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Mother's Day

by Kathy Coffey

I have spent the week in dialogue with a most unusual woman. In hands which should cradle a child, she holds a crown of thorns. Her fingers are seared as brutally as her son or daughter's flesh was torn. She is the Mother of the Disappeared. While this icon might seem an odd choice for the celebration of Mother's Day, it is appropriate for reasons larger than Hallmark cards and florists' bouquets. Her halo reminds us that the parents of the martyred die inwardly like Mary and are holy like Mary.

Violating all the rules for classic iconography, a handprint smears the lower left corner of her portrait. It is as out of place as a jelly blob on a book, a stain on the new carpet or the grubby marks that children leave on walls. Lest we become too heady about holiness, it reminds us of reality. Meeting this icon, I protested, "I don't want to live with you all week! Your stare condemns my safety and luxury. Why don't you go away and let me enjoy the apple blossoms, my daughter's pastel dresses, the joys of spring?" My instinct to flee seemed supported by a line from the Gospel: "I came that they might have life in abundance." If Christ's gift of life has been so cruelly grabbed from these mothers and their children, what does it mean to me?

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She replies, "I participate in Christ's trouncing of the death-dealing forces that stalk all children. Just as the martyrs of El Salvador played their part in bringing an end to the civil war, so I stand implacable as conscience. Persistently, I call oppressors to accountability. Furthermore, I challenge you to nurture the life you have been given, for it is fragile and precious."

Her eyes upon me quiet my annoyance with my children, my frustration with their little failures. She reminds me that although I may not understand her particular ordeal, I may confront other problems. Can I bring them to her serenity, her conviction that God is with us both in loving support?

"You still have your children," she reminds me. "Cherish them. Why do you get irritated when they invade your quiet times? I would give anything for such a little invasion. But my arms are empty. My home is silent."

Eventually, for me as for her, all the children disappear. They grow up, leave for college, find their own paths. As one mom lamented, sweeping up debris, "First they break your things. Then they break your heart." Sometimes the mothers disappear. My ten-year-old daughter tells me about the little boy in her class who made a Mother's Day card along with the other children, but he didn't know where to send it. Mom left; he lives with his dad.

In such heartbreaking separations, we see into the mystery of God. God says of the beloved people Israel: "How can I give you up?ůMy heart recoils within me;/ my compassion grows warm and tender" (Hosea 11:8). Jesus, torn from his mother on the way to Calvary, can understand our worst nightmare, and relate to the suffering we most dread. However difficult our experience with our children may be, God participates intimately in the relationship. And that is good news for Mother's Day.

From the book Thresholds to Prayer

 

Kathy Coffey is an award-winning author and editor for Living the Good News. Her recent books include Experiencing God With Your Children and Hidden Women of the Gospels (Crossroad Publishing Co.). She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband and four children.

 

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