According to Wikipedia, the roots of Mother’s Day may go all the way back to celebrations of motherhood by the ancient Greeks. In 16th century England, the custom developed of observing Mothering Day on the 4th Sunday in Lent. On that day, people would return to their “mother church” where, naturally, they would likely encounter their mothers.
What caught my eye, though, was the background of the American celebration of Mother’s Day. In 1870 Julia Ward Howe, abolitionist and social activist who is perhaps best known as the writer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” called for a Mother’s Day for Peace. She issued the following “Mother’s Day Proclamation.”
“Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether our baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly, ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.'”
“From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: ‘Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.’ Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
“Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means Whereby the great human family can live in peace, Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, But of God.
“In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask That a general congress of women without limit of nationality May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient And at the earliest period consistent with its objects, To promote the alliance of the different nationalities, The amicable settlement of international questions, The great and general interests of peace.”
The idea of a Mother’s Day for Peace did not catch on. Eventually, a memorial day for mothers did spread across the country until, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mother’s Day, on which people were urged to fly the flag to honor those mothers who had lost sons in war. Might our churches provide a valuable witness to our nation and to our world were we to reclaim the roots of Mother’s Day?
In particular, what if we, in addition to honoring and praying for our mothers, used Mother’s Day as a time to pray for peace and to commit ourselves to work for peace? After all, did not and do not our mothers teach us about the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation?
And does not “Mother Church” teach us of those same things? “Mother’s Day for Peace.” It has a nice, Christian, ring to it, don’t you think?
Michael Ruffin is pastor of The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga. This column is adapted from his blog.
Curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia.