Writing this article on the threshold of Mother’s Day has put me in a pensive mood. My thoughts have little to do with theology; but a lot to do with love. I am reflecting today on the profound influence our mothers have on us. As agents of nurture, I believe mothers are pivotal in creating a culture of love in our families, churches and communities; and are often the primary instruments of perpetuating the tradition of our generative family narratives.
I have on occasion shared with this congregation a few of the “Tommy Stories” (about my boyhood escapades) which my mother used to tell at family gatherings: “Tommy Climbs up The Back of the Drive-In Movie Screen”; or “Tommy Does an Abstract Painting on the Neighbors Newly Painted Garage Door with Their Freshly Picked Tomatoes” (only the ones I didn’t eat); or “Tommy & Donny Hi-Jack a Milk Truck” (we didn’t actually steal it, we just climbed in to break off a little block ice to suck on a hot summer morning, got a little too adventurous and accidently released the emergency brake…and down the hill we went).
At any rate, you get the idea.
Of course, these are only a few of my mother’s `Tommy Stories’, most of which happened prior to my sixth birthday. Those which happened later are in another volume altogether. But the fact that she told them with increasing zeal and persistency throughout the years, I always considered a form of `just penance.’ After all, if I can make amends in this world, more the better, right?
Today, the mantle of `mock humiliation’ has (blessedly) been transferred from “Tommy Stories” to “Joseph Stories”, which my sister has increasingly begun to tell about her own son. They are good stories, although they lack some of the drama and suspense of Mom’s. Nevertheless, they are a welcomed relief (for everyone)! And so the family narrative goes on.
You’ve also likely heard me talk about my grandmother Bumpi (my mother’s mother) who – around the same time my mother was gathering narrative evidence concerning her `wild child’ – used to say to me, “Tommy, you’d make a good minister.” In fact, Bumpi said that with enough frequency that I’d gotten quite used to ignoring it. However, I do remember on one specific occasion, Mom’s response when she overheard Bumpi’s ecclesial affirmation of (and blind faith in) my budding character: “Mother,” she said to Bumpi in a rather perplexed manner, “have you met my child Tommy?”
It isn’t an easy thing to become a Presbyterian minister: many requirements are demanded, many hoops must be leapt through, many years of study are necessary before the mantel of ordination is conferred. But I always felt that the highest affirmation of my calling was when, upon my graduation from seminary, Mom said, “Well, I guess Bumpi was right after all!”
Not a day goes by when I don’t stop for a moment to consider how well I might be measuring up to their expectations of me. I hope and pray that I am.
“God couldn’t be everywhere at once,” the old rabbinic saying goes, “so God created mothers.”
There may well be more truth than romanticism in that. And maybe there’s more theology in all this than meets the eye, as well.
Holy Scripture is replete with maternal images of God (see Hos. 11:3-4 & 13:8, Deut. 32:11-12, Is. 42:14 & 49:15, Lk.13:34 & Matt. 23:37). All of which suggests that God’s love is perhaps never more purely or more powerfully expressed as in a mother’s undying love for her children. Their depth of love and acceptance, honesty and truth telling, fierce defense of and enduring faith in us impacts us all our lives; whether they are sitting next to us at the evening dinner table, or tucked away tenderly in the annals of heart and mind.
And I also think about all the blessings bestowed upon the church, throughout the generations, by her maternal witnesses: these overly busy – at times hectic and harried – moms who are the majority of those who fill the pews on Sunday morning and the committee seats the rest of the week. Mothers whose heart-borne instinct tells them that their gifts of love and nurturance and guidance are gifts to be shared, not only with their own children, but with the whole village. And because they so faithfully do share them, the stories of the church family are perpetuated and its most precious memories and vital traditions preserved.
So, thank you, O thank you, dear God, for our mothers. Where would any of us be without them?