The first time I realized that August 15 was the feast day of St. Mary (or as I like to say, “Jesus’ Mom”) I was sharing a hospital room adjacent to the NICU with another postpartum woman. She was praying a special novena that day for her son who was, she hoped, turning a corner in his ability to breathe on his own. I was a wide-eyed mess of maternal hormones, desperately seeking answers to why my newborn baby daughter suddenly spiked a fever. She was receiving several courses of antibiotics and seemed to be stabilizing. At least, I hoped and prayed that she was. She looked huge at nearly 8 pounds next to all the preemies. I would hold her, sitting beside her plexiglass bassinette, rocking her and trying to learn to nurse and bond in this fishbowl swimming with healthcare workers and other parents who looked both committed to loving, and scared to death. I could relate. What would the day…the week…the month…bring? Would the lives of these children be marked by the surroundings of their birth? What did the future hold for these weakest and smallest of the small? I wasn’t entirely sure where my own prayers were directed. But, I did know one thing: Jesus’ Mom would be very empathetic to this scene.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for God has looked with favor on this lowly servant.
Mothering can make one feel exceptionally lowly. I know this from my own life, and from the lives of those who touch my life every day. Moms are my friends, clients, research participants, colleagues, group leaders, volunteers, teachers, navigators, peer counselors. I have taught Moms, and learned from them. Moms have ministered to me, and I have ministered to them. I have handed off my baby to strangers for her care and keeping, and felt the humble awe when others have shown that same trust towards me. I have been in houses that look like a Pottery Barn catalogue and…literally…some that looked like a barn. Sometimes there is a baby to coo over, and sometimes only memory remains and we cry together. We are all Moms. We are, irrespective of circumstance, a part of something much larger than we are. The human touching divine and the Divine touching human…a powerful space even in the midst of the lowly. Jesus’ Mom knew this maternal experience, intimately.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me. God’s mercy is for all those who trust, from generation to generation.
Sometimes, our generation seems very distant from Jesus’ Mom…and culturally we’ve come a long way, right? The role and status of women has changed. In some ways. The way in which poor strangers are welcomed into unfamiliar places and given compassionate lodging and clean, supportive places to birth children has changed…hasn’t it? In some communities, perhaps. Society is understanding of births that don’t seem traditional, and we extend mercy to Fathers who might question their paternal role, or to Mothers who might make seemingly unbelievable claims about the origin of their pregnancy. Maybe not so much has changed, after all. Its easy to think we know all about our neighbors…or strangers…from the outside looking in. The shepherds…smelly, hard-working farm folk…were the ones to tell Jesus’ Mom and the rest of the world who was listening that this tiny baby she birthed in a barn was God’s own, capable of great and mighty things. She knew that in her heart. She pondered it, deeply. But it was the others…the ones who were with her exactly as they were and saw her exactly as she was…who gave her heart-hopes voice.
“When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. ” –Luke 2:17-19
Historically, I hear Jesus’ Mom extolled for her obedience. But, on this day of tribute I think of St. Mary as the embodiment of motherhood in all its complexity: willing to step into the unknown, to give birth to possibility, to believe a child capable of divine greatness, to be willing to weep at the possibility of great loss.
Jesus’ Mom eventually stands at the foot of the cross on which her Son is brutally killed. She has relevance and wisdom to share even today with Michael Brown’s Mom; with the Moms of both Palestinian and Israeli children who have been victims and casualties of war; with Moms who care for and die from Ebola in countries of West Africa. Jesus’ Mom holds in her own mind and heart the intensity of love, even in the face of death.
Jesus’ Mom isn’t just a figure in history, or on brightly colored candles lit in shrines on her feast day. I think Jesus’ Mom has a message for the pregnant young Moms who are sneered at when walking in to schools or churches or a WIC clinic…but keep right on walking. She greets the gaze of all Moms who ponder what will become of their child, meeting with understanding their daily parenting that is mixed with hope and with fear. She gives us an embodiment, a face and gaze of maternal love, that reflects how to trust in something greater than we are, even when circumstances in our lives are nothing like we imagined they might be.
Today is the day to celebrate Jesus’ Mom. The real Mother’s Day.