In the LDS Church we place a high value on families, and I am fortunate to have been born to two loving parents, including a mother who has taught me patience and compassion, and who I always knew throughout my growing up years would always be there for me. I know that sadly not all children can say the same. I don’t know why I was fortunate to have been born in such a loving family, but I am grateful nonetheless.
I am also very fortunate to be married to a woman who epitomises all that is wonderful about a good mother. She loves, nurtures and teaches our children (I try too, but she does it better). I can see in the way my children respond to my wife that there is nothing quite like a child’s affection for their mother.
But this blog isn’t about mothers – it’s about our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and in relation to motherhood there are some interesting lessons we can learn from the scriptures. I’d like to highlight just a couple, and invite any observations from readers to comment or add their own.
Mother of all Living
Our first and archetypal mother, Eve, was given the title “Mother of all Living”, a title which interestingly preceded her having any children. Today in Church our bishop’s wife referenced a talk by Patricia Holland who spoke about this:
“Eve was given the identity of “the mother of all living”—years, decades, perhaps centuries before she ever bore a child. It would appear that her motherhood preceded her maternity, just as surely as the perfection of the Garden preceded the struggles of mortality. I believe mother is one of those very carefully chosen words, one of those rich words—with meaning after meaning after meaning…. I believe with all my heart that it is first and foremost a statement about our nature, not a head count of our children.”
(October 1987 Ensign, One Thing Needful: Becoming Women of Greater Faith in Christ)
As I listened to these words it struck me that this title is itself in similitude of Christ – He who gives life to all things. “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” (John 14:6); “I am the light and life of the world” (3 Nephi 11:11) He is, “the light and the Redeemer of the world, the Spirit of truth, who came into the world, because the world was made by him, and in him was the life of men and the light of men. The worlds were made by him; men were made by him; all things were made by him, and through him, and of him.” (D&C 93:9-10)
Ultimately it is Christ who gives life to all things, yet in mortality it is women who, as heirs of Eve, each carry with them the divine title “Mother of all Living”. I suppose God could have made a way for us to come into the world which didn’t rely upon a 9 month gestation period inside the body of a woman, but maybe Living means more than strictly having life. If there were only men on the earth I can imagine nothing but sport and a never-ending series of tests of machismo. For the avoidance of doubt, I am male and, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy sport. But honestly what point would a life like that serve? No, life I suppose could be created in many different ways, but Living comes from women, and our “Mothers of all Living” remind us of One who gives life eternally to us all.
The Umbilical Cord
I’ve written before about how the symbolism of the umbilical cord reminds us of Christ. The full article is here, but I’ll just quote one paragraph relevant here:
“The image of a baby attached to its mother through its navel goes beyond nutrients being received. A baby, while still in its mother’s womb, is totally dependent on its mother for all of its physical needs. The baby isn’t able to breath for itself, so it gets the oxygen that its body needs from its mother’s blood. The baby isn’t able to dispose of waste, such as CO2, so again it uses its mother’s blood. The baby isn’t able to fight infections, so its mother’s antibodies will do so, etc. In like manner, when we humbly rely on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God – whether by commandment, or whether merely by suggestion or word of encouragement – when we genuinely accept that the Lord’s wisdom is greater than our own and with full purpose of heart follow Him; when we accept that we are totally dependent on the Lord: then He is able to take the dross out of our lives, to give us life-giving nutrients and spiritual oxygen, and to fight our battles. He is our spiritual umbilical cord.”
We each have, throughout our lives, a physical reminder of our pre-birth dependence on our mothers in our navels; and these serve also as reminders of our on-going dependence on Christ.
Can a woman forget her sucking child?
The image of the Saviour nursing His covenant children is a beautiful one. We can imagine the tenderness; the physical closeness. In some ways this follows on from the symbolism of the umbilical cord, as a baby, once born, continues to receive important nutrients and protective antibodies from its mother through its mother’s milk. After our own spiritual birth the Saviour does not abandon us, but continues to nourish and nurture us.
But this symbolism goes further, in a way that only a nursing mother can understand. Here I quote from a blog from last year at Segullah (click here for the full article):
“I am currently nursing my third child. Aside from the fact that I love him and he is not far from my thoughts at any given moment, it is physically impossible for me to forget him for too long–given enough time, the need to nurse would provide a painful reminder of his existence.
“All of my children have left physical markers–memory tokens–on my body: in the changing shape of my hips and breasts, in the physical scar from the emergency c-section that saved my baby’s life. But all of these pale besides the scars through which the Savior memorializes us: the imprints in his palms and the sword thrust through his side offer mute witness of an infinite love and atonement.” (Segullah, In Memoriam, 27 May 2013)
Just as we each retain symbols of our mothers’ love in our navels, so our mothers retain symbols of their sacrifice in their bodies. Both of these retained symbols remind us our Saviour’s sacrifice and love for us.
As a Hen Gathereth Her Chicks
With this metaphor we drift away from the human species, but very much retain the role of mother in teaching of Christ. The idea of Christ as a hen seeking to gather His chicks is found in the New Testament, the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, with similar themes in the Old Testament. I’ve written about it in a slightly different context previously here.
Jane Allis-Pike described the power of this metaphor in her article “How Oft Would I Have Gathered You”, in the 2008 BYU Symposium on Third Nephi:
“The value the hen places on her creations – her chicks – is what makes the hen metaphor especially powerful. They are more important to her than her own life. Because chickens are ground feeders and nesters, their offspring are exposed to many dangers not faced by birds that nest in trees out of reach of two- and four-footed predators. When an enemy approaches, a hen’s best defense is to gather her chicks “under her wings”, close to her body beneath her feathers. And since chickens are considerably far down the food chain, chicks can be a predator’s next meal. The mother hen is often protecting her chicks from a danger of no less magnitude than imminent death.
“Barbara Taylor Brown describes the hen’s unswerving devotion to her chicks this way: ‘A mother hen… stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first.’ It may appear that a hen’s wings offer little protection, but her willingness to fight for her chicks is limitless. There is no danger so compelling that the hen will desert her offspring. She will literally use her own body as a shield to protect them.”
So, on this Mother’s Day, I think not only of my mother, who passed through the valley of the shadow of death in bringing me into the world and who sacrificed so much in raising me; and not only of my beautiful wife who has done, and continues to do, likewise with our own children; but I also think of the Saviour, who has described some of His most important roles in ways that also describe motherhood.
Happy Mother’s Day.