Honoring the Maternal by William Klein

This Sunday we celebrated women who helped to make us who we are. I’ve been around long enough to know that some women have difficult relationships with their mothers, but all people – whether realized or unrealized — are in constant search to know what that maternal experience means to them. Some people have been abandoned by their mothers and raised by their grandmothers – the maternal instinct is inherently relayed in a unique way nonetheless.

Those who are fortunate enough to have an intentionally centered, strong, tenacious, spirited woman as a mother can testify to the inexorable power of the maternal. It is written that “there is no love like a mother’s love.” The same could be said for any woman who has identified that maternal within herself and is able to articulate what that means to her.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a strong Jewish mother. At the wedding of Cana, Jesus feels as though his “time has not yet come” to be revealed to people. She does not take no for an answer. She tells the steward, “Do whatever he tells you.”

There is no argument with his mother. He does what she tells him to do. Mary is the instrument. She knows what no other person can know. She knows what her son needs to do, and he implicitly accepts her invitation to fulfill her request.

Every child is hesitant about going out into the world, but a mother instinctively knows when to push the bird out of the nest. Mary’s instinct propels the action forward. She initiates the action of Jesus’ revelation of who he is. She knew him better than any other person. She watched him develop into his personhood. She knew his human strengths and weaknesses in his misgivings about what he should do or not do and when to do it. She is the truest mirror for her son. She can see the things that others may miss. 

When I sit and reflect on my relationship with my mother, she was the one who gave me the courage to speak up. She was the one who called out my misgivings and redirected me to consider a perspective I hadn’t considered to move forward with certainty.

Mary’s own willingness to trust in the spirit to make a move empowers us to have faith in saying “yes,” to seemingly impossible situations. It is this instinct that is attuned to the will of the Spirit. The Catholic Church’s reverence of Mary comes from the fact that it is honoring the maternal part that is needed in the fulfillment of a person’s humanity.

The maternal experience gives us peace and comfort and helps us to overcome that which stands in the way of our becoming who we are meant to be. We constantly see this experience of the maternal that can only be found in the spirit of a strong woman. It was no mistake that after the resurrection, Mary Magdalene is the first one to whom Jesus shows himself.

Revealing his secret to a woman has significant merit. His magnificent act is identified by the pure expression of a woman. It is a nod to the maternal expression that is uniquely a part of womanhood. The patriarchal expression of society must accept the truth from a woman that the conquered servant has risen from the dead. It elevates the legitimacy of status of a woman in the group. It also reminds us that of the Magnificat. Mary’s “yes” to the world was a yes for humanity and the fulfillment of a covenant to make known God’s ways to the world.

Dr. Donald Kalsched in his book, “The Inner World of Trauma,” writes about a young woman who was abused by her father every Sunday when her mother went to church. The woman endured this sexual abuse for a long period of time. To get through it she used to have an out of body experience, so she could separate herself from the trauma to survive. In therapy one day Kalsched asks her, “I wonder where you went during that time.” She tearfully revealed she went into the arms of a loving mother. This tragic but powerful story points to the idea that we all want to be in the loving arms of our mothers. We are all seeking the maternal to protect us and hold us during difficult times.

I heard another story of a woman reporter who was a new mother. When she encountered an orphan who was dying of starvation, her immediate response was to breastfeed the child. She saved the child’s life and took the child in. In exercising this heroic act, a new bond was initiated.

The maternal is the very lifeblood of our being. It is the umbilical cord that connects us to the essence of love itself and sustains our spiritual foundations with our own willingness to say “yes” to life.

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