And Why We Must Keep It—Wholly
Leighton B. U.Grey KC
Though the modern tradition of Mother’s Day is only about a century old, various cultures throughout history have set aside time to pay homage to mothers. The earliest Mother’s Day celebrations can be traced back to the Spring festivals of Ancient Greece, honouring Rhea, the mother of Zeus. The Romans called their version of the event “Hilaria”, celebrated on the Ides of March via offerings in the temple of Cybele, the mother of gods. For Christians, this celebration involves paying homage maternity through the lens of God’s revelation and is at the very heart of our faith.
Early Christians celebrated the festival on the fourth Sunday in Lent in honour of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ. In England, King Henry III (1216-39) officially established the first “Mothering Sunday” to commemorate the church as the symbolic religious mother. In 17th century England, the festival was expanded to include all mothers with “Mothering Sunday” or “Mid-Lent Sunday”,celebrated on the 4th Sunday in Lent, which is of course the 40 day period leading up to Easter. Besides attending church services in honour of Mary, children returned home with gifts, flowers,and special Mothering Day cakes that were important parts of the celebration. When Mothering Day was originally kept in England, parishioners delivered gifts to the church where they were baptized. They would also bring gifts such as cakes to their mothers. These became known as “Simnel Cakes”, marked with a figure of Christ orMary to show their religious significance. Gradually, the custom was applied to honouring our own mothers as well. However, the religious concept of Mothering Day was emphasized throughout that period of European history.
The foundation for the most recent edition of Mother’s Day is fairly well known. American philanthropist Anna Jarvis (1864-1948) originated Mother’s Day to honour her own mother, who died on 9 May 1905. Jarvis initiated a campaign leading to are solution passed by U.S. Congress on 10 May 1913, making the second Sunday each May a national holiday “dedicated to the memory of the best mother in the world—your mother.” The following year, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation designating the second Sunday each May as “Mother’s Day”. This contemporary tradition was quickly adopted in Canada, prompting Pastor George Kerry of the Central Methodist Church in Calgary to deliver a famously touching sermon on Alberta’s own inaugural Mother’s Day.
The Christian connection with and influence in establishment of Mother’s Day is indubitable. The movement began in the Methodist-Episcopalian Church through the efforts of Jarvis, and it had to be celebrated on a Sunday. It was by design that the early way of keeping Mother’s Day in the 20th century would revive and honour the English Mothering Day rites, including Sunday attendance at the church of one’s baptism. As we know, gradually, more commercial sentiments were added, such as flowers, gifts, greeting cards,candy, and the like. But this in no wayne gates the Christian tradition at the core of Mother’s Day, or prevents us from choosing to observe the day in a way that is closely connected to profession of our Faith.
Our scriptural narrative discloses the inclusion of mothers in God’s divine purposes from creation to new creation. That great project is both unsustainable and unimaginable without mothers giving birth to mankind to cultivate God’s good creation. Indeed,God’s first command to us was made in Eden, with the exhortation to go forth,be fruitful, and to multiply. Such propagation is necessarily through the maternal womb, the very incubus for all humanity. Even after the first of us tarnished the goodness, beauty, and simplicity of that plan through disobedience and the Fall of Eden, God never gave up on Eve or the plan.
God’s exaltation of mothers is consistent throughout the Bible. God could have chosen a different person to lead the Exodus than a man who was saved by the protective intuition, faith, and wisdom of his mother. God could have communicated the necessity of humbly bold faith through someone other than the persistent mother from Syrophoenicia, whose fierce commitment to her daughter prompted Christ to praise her faith and heal her daughter (see Matt. 15:28). It is herbold humility—both kneeling at Christ’s feet but also expecting God to be who God is, just as in the psalmists laments (Ps.42)—that exemplifies the kind of faith which pleases God. Her faith, like that of so many others in the Gospels, sets the stage for Christ’s restoration of God’s good creation.
The fact that God freely chose to communicate to and accomplish the divine plan through motherhood tells us that the imago Dei in mothers is expressed by their participation in building God’s Kingdom. The plan to redeem an errantand corrupted creation by entering into it as the Word made flesh took shape when God became human in the person of Jesus Christ—the essential act enabling our redemption. Genesis 3:15 is often called the protoevangelium, or “pre-gospel.” In it, God says to Eve that the tempter will attack her and her offspring—but that her Son would crush the enemy’s head.
God could have chosen to redeem the world in any way aligned with his omnipotent divinity, but selected incarnation. He chose to invite Mary, a poor young Jewish woman, to participate in that process. The triune God of Heaven chose the peasant girl Mary of Nazareth to be the mother of Jesus, the eternal and only begotten Son. From her body, God took flesh. From her milk, God received sustenance. Under her guidance, God the Son grew in wisdom and favour with his Father and fellow men (Luke 2:52). The body and soul investment of her motherhood was indispensable to a divine redemptive plan realized in Jesus the Messiah—the Son of God and Son of Mary.
Motherhood is not something we as Christians should regard as a mere cultural or familial issue. Motherhood is the vehicle through which God chose to redeem the world. Women and mothers are thus not ancillary to Christianity; they are instead at the very heart of the story. Seen in this light,motherhood is a Christian act. Not only do we give thanks to God for our very lives, made possible by our mothers, but we also praise God for accepting Mary’s tenacious faith—and designating her body to bear the fount of eternal life.
Mothers: God honours you. The silent sacrifices that no one else sees—of your body, soul, and spirit—are seen and celebrated by your Father in Heaven. These are the very ingredients the Lord uses to accomplish his ongoing reconciliation of all things. To honour or remember our mothers on just one particular day each year, without also doing so in everyday living, would of course be wrong.
The secular world tries to repair such failure to always honour our parents by dedicating a singular Sunday to mothers.
As Christians, we are to honour our parents at all times, just as Jesus did.
My own mother, Lorraine, turned 79 years of age on the 2nd of May. Her birthday got me thinking about how I could possibly honour her on this “Mothering Day”? Last year, upon my father’s passing, I eulogized him by penning “Five Lessons From My Father”. This year, I decided to share Five Gifts From My Mother:
(1) Life—What a blessing it is just to be alive. To breathe, to think, to move about, to work,to play, to be part of a family, to have friendships, and most of all, to give thanks and praise to God for it all. Just like everyone else, without my mother, I simply would not be here. Everything I have written, everything I have done, all of the clients I have helped, the law firm that employs many great people, my own children, and yes—even GreyMatter—only exist because my mother bore great physical pain and emotional strain just to birth me. In a world where the number one killer of human beings is now abortion, that is no small thing. My mother loved me before I was ever born,and has never stopped, even though I have not always honoured her in the way that she deserves, in the way that God commands, or which Jesus demonstrated for us;
(2) Classical Music—My mother has always loved classical music and the great hymns. This comes quite naturally to Lutherans, since the founder of our church was an audiophile. Luther sang, wrote many hymns, and inducted congregational singing into liturgy. Mom taught herself to play the organ 50 years ago and has continued playing these hymns ever since. My father never shared this love for the classics, nor do any of my four siblings. I was mom’s fourth child, the odd one, a mostly non-verbal pre-schooler who learned to read from comic books, the English dictionary, the Bible, and a set of used World Book Encyclopedias that ended at 1969. For a time, I actually wondered whether the practice of recording human knowledge was actually carried forward into the 1970’s! I spoke with a terrible stutter and so spent more time thinking than talking. I was taunted mercilessly and learned that it was safer to live inside my own mind palace than to risk conversation with fellow Homo sapiens. We had little money and so my mother had to be quite frugal. She stretched dollars like the elastic bands that banks once used to bundle them. I remember a promotion that Safeway had back in the 1970’s whereby customers could get an LP record from a collection of great composers if they spent a certain amount on groceries. Since we had a family of 7 with 4 growing boys, there was never any trouble with cresting this threshold. I will never forget being in Safeway with my mother, helping her to select the next record album. Sometimes, she even let me do it. We would bring them home and listen for hours: Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Haydn,Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Liszt, Mendelssohn, and on and on. I had such a busy mind that I grew to love the calm that these inspired composers granted through their musical genius. Anyone who has listened to Handel’s Messiah, for example, with its libretto drawn from the Book of Isaiah,understands that such majesty can only come from God. To this day, I still delight in classical music and have it always on in my office while working. In fact, I am listening to Bach as I write this. It is only through my mother that I received this incredibly sustaining gift, and I shall never listen to classical music without instantly thinking of my mother;
(3) Charity—My mother is frugal, but she was never cheap. She taught me the value of Christian charity,and to be generous whenever and wherever possible. Our Lord tells us that it is better to give than to receive, and my mother was always this way. She worked at sewing our clothes. She would go without to ensure that we had everything we needed, from home-made pizza, to shoes, to birthday cakes with spare change baked inside. She also volunteered in the church, teaching Sunday School, serving in executive roleson church council, transporting elderly and infirm congregants to and from Sunday service, and tithing for the offering plate. When I left home to attend Camrose Lutheran College at barely 17 years of age, it was my first time being away from my parents. There was an active party life on campus into which I was quickly initiated and then engulfed. Within a short time, I had squandered all of the money I saved during the previous Summer. I did not have any more $ for groceries. During one two week period in the dead of Winter, I lived on a diet of one Chef Boyardee can of Beefaroni and a slice of bread per day. When that $ ran out, I was living on Crunchie chocolate bars. When my mother discovered my predicament, she instantly began sending me weekly care packages filled with nutritious food. She met me with charity rather than chastisement. She did not blame or punish me. She just loved me so much that she wanted me to be able to eat and to pursue my education, despite my evident stupidity. Mothers have this innate,God-like ability to love their children unconditionally, no matter how far they stray from the straight path;
(4) Christian Education—Those of us raised in the Lutheran church must study. Martin Luther is without peer asa Protestant theologian. He was a gifted and prolific scholar. When I read the brilliant Eric Metaxas biography of Luther in preparation for my interview withEric earlier this year, I was astonished by the depth and breadth of Luther’s scholarship. He actually translated the very first German Bible, which is still being published and read today. My mother gifted to me an introduction to Lutheran theology and its discipline. Luther was, after all, an Augustinian monk prior to authoring the Reformation which would reshape Christendom, both within and without the church. My mother consulted her Bible daily, read theological texts, digested daily devotionals,and participated in Bible groups. She was a fine example of Christian devotion to study and to the Word. In my turn, Sunday school, three years of confirmation, and then two years of study at Lutheran college all helped formthe directing mind of GreyMatter. The eclectic nature of our guests and the variety of topics we address on the showare in no small part due to the intense curiosity about the world of ideas with which I was imbued from a very young age. I still consume 2-3 books each week, maintain a full-time law practice,host the podcast, and most recently have written a book of essays—some of which are featured in our weekly commentaries. That level of dedication to study would not exist without my Christian education, which I owe entirely to the influence of my mother. But as priceless as this was and is, it is still not her greatest gift to me;
(5) Faith & The Power of Prayer—One of the earliest memories I have of my mother is her saying nightly prayers with myself and my younger brother,with whom I shared a bedroom. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep; if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” That was the very first prayer we learned to recite. Later, we also memorized and nightly prayed the 23rd Psalm:
And of course, there was the Lord’s Prayer,recited at home, at church, and even at school.
We also said grace at every meal. But more than these traditional prayers, we were taught to take everything to God in prayer, and to have faith that He would listen. One shining memory of my boyhood is the time when The Billy Graham Crusade came to Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. I had seen Crusades like this on television many times, and was even named after an evangelist on the crusade, named “Leighton”Ford. The memory of being in that stadium on a bright sunny day, with 60,000 people praying together is indelibly emblazoned on my memory. There is great power in prayer that only the faithful get to experience, which is precisely why we are all constantly driven to share it with others. This is the very essence of evangelism. It is this sharing of the Holy Spirit which founded, built, and sustains all of Christianity. The power of prayer is isat once inscrutable, inspirational, aspirational, restorative, comforting, and especially—real. My mother taught us that Faith led prayer makes real changes in our own lives and in those around us. It gets us through tough times and makes us grateful for all that is good about our lives. Picture if you can her look of astonishment when mom heard my eldest son, Lexton, recite the Lord’s Prayer at only 2 years of age; to know that the gift of faithful prayer that she shared with us had been bequeathed to her progeny.
If you are a thinking person, then you can seethe evil forces at work to destroy Mother’s Day and even motherhood itself. It is a concept far too exclusive and limiting for the left. TheWoke cult holds that if we celebrate one group, class or person, then we risk offending everyone else, especially their chosen disadvantaged intersectional communities (LGBTQA+, BIPOC, etc.). Put another way, we cannot give mothers a trophy without aggrieving the rest of humanity.
But the point of is that mothers deserve to be honoured. They are special. They are unique. They are praiseworthy, even before God. We do not demean childless women by celebrating those who bravely undertook the long, arduous path of motherhood. We do not disgrace anyone when we exalt others; we simply celebrate individual human beings.
My appeal to churches, pastors, politicians,and all those who are pressured to repeal Mother’s Day traditions is this: do not succumb to yet another WOKE assault based upon victimhood mindsets or pretended concerns for social justice. Celebrate Mothers on 14 May. They are remarkable and laudable. We would do well to practice gratitude for mothers without permitting the self-proclaimed wounded and needy among us to ruin what ought to be a special day for mothers. Let us instead focus upon celebrating maternity and even matriarchy by resisting the temptation to appease those who would denigrate Mother’s Day. Let us give “honour to whom honour is due” (Rom. 13:7b) by celebrating the incredible people in our lives whom we get to call “Mom”.
I pray that what I have shared here will give pause for reflection upon motherhood, upon some of your own cherished experiences, upon the continuing cultural relevance of Mothering Day, and most of all, why we must at all events keep it—wholly.