The extraordinary richness of what-it-is-to-be-human can be veiled by its normality. Wisdom is often in noticing things so ordinary that they escape notice. Such as motherhood.
We should observe Mother’s Day if for no other reason than it prompts us to look again at something right in front of us. By an unalterable if somewhat surprising design of nature, everyone has a mother. To say that the role of mothers is no accident but rather something chalked out by nature is, well, just the beginning. Something so universal, so specific, and so consequential can only be the fruit of intentionality. And this means there are treasures of goodness hidden within, waiting to blossom.
The reality of motherhood points right to the heart of what it is to be human—if we have eyes to see. But it’s easy to miss, both by mother and mothered. Here is no peripheral occupation for the one, nor peripheral formative agency for the other. Mothering touches and in a sense actualizes the deepest identity of a woman, and being mothered, along with being fathered, touches and in a sense actualizes the deepest identity of a son or daughter.
Unfortunately, our recognition of mothers these days can feel a bit like, “Hey, thanks Mom, someone had to do it…” I wonder how different it could be if this came from a better place. More than just recognizing the untold sacrifices of mothers, we would honor them in a way that conveys a conviction about the centrality of mothering in human existence.
Human life consists especially in generating or crafting the human good, or virtuous living, in oneself and in others. Mothering names the feminine mode of crafting that noble good in other persons. It is the feminine mode of ‘generosity’ in the full richness of the term. Mothers give biological life; even more they nurture and form whole persons, thus truly giving human life.
We can thus see how mothering is not one task among others a woman does, as fathering is not one task among others a man does. Everything a mother does can be drawn up into her mothering, becoming part of it. Being this unifying and crowning feature sets mothering apart from other occupations or roles a mother might undertake. To honor a mother, then, is not simply to honor something she has done but rather the totality of who she has become—especially in and through her mothering.
Each of us according to our station will have different ways of honoring mothers—our own and others—this Mother’s Day. My thoughts go especially to husbands, who are perhaps best positioned to honor the women who bring the gift of motherhood to all of us. May we grow in wisdom better to see, gratitude better to thank, and virtue better to serve and empower their motherhood. ~ ~ ~
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