Good afternoon brothers and sisters, and happy Mother’s Day. If you forgot, I give you permission to frantically order flowers for your mom on your smartphones while I speak. In case we haven’t met, my name is Ingrid, I’m from Provo, and I’m here in San Diego to work on my Ph.D in art history at UCSD. Today I want to meditate with you on one of my favorite scriptures, a maternal sentiment spoken by our Savior and quoted in both the gospel of Matthew and of Luke. Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” Luke 13:34. There is so much to love about this scripture, and I especially love what it teaches us about every person’s relationship with motherhood.
Jesus Christ, like all of us, was made in the image of God. He was created with a distinct divine nature. When he shared these tender feelings of desire to protect and guide the people of Jerusalem, he identified himself with a hen, a classic symbol of The Maternal. The divine heritage of Christ is that of both a Father and a Mother. Each of us was made in the image of both of our Heavenly Parents, and we have received attributes from both of Them. Although we don’t remember what Eliza R. Snow referred to as our “first primeval childhood,” our spirits were shaped by perfect parents and our hearts know Them and Their love perfectly. We are all so different from one another and yet we share the same spiritual DNA from our Heavenly Mother and Father. I think it would be beyond the scope of sacrament meeting to speculate on what makes divine Motherhood and Fatherhood different, so for today I want to share some of my favorite things that I’ve heard and read that help us understand the qualities of great motherhood.
I’m not sharing these for the sisters to store up for some future day while the brothers nod appreciatively. The principles of motherhood apply to all of you and to me today. Because motherhood is such a vital, noble, and important calling, every disciple can become more loving and Godly by emulating maternal characteristics.
When I think of motherhood in a more general sense, I think of nurturing. The pinnacle of divinity is to create and to nurture. According to Neill Marriott, whose beautiful Southern accent I will resist trying to imitate, “Nurturing is not limited to bearing children. Eve was called a “mother” before she had children. I believe that “to mother” means “to give life.” Think of the many ways you give life. It could mean giving emotional life to the hopeless or spiritual life to the doubter. With the help of the Holy Ghost, we can create an emotionally healing place for the discriminated against, the rejected, and the stranger. In these tender yet powerful ways, we build the kingdom of God. The Savior’s creation of the earth, under the direction of His Father, was a mighty act of nurturing. All of us need a spiritual and physical place of belonging. We can create this; it is even a holy place.”
Sister Marriott was addressing the sisters in the women’s session of general conference, but everyone who is here today has a responsibility to nurture, to create places of belonging, and to give life. I promise that the Lord has blessed you with life-giving attributes and opportunities that are tailor made just for you. I’d like to share three examples of what it can look like when we nurture in similitude of motherhood. These examples will be Aunt Beast, my favorite character from Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, a home teaching companionship of mine who magnified their callings, a new mother who I assisted in childbirth, and of course my own mother. Let’s start with Aunt Beast.
I recently reread A Wrinkle in Time. This is a book with a beautiful Christian message. Meg, the main character of the book, has just had a traumatic and life-threatening encounter with a dark and evil force called IT. She and her party land on an alien planet where they have to decide if they should trust the creatures they find there. The narrator says,
“The three beasts stood around Meg, and it seemed that they were feeling into her with their softly waving tentacles. The movement of the tentacles was as rhythmic and flowing as the dance of an undersea plant, and lying there, cradled in the four strange arms, Meg, despite herself, felt a sense of security that was deeper than anything she had known since the days when she lay in her mother’s arms in the old rocking chair and was sung to sleep. With her father’s help she had been able to resist IT. Now she could hold out no longer. She leaned her head against the beast’s chest, and realized that the gray body was covered with the softest, most delicate fur imaginable, and the fur had the same beautiful odor as the air. I hope I don’t smell awful to it, she thought. But then she knew with a deep sense of comfort that even if she did smell awful the beasts would forgive her. As the tall figure cradled her she could feel the frigid stiffness of her body relaxing against it.”
This chapter is amazing because it shows what a literally universal thing it is to nurture, and because it describes so well how it feels to be in the presence of a person or creature who is possessed of the attributes of motherhood. Meg feels comfort in the gentle tentacles of her new friends. She feels that she is free to be vulnerable. She feels unconditionally loved, and that love gives her a deep sense of comfort and security. You and I meet people every day who are facing challenges as heartbreaking and life-threatening as the cosmic darkness in A Wrinkle in Time. You can nurture those who desperately need love and care and offer them the deep security of unconditional love. You can create a holy place within yourself for every person you meet, and this love will fill people around you with emotional and spiritual life.
I’ve never traveled outside of this planet, but I do remember going to college far away from home and yearning for a sense of belonging. I found this belonging in the welcoming brothers and sisters of my ward family, who took me under their wings and helped me feel as though they accepted me just the way I was. In particular, I had a pair of home teachers assigned to me who truly embodied the vision of ministering that has been revealed to the church recently.
I’m not sure if we became friends because they were assigned to minister to me or if they were assigned to me because we were already friends, but sometimes I wondered if they had requested the assignment. Their names were Eric and Benton, and they helped me out so much that I used to call them my Fairy Godbrothers. I’m not sure how much they liked that, to be honest. They gave me countless rides to the airport, Eric let me crash on his couch before my dorm re-opened, and Benton the dental student even offered me free dental consulting. I remember distinctly during a visit with the home teachers in a dorm common room, I mentioned a toothache and Benton graciously took a look at it. He grabbed a nearby lamp and perched it at an awkward angle and as he peered at my teeth, I thought, “This is true friendship.” Eric and Benton gathered me under their wings as a hen gathers her brood, and I will never forget the relief of knowing that I had those two on my side. As a church, we are all learning anew what it means to minister, and I believe that maternal nurturing is an amazing example for how we can conduct our life-giving church service.
However, because there is opposition in all things, loving deeply is a big risk, although of course it is a risk worth taking. Pain is inherent to motherhood in the traditional sense and to nurturing more generally. I promise that this pain is worth feeling, and that we are never alone in any suffering, especially when it is the price we pay to care deeply for others. Motherhood and nurturing love involve a lot of pain, I think not despite but because of their importance. The scripture I quoted earlier contains a tender pathos that helps me understand how deeply the Savior loves us, and how well he understands the heartbreak of rejection and of knowing the harm that may come to those we loves. Learning to nurture means learning to let our hearts be broken, and we can take comfort knowing that right by our side is a Savior who knows exactly how to heal broken hearts.
I have learned a lot about pain and love as a birth doula. In case you don’t know what that means, doulas are childbirth coaches that offer support, both physical and emotional, to individuals and families during the process of pregnancy, labor, delivery, and recovery. A lot of my work is celebratory, but the majority of what I do involves helping people cope with pain. I will never forget the first labor I attended. It was also the mother’s first experience with childbirth, and there was an intense fear in her eyes that I saw as soon as I met her. It was a long and difficult labor but at one point I asked her to describe the outfit she was going to bring her little girl home in. She finally smiled and told me about a Minnie Mouse onesie that she had received. After the delivery, I got to see this precious, perfect baby in her polka-dotted and ruffly outfit and there was no question at all as to whether it had been worth it. It was as if the hours of labor had never happened. The powerful joy that I witnessed that day was the natural result of giving life to somebody, in this case a brand new, squishy pink baby.
I’ve probably bragged to you about my amazing mother the amazing poet, and I want to share one of her poems with you now because it expresses so beautifully the risks of mothering. For a little background, my mom wrote this poem about my little sister Cecily. When my mom was pregnant, her doctor realized that Cecily had a large cyst growing in her lung, threatening the development of her heart and lungs. I’ll spare you the suspense and tell you know that Cecily is 14 years old now with healthy amounts of both lungs and sass, but when she was mango-sized, we weren’t sure how her story would end. I still remember my mom’s face one day as she picked me up from school after an especially concerning doctor’s appointment. I could tell she had been crying and that she wanted so badly to put on a brave face for me and my sisters. My mom wrote this poem of hope and sadness about that time, and I invite you to listen for imagery that echoes the shape of a pair of lungs. The poem is called “farfalla”
Spread across cork with straight pins
Light on my wet sleeve
Tell the child of my womb
Will ground you
Your eight eyes blink
Yes no yes
Breath in god’s nostrils
Breath of god’s nostrils
My blue butterfly
(find the book here)
I love this poem because its invocation of “breath of god’s nostrils” helped me understand that to nurture is to co-create with God. We can do this in a literal, biological sense as my mom is describing in her poem, but I believe that any life-giving unconditional love we offer is offered in partnership with God. We can join our mother hen Savior in taking people under our wing. It is hard to find an experience sweeter than knowing we are collaborating with God.
I invite each of you to start nurturing today. Mother’s Day is an amazing holiday but it can also be really challenging for so many reasons. Perhaps some of you are missing a mother today, or feeling unfulfilled without children of your own, or feel intimidated by the expectation to one day bear children and raise them in a difficult world, and I’m sure there are many more kinds of Mother’s Day-related pain than I could name. I promise that the Lord has placed in your path people to nurture and people to be nurtured by. I encourage you to reach out to those around you and put an arm around your spiritual brothers and sisters who may be in extra need of comfort today. Your Heavenly Parents know you so well. They gave you special gifts that you developed before you came to this earth, and They know what your needs are. I know that God will put people in your path whom you can bless and nurture, and in turn you will receive many mothers of your heart to take care of you, to give you life, and to share in your joy. The more we take care of each other, the better life will be. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.