#momtheology: Mother's Day and the Myth of St. Mom

 Mother with Thorns and Turkey from Mother by  Judy Olausen

 Mother with Thorns and Turkey from Mother by  Judy Olausen

When I was growing up, there weren’t many women from the Bible elevated in sermons. Yet I could always count on the Mother’s Day service to include a reading from Proverbs Chapter 31 followed by an oration praising the noble wife presented and extolling her domestic perfection.

Because of this yearly tradition, there was a season of my young adulthood in which I resented the proverbial “perfect woman.” She seemed to have all the qualities I lacked. She was an early riser, a tidy housekeeper, and the bearer of many children. She mystified me, I guess. Was she a spokeswoman to represent the important work of womanhood? Or was she an unrealistic figure of excellence who would haunt me forever?

I have since come to see her as both. She is at once an exemplary, model woman and an exaggerated, mythical creature.

When I say "myth" I am not disrespecting sacred scripture, nor downplaying this figure’s power. Karen Armstrong, author and religious scholar, calls something a "myth" if it happened once and also happens all the time. [1] I find this definition fitting for our heroine, the Proverbs 31 Wife, because she was likely a composite made up of real traits that existed long ago … and her characteristics also echo now into our contemporary day and age.

This “myth” language gives me permission to accept our ancient Wonder Woman not by dismissing her qualities, but by holding her lightly—playing, even, with the imagination of her, contemporized. I invite you to join me as I lift up motherhood with the help of biblical wisdom.

For instance, the writer of Proverbs praises "the capable wife" (verse 15) because she “rises while it is still night.” But I say unto you, Modern Mom: “Blessed are you who wakes at 3 a.m., 5 a.m., 5:30, 6:30 (and so on…), yet still adorns her fussy infant with affection come morning.”

Or as the biblical writer in verse 16 extols the woman who “considers a field and buys it” and “who plants a vineyard with her own hands.” Lo, I say unto you, Mom of 2017: “Praised be your name when, though you are ragged, you miraculously remember to pay your mortgage each month!” And, likewise: “Blessed are thy hands that succeed at feeding your toddler food of nutritional value!”

As I revisit Proverbs 31 now, I’ve noticed some things that didn’t stand out before. For example, it seems that the woman introduced is a woman of means. She considers investments, she has support staff to carry out her household chores. However, these are not the root of her fulfillment.  Instead, verses 26-28 remind us what gives mama her true wealth, her real power. The writer says of this amazing woman: “She opens her mouth with wisdom … her children rise up and call her happy.” What is her wisdom? What makes her happy? The answer stems from the things that cannot be bought or brokered; it rests in the realm of home and hearth, the community of wise women, and the support of a loving, faithful marriage.

And so, I second those words and I say unto you: Mothers, wherever you are, glory to you for the wisdom you share with one another, for the ways you tend to your children’s hearts so that they feel loved, safe, and secure, and for the times they catch you truly delighting in them, in yourself, and in your life ... and they rise to regard you as happy.                

[1] Karen Armstrong, The Case for God (New York, 2009) p. xi.

Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.