[It’s Mother’s Day! So I’m taking a brief break from the series I’ve been blogging about to honor mom-hood!]
Those of us who have been blessed with wonderful mothers know that motherhood is a beautiful thing. Even those who have not been so lucky know a longing in their hearts for the love of a mother. Motherhood is one of the greatest gifts God has given to us.
We know instinctively and experientially that motherhood is wonderful.
But let’s also take a moment to approach the topic from a more intellectual standpoint, asking, “Why is motherhood so important?”.
What’s so great about motherhood?
As always… I love to quote C.S. Lewis:
“[Christianity] does not tell of a human search for God at all, but of something done by God for, to, and about Man. And the way in which it is done is selective, undemocratic, to the highest degree. After the knowledge of God had been universally lost or obscured, one man from the whole earth (Abraham) is picked out. He is separated (miserably enough, we may suppose) from his natural surroundings, sent into a strange country, and made the ancestor of a nation who are to carry the knowledge of the true God. Within this nation there is further selection: some die in the desert, some remain behind in Babylon. There is further selection still. The process grows narrower and narrower, sharpens at last into one small bright point like the head of a spear. It is a Jewish girl at her prayers. All humanity (so far as concerns its redemption) has narrowed to that.” (Miracles; ch. 14)
In another essay – “Priestesses In the Church?” – Lewis says this about Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement to her that she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit:
“All salvation depends on the decision which she made in the words Ecce ancilla; she is united in nine months’ inconceivable intimacy with the eternal Word…”
“Ecce ancilla Domini” is Latin for “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” – the words Mary spoke in response to the angel (Luke 1:38). Lewis is saying that at that moment, the redemption of humanity hinged upon her willingness to submit her life to the will of the Father: to allow him to conceive within her the life that would redeem the world.
Mary is amazing!
Protestants and Evangelicals (to our detriment) don’t spend a lot of time talking about the good aspects of Catholicism. One thing I love about Catholicism is it brings a deep appreciation for the significance of what Mary did here.
I believe that what Mary did is a perfect model of our most fundamental calling as human beings. Ultimately as humans, we are creatures, not creators; we are receivers, not givers; we are the initiated, not initiators; and we are impregnated, not impregnators.
You see, God has a perfect will. That will is to plan, initiate, and accomplish goodness for all, to bring Himself glory. But the plan goes through us. His will is to “impregnate” us with his goodness, that we may conceive, bear, and give birth to more and more goodness. In this sense, C.S. Lewis is right when he says, “What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it.” (That Hideous Strength, p. 316)
But we may refuse! We may notice that his plan to conceive goodness in and through us is very inconvenient for us. It involves many long months of pain, sickness and fatigue. And it culminates in the terrible pains of labor (of which perhaps some women, but nearly all men are rightly terrified!).
The conception received by Mary was perhaps more inconvenient than that of any other mother. She could have been given the death penalty simply for being found to be pregnant, not to mention all the difficulties of having the crucified Lord of the Universe as your son. Simeon spoke rightly when he said, “And a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
But afterward comes the birth! “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.” (John 16:21) And so, the process of impregnation, labor and birth mirrors the gospel story itself: The source of life is “buried” in the “tomb” of the womb; the process is painful, and all may seem lost and hopeless, but ultimately, new life is born.
And so, motherhood is amazing!
Mary has, then, become an example to us of the response that we are all called to have to God’s working in and through our lives, that he may conceive salvation and redemption in this world.
And every loving mother is a local and specific example to her own family of that same kind of vulnerable, generous, non-passive submission to the will of God: A willingness to have her whole life taken out of her hands and given over to the purpose of producing a new life. Thanks mom!
(p.s. – in writing this post, I found this awesome short essay about the Annunciation and its significance. Check it out if you’re interested!)