Saturday, May 13, 2017


Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God… (1 John 4:7)

I like to remember, this time of year, that Mother's Day is not simply one of those “Hallmark holidays,” an occasion manufactured for the selling of cards. Mother's Day has an honorable history of development from a proclamation of Julia Ward Howe in 1870 in which she calls upon mothers to help deliver their sons and husbands from the ravages of war and for all mothers to dedicate themselves to finding non-violent means for nations to settle their conflicts. So much for Apple Pie…

This tradition is important and instructive for us, because it lifts up the life-giving and life-saving role of mothers in the life of the world.  In fact, it occurs to me that if Mother's Day were on the liturgical calendar of the Church (which it is not), its Old Testament reading could be Isaiah 66:13, where God says, “As one is comforted by a mother, so I will comfort you.” In what we Christians call “the scriptures,” the truth of God’s saving relationship with us is most often delivered as metaphor, and here in Isaiah the metaphor of a mother’s love is invoked to describe nothing less than the love of God.

The description of a loving father, a loving mother, a loving parent is one of the most frequently used pictures in the Bible.  Jesus describes himself as a mother hen, and he tells the story of a father—waiting longingly for a rebellious son’s homecoming—to teach us what God is like. Jesus calls God abba, which is not just “father,” but “daddy.” And Isaiah speaks of God as our loving, comforting mother.

If we put these pictures and metaphors together, I believe we can transpose the message of John’s first letter—cited above—to read, “Love is from Mom.” Since what John actually writes is, “Love is from God,” that might sound a little flippant, or a little cute, but it reminds us that we have a God whose love for us is not just that of a father, but of Daddy; not just a mother, but “Mom.”

This side of heaven, where we look at ultimate things through what St. Paul calls a “clouded window,” we have no more complete illustration of the graciousness of God’s unconditional love for us than that of a parent for a child. And, okay, on Mother’s Day, let’s say a mother for a child.

When a mother first holds her newborn or newly adopted baby in her arms, she does not say, “As soon as you grow up and become the person I want you to be, then I will love you.” She does not say, “In those times when you are good, then I will love you.” We know what she says: “I love you – just the way you are – just because you’re my child!”

I believe this is the image that is intended in the Bible’s use of father and mother for God. Not the stern taskmaster, but a parent of unconditional love whose life is devoted to the child.

Certainly whenever we use this picture – this metaphor – of God as a loving mother, we need to acknowledge that for some the picture doesn’t seem to register--those for whom a Mother’s Day is a day of loss or painful remembrance. I have not been in that place; but whatever our own personal experience may be, let us know that the reason the Bible uses the picture in the first place is that God is love, and Love is from God. And God loves all children in a way that serves as a model for all mothers and fathers.

Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe a Mom’s love serves as a model for God! If Mom is chatting on the sidewalk with a friend, and her two-year-old wanders into the street, and Mom sees a car bearing down on him, Mom doesn’t step back and say, “Well, he’s been pretty naughty lately….” We know what Mom does: Without a second’s hesitation she hurls herself into the street and throws her child to safety. Even if… ….   What’s more, she’d do the same thing for her mouthy fourteen-year-old who isn’t as cute anymore!

Jesus assures us that God does, indeed love us just as we are, and the way God saves his – her – beloved children from sin and death is by standing between them and that deathly power (in the event the Church calls “the cross”), just as any parent would throw herself into the path of that car to save her child. A love that is unconditional and doesn’t stop to calculate whether the child “deserves” to be saved or not. Love is from Mom.


Caryl's mother, Olive, and my mother, Vi. A couple of fiercely loving Moms!
(I see a dazed look in the eyes of these two good men--our Dads.)

~ ~ ~

The other day I
…found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
A word that sent me into a past
where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that's what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I , in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

                                                                                 ~Billy Collins, “The Lanyard”

~ ~ ~

To My Mother

I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.

So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,

prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,

and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it

already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed. 

                                   ~Wendell Berry

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