The year I wrote my high school English departmental exam, one of the options for the expository essay was to write about a personal hero. One could choose any person they wanted and then write about the qualities that person possessed that made them a hero to the writer. I chose to write about my mother.
I told the story of how my Mom had had a stroke a couple years before, the damage that it had caused to her body, and how she was virtually paralysed on one side. I recounted the months in hospital, the challenges of rehabilitation, but most of all, her sheer determination to overcome these new obstacles in her life. I shared about how she had become an inspiration to others after her release from hospital as they would see her out walking on the by-pass road, getting stronger every day, and the limp becoming less noticeable over time. I concluded that she inspired me to persevere because there are predicaments we will face in life where the easy road is not an option. She inspired me to work hard because overcoming is hard work.
I was rather proud of my essay. I don’t recall the content of any other essays I wrote that year, so it must have made an impression on me. I even thought that I must have been extra clever in choosing my mother as the subject of my essay, after all, how many others would have such stories to tell about their mothers? I came to realise that the answer to that question was “many.” In a conversation with an English teacher at some point after writing this exam, I was told that over 80% of students choosing the hero option for their essay wrote about their mothers as their personal hero.
Apparently, mothers are rather popular.
Not all people can appreciate what we celebrate on Mother’s Day. Personal experiences vary, and some people cannot celebrate motherhood in the way that they might like to. Perhaps the relationship never existed, or bitterness and cruelty replaced what should have been love and nurture. Still others have been robbed of the opportunity to be mothers themselves, possibly leading them to a place of pain and brokenness. Whatever the cause, it is possible that the pain actually comes out of a place of longing for the ideal of motherhood. Longing for the comfort of being mothered. Longing to comfort others as mother.
The first part of today’s Gospel lesson addresses this kind of longing in the human heart. Jesus actually sounds motherly as he comforts his disciples and tells them that he will go ahead of them to prepare a place for them so that they can be together. It should not sound surprising that Jesus would use motherly images; such images abound in Scripture. One of the very first descriptions of God in Genesis, where the Spirit of God hovers over the waters, makes one think of the nurturing and protectiveness of a mother. Further to that, God is always promising to go ahead of us and promising to be with us.
Could it be that what we long for in our experience of motherhood is actually a reflection of what we long for in God? Is it not the desire of every heart to know that preparations have been made and that we will be welcomed when we arrive? We all want to belong. We all want to fulfill our purpose.
The Good News that we hear in John’s Gospel is that through Jesus, all can be in God’s presence and that because of him, all is set right, and we can truly know who we were created to be. Like the ideal mother, God loves us and cares for us in all parts of our lives, and in his presence, we are home.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Photo credit: Noel Wygiera. This photo was taken at a location in Mount Zion that tradition identifies as the "Upper Room" where Jesus and his disciples shared their last Passover meal together, the Last Supper in which the sacrament of communion was instituted. This pillar crown portrays an Egyptian motif of a mother pelican allowing her young to eat the flesh of her breast; giving up her life that her offspring might live. Early Christians adopted this image as a symbol for Christ in the Eucharist.