On a Mother’s Faith

Over the years and in various writings, I have alluded to my mother’s faith as a source of inspiration for me. On this eve of Mothers’ Day, she is on my mind and so I thought there might be some value in elaborating on the simple yet profound faith she lived.

The cornerstone of my mother’s faith had to do with facing tragedy. When my mother was 6 years old, her own mother died in the flu epidemic of 1918-19. My grandfather never remarried and so my mother, the second youngest of 7 children, suffered a grievous loss. It would not be the first.

My mother had hoped for a big family. She had my brother and then looked forward to the birth of her second child. This girl was born with spina bifida, a disease that at that time was fatal. Patricia lived only a few days. After me, a second girl came along, she too was born with spina bifida. Linda lived for 4 months.

My mother drew upon her faith to bear these tragedies. She didn’t say much about God’s will but would often comment that “We all have crosses to bear. Some are heavier than others”. Similarly, when I once asked her about her devotion to Mary the mother of Jesus she said “Only another mother can understand the heartbreaks of a mother’s heart.”

Her faith was more than Irish stoicism. She had an abiding belief in the power of prayer, stating from time to time that she was “storming heaven” on behalf of a loved one. Others in my extended family would often turn to her with prayer requests. With one exception, her prayers were always for others. I can still see her getting on her knees at night, storming heaven.

Her faith had a strong dose of service. I remember coming upon her putting balloons into an envelope. She said “They’re for the lepers”. Somehow she was in communication with a priest in the Philippines and was meeting his request.

My mother’s faith was very other-oriented. But on her deathbed, I believe she made a final request that involved herself. She prayed about her hour of death. She wanted very much to live through Christmas of 1994. “I don’t want to ruin everyone’s Christmas”, she insisted. I tried to persuade her to let go but she apparently made it a private matter between her and her Lord. She died on December 28.

Our mothers have great effect on our journeys. Some of us were not blessed with kind mothers and so their spiritual journeys include the need to heal. Others have spent years searching for their birth mothers, trying to make a deeply missed connection. Still others, like my own mother, spent time trying to fill a painful absence.

I didn’t share all my mothers beliefs then and still don’t. I argue with God on an almost daily basis. Even when I was young, I asked Why. I analyze and try to understand difficult spiritual concepts. I sometimes question the value of prayer or the reality of the afterlife. And yet from time to time, I refer back to this simple woman’s simple faith and I am humbled.

The night my mother died, I went into my backyard. Inspired by my readings in Algonquian spirituality, I wanted to look for my mother’s star. There it was. A bright star between two smaller stars. She was with my sisters and she was smiling.

Reflection:  1. How does/did your mother, your mother figure, or the absence of a mother affect your own spiritual journey?

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