There is something about birthdays. We have fun. We eat cake. We drink wine. We sing 80s songs on Singstar (well, that may be a peculiarity of our family).
And mothers reflect.
When our children, our young adult children, grow and mature, we as mothers mature. A passing birthday causes us to catch our breath, in surprise. Another year? Is he really 18…or 24 …or whatever the current birthday heralds.
Today is such a day for me. A birthday for another son and a little pause of reflection during my lunch break at work.
Edith Stein (St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), philosopher, convert, saint, wrote of women and of women’s vocations: A great responsibility is being laid upon us by both sides. We are being obliged to consider the significance of woman and her existence as a problem. We cannot evade the question as to what we are and what we should be […] Our being, our becoming does not remain enclosed within its own confines; but rather in extending itself, fulfils itself. However, all of our being and becoming and acting in time is ordered from eternity, has a meaning for eternity, and only becomes clear to us insofar as we put it in light of eternity. Spirituality of the Christian Woman.
Motherhood forces us, as women, to extend ourselves. We are pushed beyond our own confines, to try something more, be something more, give something more. And, finally, in extending ourselves as mothers we see our role in the light of eternity. This moment, this child, this day, all have significance for our souls, the souls of mothers and of their children. Even in our casting down and making mistakes, and especially in our asking for forgiveness, we are producing a mark on eternal souls.
Judith Lynch, a contemporary writer in theology, describes this passing-on as ‘traditioning’ She believes that this traditioning is a form of spiritual midwifery, that women, in particular, are the conduits of spiritual traditions. We mothers share our faith and the traditions entangled with our faith in our lives, and this becomes enveloped in the child’s soul and memory. A memory of love and faith, even when it appears to lie dormant in a questioning or troubling experience, in family discord, in tragedy, in less-than-perfect lives.
This is humbling.
It is also amazing. For, whatever else we do with our lives as mothers, we know the supreme importance of our first vocation: to love. To love God, and to see God in the face of our children.
So, as I prepare to drink wine and sing Blondie after work, in honour of another birthday, I also take time to reflect on the importance of motherhood. As a vocation. As a life.