Feast of St Theodore the Studite
TWO DAYS ago I was grading papers at my desk when one of my students came in to get some help with an essay. We were almost done when she turned and asked if she could ask me a question. Of course, I said. An hour and many other questions later, she finally left my classroom.
Though I’ve often joked that I feel more like a life coach to my students than their teacher, this girl’s desire for attention and counsel made me think. She wasn’t the first girl to come to me, shyly looking over her shoulder, asking if I have a few minutes to talk. There are times my female students ask such deep questions, express such longing and emotion, that I’ve wondered, Honey, where’s your mother??
But I also understand. For whatever reason, not every biological mother can (or will) give her daughter what she needs. As a woman whose relationship with her own mother is rocky at best, I understand these girls’ hunger, not merely for female companionship, but for female nurturing, for what some might call spiritual mothering. Perhaps, in certain seasons, we need the wisdom and wise perspective of a mother with whom we share no physical DNA.
My first introduction to spiritual mothering came several years ago when reading No Greater Love by Mother Teresa. I had read many books by Christian women, but this was something altogether different. Mother Teresa had a voice so gentle, I couldn’t help but listen. Her words on kindness and love shook me from my spiritual slumber, opened my ears to a voice outside my religious tradition, and (though I didn’t know it at the time) set me on a course that recently landed me in the Orthodox church.
Speaking of that…imagine my surprise when, as part of the conversion process, our priest told me to pick a second mother. Few moments have ever impacted me so greatly. The idea that another mother figure might love and nurture me had never, ever occurred to me.
Further, I was given a female patron saint, Ruth, after my middle name, my grandmother’s name. It seemed almost too good to be true that I could be mothered from yet another source. Suddenly, everywhere I went as a new Orthodox Christian, I was stumbling upon spiritual mothers. To look up at the beautiful turquoise ceiling of our cathedral and see women looking over not only me, but over every motherless person in the congregation, felt like the hug my own mother could not give. How comforting it was to go from feeling motherless to being surrounded by so great a cloud of spiritual mothers.
In the years since ‘discovering’ Mother Teresa, my cloud of spiritual mothers continues to grow. Though I have only begun to see these women not just as saints, writers, friends, sisters, daughters, but as spiritual mothers, my perspective is already changing. As I sit at these women’s figurative and literal feet, I feel I am drinking from a deep, cool well after being lost in a motherless desert for a long, long time.
We who feel motherless are not without hope. A cloud of spiritual mothers surrounds us, waiting to enfold, encourage, enlighten, or otherwise nurture us.
If only we’d open our arms.
Amy Henry teachers at Northfield School of the Liberal Arts and blogs about faith and family at www.wholemama.com.