The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic Podcast episode. To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 72: The Spiritual Practice of Mothering
Hello friends. As we approach Mother’s Day this year, I’m reflecting on my own experience as a mother, and on my own mother who art in Heaven, and on all of the beautiful people who are out there making the world spin every day by mothering their kids, other kids, and yes, grown-up people, too. After all, we all need mothering.
The dictionary definition of mothering is “kind and protective care”, and if you’ve mothered or received mothering, you know that this kind of self-sacrificial care is a spiritual practice which is so very close to the heart of God. In fact, the many descriptions of God as mother in the Bible should help us to understand mothering as holy, and a sacred cooperation with God.
In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus likens Himself to a mother hen, and He says to the people of Jerusalem, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” In Isaiah, God is compared to a woman in labor, and promises mothering comfort. It says, “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.” Later, it says “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” In the book of Hosea, God says, “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” And God even goes full Mama Bear in Hosea 13:8 where it says, “Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and tear them asunder…”
Well, if any of these sentiments sound familiar to you, you have probably done some mothering in your time, maybe with your own children or your grandchildren. Maybe you are a father who mothers or a teacher or nurse or social worker who mothers. Maybe you’re doing the job of mothering all by yourself or you’re an auntie who provides a mothering influence. Maybe you’re a stepmother or dad or foster mother or dad, a big sister or brother who provides this particular brand of kind, protective, self-sacrificial care. To all of you, I say thank you. The world would not spin without you. On the other side of the mothering equation, maybe you have a wonderful one – what a blessing, or maybe you’ve experienced the loss of kids or struggled with infertility. Maybe your experience with your own mother is strained or broken and the whole idea of celebrating this kind of care brings you nothing but pain because it’s something that you never got. Maybe the person who offered that care to you, your mother or grandmother or someone as dear to you as breathing, is now gone. Oh, friend, for all of that, I’m so sorry.
Mother’s Day is one of those holidays that can present as many opportunities for pain as it does for gratitude because the experience of ‘mothering’ is so ingrained and foundational, and it’s so different for each one of us. As a church, I wish we’d be more sensitive around this day – maybe refrain from having people stand up for a blessing as we consider the ones who stand there with tears in their eyes or the ones who remain seated for a range of reasons that we might never know. Churches are full of people and so they are also full of stories – stories of loss, of strained relationships, infertility, Dads raising children, divorce. Life is hard and mothering is hard, messy work, but maybe a lens on mothering as a spiritual practice that we all have access to could help us here.
So, let me ask you, friend, have you ever nurtured a soul? Ever looked into the eyes of a child and made sure that they felt seen and heard? Have you made a plan or given your time or stayed up until a kid came home? Have you taught a lesson that was born out of love? Have you provided sustenance in the form of a meal or a conversation that just kind of stuck into the life of another person? Have you provided welcome with a greeting, a smile, or a home? Have you worried over someone, given them to God in the form of prayer or a whispered name, many times over? If you answered yes to any of these questions, thank you, friend, and Happy Mother’s Day. And if you have received this kind of persistent, gracious care from your mother or some other mothering person, maybe this week is a good time to think about this source of this love and be grateful for it and find a way to express that gratitude in some way.
As I look back on my own journey as a mother, I find myself amazed at the privilege I have of helping two beautiful people to grow right from the start, even if I did make many mistakes along the way. We learned quite a lot in those years that we shared together, including grace, and to see both of my incredible grown kids happy and flourishing in the world is something I am profoundly grateful for. On this side of this part of parenting, I find that the pale pink, dainty flowers, and porcelain teacups which have come to represent Mother’s Day simply do not equal or approximate what I now know is the fierce, dedicated, ordained vocation of motherhood. I’ve sometimes thought Mother’s Day cards should be streaked with dirt, be decorated with battle scars, and should shine with a supernatural fury, because mothering at its best just does not quit. Mothering stays up late, it runs to help. Mothering holds people accountable, holds intentions in her heart and in her body. Mothering uses the very substance of what she is to nurture and give life and growth to another human. Wow. In her book Wholehearted Faith, the late Rachel Held Evans compared mothering to a sacrament, where we say over and over to our dear ones, “this is my body, given for you.” And as author Kelly Corrigan says in her memoir, Glitter and Glue, “… it occurs to me that maybe the reason my mother was so exhausted all the time wasn’t because she was doing so much, but because she was feeling so much.”
Well, these two quotes together kind of crystallize mothering for me. They put a lens on the profound sacredness of the practice and make me grateful for the many experiences I have with my own kids, the ones that, like Mary, I treasure in my heart, but also the ways in which I nurture and pour into the lives of my music students and a few other people here in the second half of my life. I find myself so grateful for my own mother, too, her many sacrifices and the hard-fought lessons of grace and service that she put into me. And I’m grateful for the people who mother me today, yes, even at my age, people like my friend Isabel, and anyone, really, who takes the time to see me, love me, and call me higher. Because that’s what it’s all about isn’t it, friends? The best mothering is a reflection and continuing of the ultimate mothering that we receive from our God who is persistent, who stays up late, who gives and nurtures life out of God’s own substance, who fiercely protects and guides and then gives us freedom to go, all the while making a home for us. Our God who is our home and our food and our growth, who, thanks be to God, is the very best mother we could ever ask for.
Thanks so much for listening today, friends. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. Thanks for sharing, rating, reviewing, and subscribing to this podcast as all of that helps more people to find us and I truly appreciate that, so thanks. If you’d like to support Raised Catholic financially by throwing a few bucks my way, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with lots of resources about how to engage with this topic more deeply for yourself, so do check all of that out. For now, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Oh God, as it says in the Book of Deuteronomy, you’re like an eagle who stirs up her nest, who hovers over your young, who spreads out her wings to catch us, and who carries us in her pinions. You are the best of mothers who never leaves us nor forsakes us. We thank you for your mothering, we thank you for our mothers and we ask you to help us to grow more fully into our own mothering as we go, always remembering the reflection of you that we are called to be in the world.
In the name of Jesus and wrapped in the mantle of His Mother, Mary, we pray, amen.
Well, thanks so much for listening, friends. Happy Mother’s Day, and I’ll see you next time.
This week we’re exploring the spiritual practice of mothering, a practice that is accessible to all humans as we undergo to care for others and help them grow. We’ll examine references in the Bible to God as mother, and look to God’s example to lead us forward in the necessary and holy work of mothering and being mothered, too.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or on my blog. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. Song: A Mother Never Rests, by Lori McKenna
2. Scriptural references to God as mother, from womensordination.org
3. Song: Mary, by Patty Griffin
4. Writer Laura Fanucci, writing @thismessygrace and on her blog, Mothering Spirit: Everyday Parenting as Spiritual Practice
5. Raised Catholic episode: Mother Mary
6. Podcast: Abiding Together, part 1 of a 4-part series on spiritual motherhood
7. Song: Ave Maria by Franz Biebl, performed by Chanticleer
8. Memoir: Looking for Mary (The Blessed Mother and Me), by Beverly Donofrio
9. Memoir: Glitter and Glue, by Kelly Corrigan
10. Children’s Book: What is God Like?, by Rachel Held Evans and Matthew Paul Turner