Mother's Day: Blessing the Mothers

With Mom at Portage Glacier, Alaska, 1994

Right after my parents married—Mom was nineteen, Dad was twenty-two—they moved to Alaska, where Dad was newly stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage. They would spend almost three years there, nearly a continent away from Florida, where they had both grown up and where their families lived. Travel being rather different in those days, Mom and Dad didn't make any trips back home that entire time. They saw their parents just once, when Gramps and Grandmother and Mommaw and Granddaddy flew out together for a visit. There's a photo of my four grandparents coming across the tarmac of the Anchorage airport, propelling themselves toward the man who holds the camera, the woman who stands beside him. You can see it in their faces, what it means to be walking toward their children whom they have not laid eyes on in more than a year.

That image is just one of the many (many, many) scenes of Alaska that wove through my growing-up years. My brother and sister and I sometimes gave Mom and Dad a hard time about what seemed to us the perpetual slide shows documenting their Alaska sojourn, but half a century later, the images are treasures. The pictures left their imprint on me, bringing to life a landscape that, though far distant from my home, planted itself in my imagination as I grew up in the near-tropical terrain of Florida.

Nearly two decades ago, I had occasion to travel to Anchorage with a group from the church I was serving. Twenty-four hours before our departure, a turn of events resulted in Mom's joining us for the trip. Further turns enabled the two of us to remain in Alaska for an extra week, staying in a house on the outskirts of Anchorage that gave us a stunning view down into the city and the mountain range beyond.

It was a remarkable experience to journey with Mom into the landscape of this place that she, along with Dad, had first impressed upon my imagination. We visited some of the places in the geography where she and Dad had begun their marriage, stood (and took pictures) in some of the same spots where I had seen images of the two of them. The photo above was taken at Portage Glacier, which I remembered well from the slide shows of my childhood.

When I think of what endures in my life—what has shaped me, what grounds me and helps me know who I am—I think of the landscape my parents passed along to me. Not just the physical layout of the part of Florida that has been home to us, but also the landscape that is created in the telling of stories, and the making of new ones.

Our mothers are our first landscape, our original terrain, creating us and sheltering us in the space of their own body. When we have mothers who know, or learn along the way, how to keep creating the landscape for us and with us—when they can fashion a terrain that provides both sanctuary and the freedom to find the contours of our own life—that is gift indeed.

On this Mother's Day, I celebrate and give thanks for my own mother—Judy Scott Richardson—and all the mothers who have been able to provide this tremendous gift. And I offer prayers for those women who, owing to the gaps and fissures in their own landscape, have left pain and emptiness in the space where a mother should have been. For those who choose to enter into the empty, motherless places—the "othermothers" who come in the form of teachers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, neighbors, friends—bless you and thank you for your mothering hearts.

For all the mothers—mothers by blood, mothers by heart—a blessing to you on this Mother's Day:

Blessing the Mothers

Who are our
first sanctuary.

Who fashion
a space of blessing
with their own being:

with the belly
the bone and
the blood

if not with these,
then with the
durable heart
that offers itself
to break
and grow wide,
to gather itself
around another
as refuge,
as home.

Who lean into
the wonder and terror
of loving what
they can hold
but cannot contain.

Who remain
in some part of themselves
always awake,
a corner of consciousness
keeping perpetual vigil.

Who know
that the story
is what endures
is what binds us
is what runs deeper
even than blood

and so they spin them
in celebration
of what abides
and benediction
on what remains:

a simple gladness
that latches onto us
and graces us
on our way.

13 Responses to "Mother's Day: Blessing the Mothers"

  1. Jackie Bridges says:

    What a beautiful gift to all of us Jan. With your blessing I would like to use it for some of my patients for whom Mother's Day is a difficult anomaly. I thought of my mom with great love as I read what you shared.

  2. Melissa Self Patrick says:

    stunningly beautiful…thanks very much!

  3. Anna says:

    Your words and reflection are achingly beautiful yet again. A deep bow of gratitude to and for you.

  4. Cindi Beth Johnson says:

    Jan, your words are uplifting and holy. You paint a picture in words that captures my heart in a unique way on this Mother's Day. Thank you for this and many other blessings. With great thanks, Cindi Beth

  5. Kathy says:

    Jan, thank you for this beautiful reflection and the imagery that it brought to me as Mother's Day closes. It occurs to me that as we read the gospel story of the journey to Emmaus today your words travel along with that story reminding us that our first journey–our first landscape–is with and through our mothers. I have not seen that journey and birthing are so related. Thank you for the gift of your beautiful work!

  6. DeAnn Miller says:

    Just what I would want to say, thanks.

  7. Rebecca from Alaska says:

    Jan, thanks for sending this. It was so beautiful. The poem brought sweet tears to my eyes. The story of my own mother is the one of gaps and fissures. I so deeply appreciated how you remembered that story as well as the others and with such compassion. Thank you.

  8. Sonia says:

    Jan, what a beautiful poem. For years I have found your writings to be so honest and real. I appreciate that. This blog is yet another example. For many women, Mother's Day isn't a happy occasion … so it's good that you speak of the "gaps and fissures." One of my daughters-in-law initially couldn't have children and found Mother's Day so painful (she and my son have long since blessed me with six beautiful grandchildren). And a woman in one of my women's groups had a painful childhood because of her mother. So I always remember such women on Mother's Day even as I remember my mother, who embodied unconditional love. I often send cards to friends who've had no children but who have mentored me or given birth to ideas, poetry, art and many other wonderful things. Thank you for the gift you are to so many of us!

    This morning as I read about Eve in your book, In the Sanctuary of Women, I thought about what a wonderful model she is for those of us who wish to explore ideas, push out the boundaries, ask the tough questions. Thanks for inviting us to look beneath the layers that have been piled onto her through the centuries.

  9. Rev. Ruthanne Ward says:

    Hi Jan,

    I just wanted to thank you for your book "In the Sanctuary of Women". It is proving to be a compassionate companion to me during a challenging part of my own journey. Thank you for your courage to listen to the Spirit.

    Blessings to you as you continue to offer so many blessings to us …

    Peace, Ruthanne

  10. Marcia Blasi says:

    Thank you Jan, you are a blessing to all of us.

  11. Pat Sykes says:

    Thank you Jan…this is the first year without my mother-in-law who was such a wonder-filled woman of God and blessing to all.

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