“The Altar of Motherhood”

May 11, 2014


Robin McGonigle

University Congregational Church

May 11, 2014


“The Altar of Motherhood”

John 13: 34-35


Deliberate and devout was the widow woman who brought her mite to the altar.  I imagine her old, somewhat feeble, stooped and yet walking with purpose toward her destination to give the only pennies she had.

Deliberate and devout was the woman as she knelt to bathe Jesus’ feet with her hair.  I imagine her young, vibrant, agile, and yet slow and elegant as she soothed his road weary and heart heavy body.

How long has this been going on?  For eons.

How many people have done it?  Myriads.  But mostly women.

I think we, by nature, are blind to such sacrifice.  Even the receivers of this outrageous love don’t truly know its depth if they have never felt the wound of it, have felt the sweet blessing only.  Perhaps we ourselves have to suffer sacrifice in order to understand it.

A woman myself, I have to admit I did not understand my mother well.  I mean: I didn’t know the quality of her love until I myself was called to make a mother’s choices.

Children, honor that woman who for your sake placed on the altar of motherhood some core part of her precious self.  Honor and do not neglect her!  Now, that woman may have been your biological mother, your grandmother, your adoptive mother, your foster mother, your teacher, your mentor, your friend.  But honor that woman who gave something of herself for you – something that cost her.  It is the kind of sacrificial giving and loving taught by Jesus himself.


Jesus said: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13: 34-35.

4-8 year olds were asked a simple question:  “What does love mean?”  The answers they gave were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined.

“When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore.  So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too.  That’s love.”     Rachel, age 8

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fires without making them give you anything of theirs.”     Chrissy, age 6

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and just listen.”   Bobby, age 7

“When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.”    Karen, age 7

When I am fortunate enough to strike up conversations with people from differing religious persuasions, I often ask them about the core beliefs of their religion.  And more often than not, I am struck by the similar teachings of our religions.  There are truths that transcend our differences.  Universal fundamental principles like: love your neighbor, honor your father and mother, speak the truth, and forgive.  Most world religions have a core teaching, the heart of the faith that is like our own.  And that core teaching has to do with the way to love wholeheartedly, sacrificially, unselfishly…. The kind of love real mothers demonstrate.

Elementary school children were asked some basic questions about mothers… here are a few of their answers:


Q:  Why did God make mothers?

A:  She’s the only one who knows where the scotch tape is.


Q:  How did God make mothers?

A:  Magic plus super powers and a lot of stirring.


Q:  What ingredients are mothers made of?

A:  God makes mothers out of clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world plus one little dab of mean.


Q:  Why did God give you your mother and not some other mom?

A:  God knew she likes me a lot more than other people’s moms like me.


Q:  What kind of little girl was your mom?

A:  I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but my guess would be that she was pretty bossy.

A:  They say my mom used to be nice.


Q:  What’s the difference between moms and dads?

A:  Dads are taller and stronger, but moms have all the real power because that’s who you got to ask if you want to sleep over at your friend’s house.


Q:  What would it take to make your mom perfect?

A:  On the inside, she’s already perfect.  Outside, I think some kind of plastic surgery.


Two weeks ago, the New York Times published an article about an extraordinary mom.  She is a veteran police officer who worked a 10 person massacre, including 8 children, on Palm Sunday 30 years ago.  The sole survivor was a 13 month old girl whose mother and 2 siblings were among the dead.  Officer Joanne Jaffe was the one assigned to the toddler through the night at the hospital.


The officer became the girl’s benefactor and later her surrogate parent, and recently, her adoptive mother.  Through the years, Officer Jaffe has been a presence in the girl’s life, at her own emotional and financial expense.  She helped to raise the girl at her most difficult rebellious time, supported her through college and has now officially adopted her, even though she is now 32 years old.

“I can’t imagine my life without her,” Christina Rivera says of her adoptive mom.  “She taught me what it was like to hope and to truly trust; if ever in life I didn’t think things would work out, I could trust her, and I would just put all my trust in her and she would get me through to the other side.”


James Keller wrote “every mother has the breathtaking privilege of sharing with God in the creation of new life.  She helps bring into existence a soul that will endure for all eternity.”

I don’t know why children don’t know the meaning of quiet… shhh….silence.  You’re in the grocery store and your children are misbehaving.  You tell them to be quiet and quit arguing.  And one invariably cries out, “Mommy, don’t yell at me!  Mommy, don’t hit me!”  What?  You don’t hit your children… and spanking hadn’t been on your mind.  They embarrass you in front of all the squinted eyes of older, better mothers.

You’re in the car.  It’s a long day of vacation.  You’ve already played the 50 state license plate game – and found cars from 50 states, 3 provinces, and 2 foreign countries.  You’ve played the alphabet game with road signs.  You’ve listened to every hard rock and rap song ever written on the CD player and the radio.  And you think a nap might be in order… not for you, but for the children.  “Let’s have some quiet time,” you suggest.  Right.  Quiet time.  It’s not in their vocabulary.

Their kids are not bad kids.  No, they are just plain kids who need attention.  It’s the order of things.  They need a presence.  A mother.  A sacrifice from one who has other agendas, other needs.

That’s when you discover your mother’s mothering.  The woman who threw up while she cleaned up your sickness.  The woman who waited until you shut the door to cry for the loss of you.  The woman who gave parts of her self, her desires, her hopes and dreams for you.

It’s a choice we all are called to make.  Love others as you love yourself.  No, loose self so that you can love others.  Give unselfishly, wholeheartedly.  Let the core of self die that another might properly live.

If you look deeply, you may see in the soul of a mother a precious, personal thing.  Some talent, some private dream.  The characteristic by which they defined their selves and their purpose for being.  To write?  Maybe.  To run a marathon?  Or to run a company?  Yes. Yes.

But then the baby came home, and then you and others like you made a terrible, lovely choice.  You reached into your soul and withdrew that precious thing and lifted it up before your breast and began to walk.  Deliberate and utterly beautiful, you strode to an altar of love for this child and placed there the talent, the dream, some core part of your particular self – and in order to mother another, you released it.  There came for you a moment of conscious, sacred sacrifice.  In that moment the self of yourself became a smoke, and the smoke went up to heaven as perpetual prayer for the sake of a child.

And when it was voluntary, it was no less than divine.  Never, never let anyone force such a gift from a person.  Then it is not sacrifice, but oppression.

But never, either, take such an extraordinary love for granted.  It is holy.  For this is the mind of Christ, the One who emptied himself for us.  And then again, for us.

Mom, oh Mom, I am so slow to know, but now I know – and out of the knowledge with which my own children have burdened me, I thank you.  From an overflowing heart, I thank you, Mom, for your motherhood.





Resources Used:


Wangerin, Walter Jr.  “Little Lamb, Who Made Thee?” pp. 133-137