voice for a Mother’s Day was heard. The following year, on May 10, 1908, the first “official” Mother’s Day celebration was held at the Wanamaker Auditorium in Philadelphia.
Anna Jarvis campaigned for a national day of honoring mothers. West Virginia was the first state to declare the holiday, and the rest of the states followed quickly. On May 8, 1914, Congress passed a law declaring the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. The next day President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill into law, proclaiming it as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of mothers who lost sons at war.
Carnations became the official flower of Mother’s Day when Anna Jarvis delivered 500 of them at her first celebration in 1908. She chose that flower because it was her mother’s favorite. It became customary to wear a red carnation to honor mothers still living, and a white one for mothers who have passed on to Spirit.
Mother’s Day is about honoring mothers, our own and all mothers everywhere. I am mindful on this day that there are people in this room and other people around the world whose mothers are no longer in physical form. I am indeed sensitive to the fact that not everyone's mother was a perfect parent.
But I am also keenly aware that there is no gift that I could give my mother that could possibly thank her for what she has given me, and that is one of the greatest gifts, life itself. So, despite whatever they did right or wrong… yep, here we are. We got the start that we needed. We can complain, “Well, she beat me, she starved me, she abandoned me.” But despite all the horrible things our mothers may have done, they delivered us to this world and the rest has been up to us.
I also know that not every woman chooses to be a mother. The potential to be a mother does not correlate to the willingness, the desire, the ability, the destiny, or any kind of obligation to become a mother. A woman is not diminished in any way by not being a mother, any more than a man is not any less a man just because he doesn't develop his muscles. Every man here could look like Mr. Universe, could look like an athlete because of the testosterone flowing through our blood.
But could anyone argue that Albert Einstein was of any less value because he didn't develop his muscles? Can anyone argue that Mother Teresa was of any less value simply because she didn't bear children? Didn't she earned the title ‘mother’ because of the love that she would share for the poorest of the poor, the needy?
Although Mother’s Day began as a recognition of mothers who lost a son in battle, it has evolved into all women who have borne children. Even today, the evolution continues as we recognize that there are other women who deserve appreciation for the parts that they have played, do play, and will play in God’s family.
A mother's role in our lives may have been filled by a natural or adopted mother or another who assumed that responsibility. But somebody was there, some maternal entity provided us with guidance, comforted our pain, nurtured our development, and helped us learn to stand on our own. From diet to clothing choices, from education to moral decisions, mothers of all types, the wives, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, government employees, and strangers play a significant role through their examples, and we say thank you to those individuals.
And always, the most important thing that mothers offer is the love they bring. They want what’s best for their children. Phyllis Diller said this: I want my children to have all the things that I could not afford. And then I want to move in with them.
Mothers love their children, although it is difficult to see at times. We can all understand the slogan: Mothers of teenagers know why some animals eat their young. It is often hard to live up to what American poet Helen Steiner Rice wrote: A mother's love is patient and forgiving when all others are forsaking. It never fails or never falters, even though the heart is breaking.
But in some way that love will shine through, and it doesn't matter how old the child is. The character Sethe, in the book Beloved, by Toni Morrison, says it best: “Grown don't mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older. But grown? What's that supposed to mean? In my heart, it don't mean a thing.”
If you're a mother, you understand that. I know that Mary and Mom or testimony to that fact. My brother and I, we may be grown, but we're still Mom’s children. Our kids are grown but ask Mary if she ever stops thinking about them or ever stops worrying about them. When does a mother stop loving their child? I guess it would be when God stopped loving us, which is never.
Spirit within the woman reveals itself in various ways. A mother tends to love her own children with ferocity, if needed. At the same time, a woman tends to accept all children in need as her own. This is the nature of God that I refer to as the Divine Mother - the willingness to love all of God's children with nurturing compassion, and that nature is within all of us.
The unconditional love of a mother is depicted in 1 Kings 3:26-27, where two women dispute the kinship of an infant before King Solomon: The woman whose son was alive was filled with compassion for her son and said to the king, "Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him!" But the other said, "Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!" Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”
The true mother wants her child to live, to grow, to be safe and happy, even if she must release the custody of the child. This is how God loves us and is why I identify that aspect of God in my invocations to prayer: Heavenly Father, Divine Mother.
The Divine Mother aspect of God is not typically recognized in orthodox Christianity. Written in a time when women had little value or position in society, the writers of the Bible did their best to describe God within the limits of their language and culture and referred to God exclusively in a masculine sense. But there are references and figurative descriptions of God that are motherly in nature, and I have no hesitancy in referring to God in those terms.
Just as with the true mother before Solomon, the Divine Mother aspect of God is willing to “give us up” as we demand our independence and let our ego have its way. But She is always there loving us, protecting us, picking us up when we fall, and always awaiting our return to her warm and loving embrace.
That is a divine motherly quality. Other motherly aspects are worth mentioning: Giving birth to creation, as well as God’s unconditional love and gentle nature. It is good for all Children of God to awaken those nature within, male and female alike, so that we can more readily express the unconditional selfless love of God that our own mothers so unhesitatingly demonstrated.
So today we give thanks to our own mother and mothers everywhere who continue to love us, no matter our age, whether they are in bodies or in pure spirit. We give thanks for the strength of mothers as they defend the paths that lead to what is right, productive, and beneficial, and press back against the forces that would drive us onto darker roads.
We give thanks for the Divine Mother within us, who whispers words of support and love to our hearts, who nurtures us, and expresses through us as giving, sharing, compassion, and love. So, we say thank you God. Thank you, God, for the mother that you knew was uniquely right and perfect for us. Thank You God, for the love of Mothers.