this is what mothering looks like. . .
a few years ago, maybe many years ago, i wrote something of a proclamation on mothering, the verb. in my feisty little voice, i argued — as vehemently as a girl taught to be polite could argue –– that, gosh darn it, mothering was not an art that belonged exclusively to those who happen to have pushed a wee squawker from her womb, nor only to those who’ve clutched babies to her bosom, anatomically-aligned attachments. i argued that we should be honoring not simply the noun — those who are mothers — but the verb — those who mother.
it’s an all-inclusive distinction, one i tried to describe thusly:
yes, every last someone who has stroked a brow, wiped a tear, dabbed chocolate off a little cheek, fluffed a pillow, tucked in the covers, whispered bedtime prayers, set an extra place at the table, stretched a meatloaf, picked the peas out of the pasta salad, kissed a bloody knee, kept a retching belly from falling in the toilet bowl.
yes, every pair of arms that’s lifted a dead-weight child in the pool, played red rover till the cows came home, bent half-over to push a kid on training wheels around and round the block, turned the pages of good night moon so many times you find yourself chanting good night to the mittens when no one’s in the room.
you get the point.
i believe it as firmly as i believe anything. and in fact, in the many hours i’ve spent curled in my window seat in recent days, i found myself with nose in a book that argues — again, vehemently yet politely — that we are missing out on a whole lot of God if we think of God only as a white-bearded fellow perched on a throne with a sword and a scepter, a God as king, imperial ruler and judge, as wielder of power, and slayer of sinners. (for the record, that has never been my image of God, and i admit to images, being of the simple kind who need pictures to go along with my favorite passages. and the picture i saw is a tender God, one with arms that reach, and a palm that cradles, or presses against the small of my back. and as i’ve grown and deepened into the mystery, i now sense God without image at all. i sense God in the shiver that runs up my spine when i encounter the beautiful or the unbearably tender, and i find God in the interplay — the ineffable force — that animates hearts and draws us — any of us, all of us — into each other.)
the book i’ve been reading — She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, by Elizabeth A. Johnson , a brave and brilliant theologian who happens to be a roman catholic nun –– says this:
“God is that on which you lean your heart, that on which your heart depends, ‘that to which your heart clings and entrusts itself,’ in Martin Luther’s memorable phrase.”
the truth is, it’s all mystery, and we reach for metaphor so our little minds can find something to seize. how do you put words to the inexplicable, the unknowable? you simply know what you know.
but in considering a God imbued with the feminine, a God more mother-like, a God, as johnson writes, of “gentleness and compassion, unconditional love, reverence and care for the weak, sensitivity, a desire not to dominate but to be an intimate companion and friend,” i scan the landscape of my recent days, and i spell out this litany of what mothering — the verb that belongs to all who employ tender loving empathies and unending expression of gentle kindness — looks like:
mothering is the knock at the door on a rainy morning, not long after dawn, and the friend who is standing there with a handful of field-plucked flowers and a soggy brown bag of parsley and spinach and ramps, foods she grabbed from the farmer’s market, knowing from her own daughter’s deadly cancer that these are the foods that should fuel me. and she knew without asking how very much i wished i could get to the market, though i couldn’t quite yet.
mothering is my beloved husband who, every morning, makes certain the feeder is filled with seed and the bird bath fully watered, for he knows the joy i absorb watching the birds flit hither and yon. mothering is the pizza he drove into the city to fetch because it oozes the things i love — spinach and mushrooms and cheese and a heavenly red sauce –– and he is intent on fattening me my way. mothering is the rod stewart and kim carnes tapes he played all morning long to try to convince me the rasp in my so-called voice (paralyzed vocal cord caused by the surgery) was a sexy addition to life here on the homefront.
mothering is the friends who don’t back down, who don’t shy away, who know without asking just when to barge in, and when to stay quiet. and who keep coming back, week after week, willing to walk at a snail’s pace, or pick up a vacuum and suck up the kitchen-floor crumbs that are driving me batty.
mothering is my aunt who tucked a tiny enamel cross in an envelope and scribbled these words on a note card: “hope i’m helping you carry your cross!” and then wrote that as soon as her daughter could drive her up here from cincinnati, she wanted to sit side-by-side under an apple tree “to make your ‘hurts’ hurt less.”
mothering is the courage to go the distance, even when the distance is wholly uncharted and fraught with shadows and plenty of bumps. and what you need more than anything is a friend who won’t cower and run for the hills.
mothering is the way some listen for the fears tucked in an otherwise straightforward sentence, and who don’t shush those hauntings away, but make room for it all, the light, the darkness, the liminal.
mothering is the text message that comes out of nowhere and makes you laugh till the slits in your side tell you to stop. because laughter is always, always, a curative. and it can carry you for hours, the echo of its joy refusing to fade.
mothering is this holy earth unfurling its tight buds and its blossoms into frothy meringues of cumulus white and lavender blue. mothering is the dawn that reminds me again and again that the light will shatter the night. mothering is the papa bird who tucks the seed into mama’s beak, an iteration of kissing i’ll not soon forget.
mothering is without gender, independent of obstetrical status. mothering, quite frankly, is simply another name for “love as you would be loved.”
mothering, quite simply, is what God does.
blessed mothering to all of you who mother and mother and mother –– even if you don’t realize…
birthday blessings to one of the wise women among us, our beloved lamcal, who fetched me from the darkness last night, and plunked me into a circle of pure and undeniable love, even when i wasn’t sure i was up for an outing. she’d sensed it might do my soul wonders, despite my bodily wobbles and squeaks, and she was oh so very very right on the money. i sat last night in a circle of holy holy pilgrims, who poured out their hearts and their blessings. and sent me forth. happy birthday, wise one….
lest you miss it, here’s the week’s query: tell a story of a time you were so deeply mothered — perhaps by an unlikely motherer — you’ve never forgotten.
and i’m leaving you this. because it’s glorious:
Go Deeper than Love
Go deeper than love, for the soul has greater depths,
love is like the grass, but the heart is deep wild rock
molten, yet dense and permanent.
Go down to your deep old heart, and lose sight of yourself.
And lose sight of me, the me whom you turbulently loved.
Let us lose sight of ourselves, and break the mirrors.
For the fierce curve of our lives is moving again to the depths
out of sight, in the deep living heart.
~ D.H. Lawrence ~
p.s. even though the picture above is overt mothering with a literal mother cradling her literal baby (moi and my firstborn, the law professor) i had to reach for it today, because that tenderness, that love, is the very thing fueling me right now, as i reach out of these past upturned weeks and set my sights fervently, fiercely, on doing everything i can to keep on loving my boys –– and all of this life –– with every ounce of tender lovingness i can squeeze out of me…..so help me, MotherGod….