Mourning on Mother’s Day

Last week, I sent some resources out to colleagues thinking of marking Mother’s Day with prayers for peace in the wake of a rash of gun violence that has inflamed our country. Then came the weekend, further increasing the toll.

Many churches, for very good reason, avoid Mother’s Day observances. Yet the sentiment surrounds us. One way to address it with integrity and respect for the wounded might be to remember its origins in the push for peace, and to restore it to a position where, rather than singling out individuals, it holds to account our community for its continuing violence.

The original Mother’s Day Proclamation by Julia Ward Howe focused on peace and healing in the wake of a Civil War, in part:

“Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! … From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.” 

While Julia Ward Howe wrote her Proclamation in 1870, it was Anna Maria Jarvis who succeeded in having Mother’s Day officially recognized in 1914. Jarvis later tried to rescind the holiday, dismayed at how it had become commercialized and divorced from any concrete recognition of mothers. Instead of token recognition, we might benefit from:

  • Recognizing and addressing the dire need in the United States for better maternal healthcare, and especially for minority communities; the maternal mortality rate for Black women is more than 2.5 times that of White women (CDC);
  • Practical and legislative support for those at risk of gender-based and domestic violence: “Women in the U.S. who are pregnant or who have recently given birth are more likely to be murdered than to die from obstetric causes—and these homicides are linked to a deadly mix of intimate partner violence and firearms, according to researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.” Moreover, a woman living with an abuser with access to a gun is 5 times more likely to die by homicide than one whose home is gun-free (Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions);
  • Educating our congregations and communities that gun injuries, including those from homicide, suicide, and accident, are now the leading cause of death in America for children and teenagers. Safe storage laws reduce deaths from both accidental discharge and suicide among children and adolescents ( Churches can also play a part in educating about and encouraging safe storage when firearms are in the home.

Finally, in the company of the spirits of Rachel, Rizpah, and Mary, I offer this prayer:

God, who is the Mother of us all,
brooding over your children, have mercy:
Have mercy on the mothers whose children were lost to violence:
Rachel, who remains unconsoled;
Rizpah, who watches over their bones;
Mary, whose soul was pierced by the nails of the Cross;
the mothers of Chardon, Nashville,
Parkland, Akron, Ferguson, Uvalde,
Cleveland, Texas, West Park, Cleveland, too many more
to name, except in our hearts, which still pulse
with your compassion.

                                                Pause for names

Christ, who became incarnate,
mortal child, have mercy on the motherless:
the ones sheltered by warm bodies;
the ones left in the cold;
those too young to understand;
those who understand all too well, who have seen too much;
those bereaved by despair and desperate acts;
those who committed the act of accidental or ill-fated violence.

                                                Pause for names

Spirit of the living God,
nestle over the troubled waters of this, your land, our nation.
Stir us by your mercy to see in every mourning mother the Mother of us all,
and to love her as She has loved us.


Image: Rachel is weeping for her children. Macedonian Encyclopedia, MANU, 2009, p., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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