Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Mysterious Tapestry of Motherhood

Annunciation Tapestry

Dear Parish Faithful and Friends in Christ,

Christ is Risen!

In anticipation of Mother’s Day on Sunday, I would like to share some insights from a fine article I just read in a journal entitled The Bible Today, a bi-monthly periodical wherein biblical scholars offer excellent short articles based on a wide variety of scriptural themes based on both the Old and New Testaments. The newest issue which I just received in the mail is subtitled “Mothers of the Bible.” The opening article is simply titled “Mothers in Scripture.” It is written by Mary Ann Nicholls who, in addition to having a MDiv, is currently “the Spiritual Care Coordinator for Asera Hospice Care in Dubois, PA.” She has been married for thirty-eight years and has three daughters and two granddaughters. After an opening reminiscence of time shared with her own mother viewing a marvelous tapestry at the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, she writes the following:

This  memory leads me to understand how motherhood is also a tapestry of life.  Motherhood rarely takes a charted course, seldom follows a predictable schedule, and never escapes the knots of heartache, the broken threads of disappointment, or the mismatched colors of fear and resolve.  The richest of talent and expertise can result in discarded remains; the most inexperienced can achieve through inspiration and dedication the most beautiful of finished pieces.

… Both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures provide us with mothers of all types – those who thought they had it right but were a bit out of kilter, those who needed to just begin anew because their threads were so twisted, and those women who put their efforts in the hands of God and listened to the rhythm of the weave as they grew into the grace of motherhood.

What really prepares a woman for motherhood?  All mothers begin virginally, recognizing their own poverty against the power and the mystery of life as holy, but rarely do we fully understand the potential for salvation this vocation holds for us or the child we bear.  As a result we all reach moments when we think we are acting for the right reason but learn through hindsight that our decisions and actions regarding our children needed better guidance.  Whether it be at cribside, the soccer field, a school play, the kitchen table, or over a load of dirty dishes, every mother wishes there was a chance for a “do-over” at one time or another. Repentance and reconciliation are part of every mother/child relationship.  
(p. 146-147)

The author then examines a host of scriptural examples of good and bad motherhood, as well as those somewhere in between.  She actually begins with this latter group, offering two examples of “well-intentioned mothers” who somehow managed to end up with warped results.  This section is entitled “The Warped Loom.”  If you would like to pursuit these biblical examples you will be able to read about Rebecca, the mother of Esau and Jacob at Gen. 27:5-45.  From the New Testament, she writes of the unnamed mother of the sons of Zebedee, James and John, found in Matt. 20:20-25.

Under the heading of “Get the Ripper; Begin Again,” we read of mothers who “really have their threads twisted.”  This includes the mother who was willing to allow Solomon to cut the child in two that she falsely claimed was her own (I Kings 3:16-27).  And there is also Herodias, the mother of Salome, who told her daughter to ask for the head of St. John the Baptist on a platter after she enticed the weak King Herod with her dancing (Matt. 14:1-12)  Of these mothers, Nicholls further writes:


There were gaps in their maternal fabric.  Their children suffered from their inadequacies; the tapestries that began as life-giving became the threads of funeral shrouds. (p. 148)

Finally, in a section entitled “The Weaver in the Hands of God,” we hear of those grace-filled women who “rose beyond the limitations of their humanity and took on the miracle of life to change the world through the gift of life.”  And yet this was “not without suffering and sorrow, disappointment and fear.” (p. 149)

The wonderful examples given here for your study and meditation are:

  • The mother of Moses, especially as described in Exod. 2:1-10, and her decision to give away Moses in order to spare his life.
  • Hannah, the barren woman who promised to dedicate her son to God if she could have a son, found in I Sam. 1:9-2:10.
  • Lois and Eunice, the mother and grandmother of Timothy, St. Paul’s great assistant in the apostolic life, who nurtured Timothy in the study of the Scriptures, found in II Tim. 1:5.
  • And, of course, the two mothers – and cousins – Mary and Elizabeth, found throughout Lk. 1-2.

Again, you may want to read these passages through on your own, as the Scriptures are rich in depicting motherhood from a variety of perspectives. In fact, it is precisely in the Bible that you will not find sentimental and basically unrealistic depictions of mothers.  In the Bible, you will find women struggling to discern the word of God and having to overcome unbelievably difficult obstacles within a patriarchal culture in order to arrive at their sacred vocations with their humanity profoundly enhanced by the grace of God.  Yet, from the examples provided by this article, some women fail in that vocation.  Nothing is guaranteed.  Life is filled with choices, as well as with circumstances that are beyond our control, and which make the right decisions so difficult to make.   It is through prayer that we seek the wisdom that comes from God; thank God for the fruitfulness of life that flows from choices that reflect that wisdom; and repent and seek forgiveness from our careless choices, so that we can begin anew.

Mary Ann Nicholls concludes her fine article with these final reflections:


Thus Scripture shows the reader that motherhood takes many forms and brings forth life in a variety of ways.  Foster mothers, adoptive mothers, those who biologically bear a child through the birth canal, even those who serve as mentors and teachers – all share in the tapestry of motherhood they weave as a commitment to the life that is given them without knowing much about where it will lead or what it will entail; the thread begins with the mystery of God breaking into one person’s life to bring forth another’s.  Flawed and perfected, the design of God’s tapestry of motherhood weaves the way of relationship of an individual to her child, to her vocation, and to the covenant with her God, a lasting narrative of life. (p. 150)

May all of our mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, and any other forms of motherhood be blessed!

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