The Spiritual Meaning of Motherhood

A Mother’s Day sermon by Gordon Meyer 

Texts: Genesis 3:20; John 2:4; 19:26; True Christianity Sect. 102.3

Mother's Day is kind of an exception among secular holidays because there is so much overlap between the secular and the religious involved in giving birth and nurturing children.

For one thing, among the many nurturing things mothers do, teaching about the religious beliefs of her faith is certainly one of them.  Of course, the main tenet of the Swedenborgian faith after love for the Lord, is charity or love for one's neighbor.  The first encounter children have with charitable activity is the caretaking they receive from their primary caregiver, and that is usually their mother.   

Human babies are unable to care for themselves at all.  Unlike most animals, human children are dependent for the first several years of their lives.  If they aren't given the care they require, they cannot survive.  Studies have been done that show that the necessary caregiving extends beyond providing for the maintenance needs of a human child.  Children require both physical and emotional stimulation as well.  Children need loving attention.  Women tend to provide this needed nurturance to very young children more than men do. 

I have noticed that my grandchildren don't respond to me like they do to my wife.   It may just be the way I am, but I've watched my granddaughter, Elsa, especially in this regard.   She and her two older brothers have all been clingy kids.  For a short time Elsa would not even go to her father.  If anyone tried to hold her but her mother, she screamed.  That changed fairly quickly with regard to her father, and then gradually to the other women around her.  She began letting the women hold her at length, but if I tried to take her in my arms she would immediately reach for her mother and start squirming.  If I didn't give her to her mother instantly, she'd start screaming.  I tried to take it in an understanding way, remembering that her brothers had behaved similarly at that age.  But I wanted to hold her, and I couldn't. 

She's getting better about it.  She's toddling now.  When I saw her last, a few days ago, she actually came to me when I called her.  She even held up her arms when I asked if I could pick her up.  It lasted all of ten seconds and she wanted to get down again and make a beeline for her mother.  But at least we're making progress.

She is simply more comfortable with women than she is with men.  I've noticed this with all of our grandchildren, both the girls and the boys.   Maybe it's something hereditary.  Or maybe it's because the women in our society have always done most of the child rearing.   

But things are changing.  Our oldest son is a stay-at-home dad.  In their family he does most of the mothering.  He's very good at it, too.  It's interesting to watch him care for his kids.  He knows who ate what at their last meal, who slept well or didn't, which clothes are clean and available and which are in the dirty clothes, who has a game, a lesson, a practice, an event after school, where the lost baseball mitt or ice skate or hockey stick probably is.  He volunteers at their schools and chaperones field trips with the other moms.  He does all the shopping and cooking and cleaning and laundry and dishes.  In short, he is a great mother.   

So mothering is being defined a little differently than when I was a child.  It is no longer necessarily the woman's job in a marriage. 

But whether it is a woman or a man providing this nurturing it is clear that it takes a lot of concerted effort and perseverance to do a good job of raising kids.  It is perhaps the fundamental form of charity among human beings, and in this way it spans the gap between the secular and spiritual life.

This is reflected in scripture when we examine how the word mother is used in the inner meaning.  In the inner meaning of the Word, the term "mother" means the church.  Eve, the fictional first mother, presented in Genesis as the matriarch of the human species, really stands for the Most Ancient Church.  "Eve" refers to the church that preceded all the ensuing churches presented as her descendants, beginning with Abel and descending all the way to Lamech and Noah. 

These sons of Eve symbolize the various doctrines that developed in the course of the church's history.  Doctrinal differences foster new churches and so the generations following Eve symbolize new churches formed from differences in people's beliefs. 

In the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life, we find that the relationship between Jesus and his mother appears somewhat problematical.   Although the Gospel writers refer to Mary as Jesus' mother, Jesus himself is never quoted as calling her that.  In fact, when he does refer to his mother, he always calls her "woman."  To the casual reader this seems rather rude, coarse, and impersonal of Jesus.  But this would be so uncharacteristic of Jesus that we must assume there must be more to it.  And there is. 

At the wedding at Capernaum when she approached him about the lack of wine for the wedding, the Lord said to his mother, "O woman, what have you to do with me?  My hour has not come yet".  What does he mean?  I  believe she is asking him to do something she knows he can do, but that he is not yet really prepared to reveal to others.  Here Mary is "woman" not "mother" because the child she bore is the Lord God the Savior.  God has no mother.   

But if we think of this in terms of the inner meaning, it appears to be saying that in calling his mother "woman" Jesus is representing that the church he is bringing into the world has not yet been established.  The fact that he follows this statement by saying, "My hour has not come yet," seems to support that interpretation.  He then proceeds to turn water into wine.  That means he turns earthly truth, symbolized by water, into spiritual truth symbolized by wine.  The fact that this occurs at a wedding where the steward in charge of the wedding proclaims Jesus' wine to be far superior to that served before further supports this interpretation.  Finally, the symbolism of the wedding itself gives credence to this understanding, since weddings symbolize the joining of Divine Love and Wisdom, or what is called the heavenly marriage. 

When he was on the cross, his mother and the disciple whom he loved stood before him.  Jesus said to them, "Woman, behold, your son!"  And then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!"   

What Jesus is telling them is that the church he is founding is the "mother" of the religion he is bringing us.  That church is based on charity.  Charity is good works and the disciple Jesus loved symbolizes love expressed in good works.   

In the inner meaning of the Word, the disciples each represent some aspect of faith, and the disciple referred to as the one Jesus loved is the disciple who represents the works of charity, or spiritually good works.  This, of course, refers to the second great commandment, the one we are to live by, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, " which lies at the heart of the doctrine of the Christian church. 

So motherhood carries a meaning for us from a spiritual perspective far beyond that of the bearing and nursing of children.   

What "child" is it that our mother the church produces and raises up?  We are born in a purely natural state.  We have a spirit in which the Lord plants life, but as we develop on the earth we are predominantly natural beings. 

Our natural father and mother conceive us and nurture our natural self as it grows.  We also receive remnants of spiritual truth implanted in us by the Lord.  These come to us internally and in the teachings we hear from our parents, the church and in reading the Word. 

When love of and concern for the Lord becomes our predominant love it is the church that becomes our mother.  Spiritual conscience is developed within us from ideas that come to us from the Lord.

So we have two mothers.  We have our earthly mother through whom we are brought into these physical bodies and by whom we are nurtured physically, and hopefully also spiritually, and we have our spiritual mother, the church within the regenerated person.  

What we need to realize is that we can all act as spiritual mothers to each other and to those outside the church.  Everyone who has the church within also has the mother within.  

So on this mother's day, let's remember our earthly mothers and show them the love we have for them.  But let us also remember the Lord and his church, the mother we can experience within bringing us to the Lord and to eternal life.

Let us pray.  Lord, make us mindful of your work within us and lead us all into your heavenly kingdom.  Amen.