Happy Mother’s Day! How about a different take today as we celebrate this wonderful holiday and the amazing moms in our lives?
A favorite movie of the women in my family is the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett. (Full confession: I like it as well.) At the very end of the movie, the heroine has fallen-in-love-with, and married, the prideful but now lovable, Mr. Darcy. In a playful exchange, they are discussing acceptable pet names for Elizabeth, and she tells him that he may call her “Goddess Divine…but only on very special occasions.”
I’ve always appreciated this playful exchange and the notion of “Goddess Divine” evokes a sense of worshipful adoration.
A number of years ago, my wife, Sally, and I were discussing our daughters as they approached adulthood and her growing recognition of her need to evolve as a mother to help them as they transitioned into their own womanhood and beyond. At the time, she characterized this evolution as one of becoming a better “matriarch” for her family. For her, the matriarch was a strong example of womanhood and an exemplar of Pope Saint John Paul II’s notion of “feminine genius.” Below is an excerpt from his 1995 Letter To Women:
Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God’s own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child’s first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.
Thank you, women who are wives! You irrevocably join your future to that of your husbands, in a relationship of mutual giving, at the service of love and life.
Thank you, women who are daughters and women who are sisters! Into the heart of the family, and then of all society, you bring the richness of your sensitivity, your intuitiveness, your generosity and fidelity.
Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of “mystery”, to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.
Thank you, consecrated women! Following the example of the greatest of women, the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, you open yourselves with obedience and fidelity to the gift of God’s love. You help the Church and all mankind to experience a “spousal” relationship to God, one which magnificently expresses the fellowship which God wishes to establish with his creatures.
Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.
The words “patriarch” and “matriarch” are typically characterized in terms of power and hierarchy. Sally’s adoption of “matriarch” centered on the concept of embracing the strengths of her own womanhood in terms of leadership and example in support of her girls, as well as her boys, and the loves they would one day bring into their lives. Hers wasn’t an “either/or” definition of control and authority, but a “both/and” of strength and power, intelligence and compassion, as well as the hardness and softness of her call to more for each of us in her family. I embraced it immediately and ever since.
In our house, Sally is the story-teller. I’m not talking about yarns and fairy-tales, although she frequently reads such things to her grandchildren. She has a true gift for keeping the stories of our family alive and relevant. Stories of her youth with her grandparents. Tales of extended family members and their exploits (as well as their tribulations.) Stories of lessons learned. Stories of discoveries made and and the awe inspiring wonders of the world.
Sally is also the moral center of our family. Her compass always points north and she has remained a lighthouse for her children when they’ve found themselves in rough seas. Early-on, she created a faith-centered home and has worked diligently to help all of us grow along our own journeys. Sally’s steady counsel remains a cornerstone for her adult children as they continue to return to her for her ear and her wisdom.
Working mom’s continue to face the time and emotional challenge of being mom and breadwinner. So many calls, so many paths. Sally worked as a nurse while raising her children – many years of which were on nightshift. She lived the struggle of conflicting demands on emotional and physical energy which stem from the dual roles of working woman and loving mom.
Let’s face it guys, we can be pretty challenging. Mom’s have to bring the full power of their feminine genius to bear for their children while also juggling the demands of half-grown husbands, and sometimes ex-husbands. My wife has been my best friend for 34 years while growing into the matriarch she is today. Joys and struggles abound in our life together, but her steadiness and strength continue to hold the center.
“I wish you would not call me dear…because it’s what my father always calls my mother when he’s cross about something.” So says Elizabeth Bennett to her Mr. Darcy. I wonder if she would like “Matriarch Divine” as a corollary to her request for “Goddess Divine?” Strong and independent, I suspect she would recognize the need for the power of her feminine genius as wife, mother, homemaker, chief counsel, moral compass, nurse, counselor, mentor, and friend.
Today, I want to celebrate the amazing Matriarchs in my life. Strong women who are mothers and leaders of their families. Powerful females who use their powers for the good of those they love, those who depend on them, and often, for those in their communities as they work to project an example and an expectation. Self-assured mothers who show-up when needed to provide comfort and support to their children when they face the often bumpy roads of their own growth.
Matriarch Divine? Absolutely. Today is a special occasion and the mothers in our lives deserve our worshipful adoration.