When Does Motherhood Begin?

A quick Google search will reveal a whole host of opinions and definitions of the miraculous journey that we call “Motherhood.” For some, motherhood is very specifically tied to the birth event of a child. For others, motherhood begins when that first kick is felt. Still others consider a broader perspective to include adoptive mothers, mother-like figures or even spiritual mothers.

With such definitions, it would appear at first glance that motherhood is yet another area of relativistic individualism – what’s true for me may or may not be true for you and that’s ok. When we go to the dictionary, things are even less helpful. “The state of being a mother” isn’t the most illustrated definition. When looking up simply “Mother” things do get a bit more definite: “a female parent,” “a woman exercising control, influence, or authority like that of a mother,” or “something or someone that gives rise to or exercises protecting care over something else; origin or source.”

While there is still room for interpretation in these selected definitions, we can begin to see the blurry outlines of who and what a mother is. A mother is typically a female person, though the final definition opens even this observation up to all people. A mother is a person who has some level of authority over others, especially a protective care or measure of control grounded in a relationship. The last definition is most interesting – origin or source. Let’s take a special look at this perspective and how it relates to the Church’s understanding of motherhood.

St. Julian of Norwich

St. Julian of Norwich was an anchoress and mystic who lived in the late 1300s. An anchoress was a woman who “anchored” herself to a specific church, living a life of cloister and prayer. She received a series of sixteen visions of Christ which she wrote about in her work, Revelations of Divine Love, and can still be read today. She developed a new understanding of Jesus’ identity – Jesus as Mother.

Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him ­ and this is where His Maternity starts ­ And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never ceases to surround us.

Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother.

http://www.vatican.va/spirit/documents/spirit_20010807_giuliana-norwich_en.html

Here we find the maternity of Christ to fit perfectly with our modern definitions of a mother. Through Jesus we find our origin and in Jesus we are enveloped in protection and love.

Chiara Lubich

Chiara Lubich is the founder of the Focolare Movement, a movement of laity and clergy which began during WWII. Focolare means “Work of Mary” and it is through Mary’s guidance Chiara explores what total union with God and one another looks like. Chiara’s theology of Mary is deeply intimate, resonating with both St. Louis de Montfort and St. Maximillian Kolbe, two of the greatest Marian theologians. Part of Chiara’s understandings revolve around Mary’s role as Jesus’ mother, and by spiritual extension our mother. We are Mary’s children and as such are called to emulate her example. What is her example? To bear Christ to the world.

Mary’s is Jesus’ mother. Her willing cooperation with the Holy Spirit brought Jesus, the Son of God, into human existence. We too are called to bring Christ into the world. The motherhood of Mary in union with the Holy Spirit, which brings forth Christ, is relived in the Church and in each of us. According to Lumen Gentium #65, whenever Christ is born in the hearts of the faithful, they are participating in the mystery of the Incarnation where Christ is “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin.” All Christians, no matter their gender, profession, or age are called to live this birthing every day.

When does motherhood begin?

After all this, we still may not be closer to answering the question, “When does motherhood begin?” However, I think we do have some clues about something broader, and perhaps more important. Like love, motherhood isn’t a feeling. Nor is it necessarily something outside your control. Motherhood, like love, is a choice. When does someone start to act as a mother, to be a mother? Based on the secular definitions and the reflections of Julian of Norwich and Chiara Lubich, it is when a person chooses to serve another, regardless of the expense or cost to themselves.

Consider it this way. A couple wishes to have a child. The couple has been struggling to conceive and they are seeking advice, tracking her cycles, practicing NFP, paying attention to risk factors and doing a series of tests to screen out any other potential inhibitors. They make lifestyle changes as recommended. The wife is taking prenatal vitamins, being mindful of any alcohol and taking extra care in her tracking. The husband is supportive, moderating his own alcohol intake in solidarity with his wife, he encourages her tracking and any dietary changes which may help their hopes for a child. Are they practicing motherhood yet?

What about the family who hopes to adopt? They pray every day, children and parents alike, for their hoped for child. They work together to make any necessary changes to their home for the preliminary inspections and requirements. They fill out paperwork, answer questions, take time off work for meetings and other important interactions in order to be accepted as a potential family. Are they practicing motherhood yet?

What about a person who volunteers their time with their parish’s youth group? They dedicated time each week to encouraging and mentoring the teenagers. They open their home to the group for a summer barbeque, travel to a religious site or pilgrimage with them, and even help coach a summer intramural volleyball team. Is this person practicing motherhood yet?

What about the child who sees another sad or hurt at the playground. Instead of walking past, they sit down and ask to play together. Are they practicing motherhood yet?

If motherhood, as I said earlier, is “when a person chooses to serve another, regardless of the expense or cost to themselves,” then the clear answer to the previous scenarios is “Yes!” All these examples, even the child, are moments of motherhood.

Chiara sums it up beautifully in a letter written in 1983:

“…Mothers only know how to love. It is typical of a mother to love her children as herself, because there’s something of herself in them. … We too can find something of ourselves in others. For we must see Jesus in ourselves and in every neighbor. What shall we do? With each neighbor, at home, at work, or on the street, with the people we talk; with those we speak to over the phone, or for whom we carry out our daily work – with every person we meet these days, we must think: “I must act as if I were his or her mother,” and act accordingly. Mothers are always serving, Mothers always find excuses for their children. Mothers are always full of hope.”

The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother – St. Therese of Lisieux

Happy Mother’s Day!

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

The Next Right Step

About a month ago, maybe 2, I was listening to the Abiding Together podcast, the one I talked about in my last post. The ladies were talking about how often we want to wait for God to move, and then we follow. We are hesitant in what we know He is calling us toward, or where we feel He is desiring us to move next. We want assurance, some kind of sign or confirmation, that this is the way forward.

Have you ever felt this way? I know I have. I felt that way before starting this blog, I’ve felt that way every time I’ve taken a break from writing and feel urged to start again. I feel that way at the start of each school year that we continue homeschooling. Questions run through my mind, is this what we are supposed to be doing? How will this work? Should I wait to see if some new idea strikes me instead? How will I begin?

For a brief moment, Jesus felt the same way in today’s Gospel reading – the Wedding at Cana. Here He was, minding His own business, having a nice time at a wedding. Then His mother comes over and tells Him that the couple ran out of wine – a social disaster. He not so politely to our modern ears informs His mom that “My time has not yet come.” He wasn’t ready, it wasn’t the moment. But in that moment, she demonstrates all of her faith and trust in who she knows her Son to be: “Do whatever He tells you.” 5 simple words that have changed the world again and again and again.

Jesus hears those words and His moment of doubt disappears. Confidently, and obediently to His mother, He instructs the servants to fill jars with water. And with no explanation of what would happen, the servants obey, even to the point of pouring what they expected to be water into the head waiter’s cup to drink. They did not understand, but they obeyed. And in their obedience the miracle happened.

The saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” We are so like horses! God leads us daily to true, living water. But it is our free will to drink deeply or not. There is grace and life waiting for us if we just dip our heads in obedience and humility to the One who brought us to this point.

What are you waiting for? Where is God calling you, already more than halfway through the first month of the year? Where is there grace awaiting you to just take that next first step?

Update on my Word for the Year

So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, reflecting and praying about my Word for 2019. I’m almost ready to say it’s “Follow-Through” but man, that takes a lot of courage for me to say. I am an ideas person, I love ideas. My husband somes calls me the “Idea Fairy” when I through too many ideas at him at one time. What I often don’t do so well is follow through on those ideas. I get stuck halfway through when the enthusiasm wanes and more ideas jump in my way. So, in order to follow through on things I need to do 1. A better job of discerning which ideas are actually from God 2. Taking the right next first step toward actualizing God’s plan and 3. Stay the course.

I’m sorely tempted to shy away from this Word, because it’s going to be a big big challenge. However, there is so much good that God could do with me, it seems like the temptation to set it aside might be from the opposing side.

Like I said, it’s not definite yet, but writing about it here makes it feel pretty decided. Maybe it’s the push I needed to make the next right step. I know that there will be grace waiting for me when my foot lands, ready to help me take the next right step after that.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

Book Review: Rejoice! Advent Meditations with Mary

I’m a sucker for beautiful pictures of Mary. Especially when she is pregnant or while Jesus is young. As a youngish mom with four kids I connect very strongly with this image. The hopeful expectation, the waiting, the she-totally-gets-how-it-feels-when-I-can’t-roll-over feeling, all of it. It’s probably why Advent is one of my favorite liturgical seasons. I’m surrounded by these images of Mary and the Holy Family and it brings my heart so much joy. The new Advent meditation journal Rejoice! by Fr. Mark Toups is full of beautiful reflection and gorgeous paintings. And I mean gorgeous! So gorgeous if anyone wanted to give me the set to hang in my house I would be overjoyed…hint hint.

Rejoice! is published by Ascension Press, so you know it’s solid in its theology, wisdom and direction. I have gone through the entire book and used so many book darts! The book encourages imaginative prayer, which is a prayer form that I think our culture is uniquely suited for but no one talks about much. Imaginative prayer comes to us as a formal prayer from from St. Ignatius. Fr. Toups explains that “we imaginatively see the persons in the Bible passage, we hear the words they speak, and we observe the actions they accomplish in the event.” It’s taking the time to slow down enough to be in the scene. 

Then, after spending time within the passage, you move onto a method called A.R.R.R. – Acknowledge, Relate, Receive, Respond. You acknowledge how God is stirring within you, you relate to God (this means talking straight to God, not thinking about what you think God thinks or wants you to think, but real and deep sharing of everything that was brought to your mind), receive what God is sharing with you and lastly, respond to what you’ve received. You are also encouraged to journal about your experience so you can look back and see how you’ve grown and how God has shaped you during this Advent. 

What is so cool, and I didn’t pick up on until reflecting back on the meditations as a whole, is that Fr. Toups very gently leads you through this A.R.R.R. process over the four weeks of Advent. The first week is spent looking deeply at where God is in our life. The second is about relating with God in a vulnerable and authentic way. The third is about our receptivity, how open and empty are we so that we might receive God more fully. And the fourth, though short this year, challenges us to respond proactively to what we have experienced over the four weeks. It’s so brilliant.

Ascension, has carefully thought through the whole package. Their ideal for the meditations as stated in the very beginning, is for this to be a community walk with Mary. There are additional videos that offer fresh and expanded insights on each of the four weeks of Advent. They have free videos online right now, plus there is an Advent Mission Kick-off video which is about thirty minutes to help your small group or parish get things going. You can also sign up to have the weekly videos sent straight to your email if you are hosting a gathering in your home, or if you are simply journeying as a family. Community is an integral part of holiness and I love how it is gently and thoughtfully woven into this journal experience. 

If your parish is looking for something to do together this Advent season, it’s not too late to get your journals in bulk. Be brave, if this review has inspired you bring it to your priest or parish coordinator. You could be the spark that begins a wonderful Advent experience for your whole community.

I can totally see our family using this journal around the dinner table, and sharing in a joint imaginative prayer experience with our children – aren’t they the best at it? As I was writing this review, my seven year old came up and asked what I was doing. After I explained and we went through the pictures, he said “That’s cool,” and walked away. Later that day, he was sitting with his four year old sister and I overheard him saying,

“Clare, we have to get ready for Advent. Mommy has a book and it has pictures of Mary in it. It helps her get ready for Advent. What comes after Advent?”

“Christmas!” she shouted.

“Right,” he said, “So we all have to get ready for Jesus.”

How precious, and that’s just from looking at the pictures! Also, p.s., the pictures are all free and available right now to download for your phone or computer to use throughout Advent. Check them out here. You know I already have them downloaded. I hope you check this journal out, maybe even share it with a friend or two or twenty!

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com