by Ms. Katie Higgins '99, Guest Contributor for May
Motherhood is on my mind with Mother’s Day approaching (May 8) and the birth of my second child nearing (May 22, approximate). It seems an especially appropriate time to consider: What does it mean to be a mother? What might it mean to love God as our Mother?
Motherhood is a multi-layered, ever-evolving identity and calling, incarnated by women of all walks of life in a myriad of ways. What does it mean to be a mother? Here are a few of my humble suggestions:
To give birth to someone or something
To nurture and sustain life
To be changed and transformed
To protect and defend
To guide and to model and to learn
To uplift and encourage
To fall short and seek forgiveness
To let go and surrender
To enkindle in another an interconnected love of God, self, others and creation
To be broken open with love
To receive, as gift, grace and love in good measure, pressed down, shaken together,
and running over, daily poured in one’s lap
My own understandings of motherhood are inseparable from my life experiences: from the blessings of love bestowed by my mom and grandmas and mother-in-law to the extended community of women who have nurtured and shaped me as I have grown and matured; from my grace-filled years in ministry and teaching, walking alongside young women in faith and love; from the heartbreak of lost pregnancies and children unknown but fiercely loved; from the unimaginable joy of a healthy pregnancy and the birth of our daughter to the ordinary, daily life of raising a toddler and the loving, life-changing relationship that has unfolded in two and a half years; from my present pregnancy to the last minute preparations to welcome a second child into our home.
Inseparable, too, from these life experiences is God’s tangible presence, woven like a thread throughout each. God-with-me, God-alongside-me, God-within-me, God-mothering-me.
Consider the words of English mystic, St. Julian of Norwich:
As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our mother. I understand three ways of contemplating motherhood in God. The first is the foundation of our nature’s creation; the second is Christ’s taking of our nature, where the motherhood of grace begins; the third is the motherhood at work in the Spirit. And by the same grace, everything is penetrated, in length and in breadth, in height and in depth without end; and it is all one love.
What might it mean for us to name God as Mother? What might it mean to see reflections of God in motherhood as we have known and experienced it? As Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ notes in her recent book, Abounding in Kindness:
Like a mother God gives life to the world, then nurtures and guides it, and continuously desires the growth and flourishing of all... And as mothers rise up to defend their young, so too the maternal love of God is active to defend, seek justice, and heal the suffering whenever people do violence to one another, aggrandize themselves at the expense of the poor, or ruin the ecological well-being of the Earth.
Perhaps this month occasions us with the opportunity to consider and stretch our own understanding of God, and to embrace the divine images which celebrate the goodness and holiness of motherhood. In prayer and daily living, may we give thanks for God our Mother whose maternal love nurtures and guides us toward abundant life. May we imitate God our Mother who steadfastly seeks justice and defends the most vulnerable and in need. Like Julian of Norwich, may we love God our Mother and Father who bestows abounding, penetrating grace on the whole world and recognize that it is all one love.
Perhaps this month God also gives us the grace to consider the women in our lives who have served as maternal figures.
The women who have given us life
The women who have nurtured us
The women who have seen our goodness and reflected it back to us
The women who have modelled courage and strength
The women who have stretched our minds and hearts
The women who have enkindled in us a love of God, others, creation and ourselves
This May, may we give thanks to the women - living and deceased - who have served as mother-figures to us. May we give thanks for our God who is Mother. And for those who identify as mothers in any way, may we see in our motherhood reflections of goodness and holiness, reflections of the divine among us and within us.
For Further Reflection and Prayer
- What life experiences have shaped your understanding of motherhood? Where can you discern God’s presence in these experiences? What have they revealed to you of God?
- What might it mean for you to see God as Mother? What comforts and/or challenges you about this image of God?
- Who are the women in your life who have served as mother-figures? In what tangible ways can you express your gratitude to them this month?