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A Tribute to Our Mothers

May 13, 2000|Rev. CONNIE REGENER

It's the No. 1 day for dining out and phone calls home. It keeps florists busy and chocolatiers happy. It's Mother's Day, a time filled with gifts, cards and trips to the graveside to pay tribute to those who mothered us. Mother's Day as we know it is often celebrated as just a secular or commercial holiday, but it was conceived and born from a strong religious heritage.

It began as a spring fertility festival to Rhea, the mother of various Grecian deities, with gifts of food and prayers offered at her temple. Early Christians moved the date to May, the month dedicated to Mary, and celebrated by adorning their churches with flowers and leaving charitable gifts.

By the time Mother's Day spread to Europe in the 17th century, the holiday had spread into homes as well as churches. English children went "a-mothering," bringing homemade gifts of food to their mothers. Simnel cake--a very rich boiled fruitcake sealed with almond icing--was a popular gift, as almonds stood for fruitfulness. And on returning home, children often visited their place of baptism, the source of their new spiritual life.

It was not until 1872 that American Julia Ward Howe, who wrote the poem "Battle Hymn of the Republic," suggested the idea of a Mother's Day dedicated to peace. That was in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War.

Shortly afterward, Philadelphia schoolteacher Anna Jarvis called for a national day to honor motherhood. She deeply revered her own mother, who had organized Mothers' Clubs, which provided food, blankets and medical care to Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Tragically, four of Jarvis' siblings died during the war.

At Jarvis' request in 1907, the minister at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, W. Va., gave a sermon in honor of her mother. The church bell was rung 72 times, once for each year of her mother's life. Jarvis handed out white carnations, her mother's favorite flower, because they represented the sweetness, purity and endurance of motherhood. (Today we wear a white flower to honor deceased mothers or a red flower for those living.) Later, as a delegate to the World's Sunday School Convention, Jarvis persuaded other churches to hold similar services.

The U.S. government officially recognized Mother's Day when President Wilson signed a resolution in 1914. Since then, the U.S. flag is displayed annually on government buildings on the second Sunday in May "as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country."

A mother's unconditional love in many ways mirrors that of God. "Now the Earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." (Genesis 1:2 NIV). The Hebrew word for "hovering" describes the activity of a mother bird tending her nest. It can also be translated "brooding," but it does not mean that God was in a bad mood that day. It emphasizes that God nurtures us with love and care, the same way a mother bird broods over her young.

Mother's Day worship services vary widely. I was very touched by an experience in a Baptist church where parishioners collected money for blankets in their mothers' memories. Optional "Mother's Day cards" mentioned that, in their honor, needy children were being tucked in with a warm blanket, in cooperation with the National Council of Churches program to provide blankets for refugees. That simple act really seemed to capture the spirit of a mother's love and the Mothers' Clubs.

Mother's Day continues to recognize the unique contributions of women to their families, their communities, their countries and the world. However you celebrate Mother's Day, don't wait until her funeral to honor your mother's gift of life and nurture. Express Thanksgiving: Phone home!

Connie Regener, an Irvine resident and doctoral student at Fuller Theological Seminary, is a member of the teaching staff at Irvine Presbyterian Church.

On Faith is a forum for Orange County clergy and others to offer their views on religious topics of general interest. Submissions, which will be published at the discretion of The Times and are subject to editing, should be delivered to Orange County religion page editor Deanne Brandon.

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