Mother’s Day

From Rev. John Odhner, Assistant to the Pastor
May 7, 2019

Perhaps the first effort to establish a day for mothers was by Julia Ward Howe, a reader of the Writings who crusaded to end slavery, oppression of women, and war. Her “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was indeed a battle hymn, inspiring hundreds of thousands to join the fight against slavery. (Another popular war song was “Shouting the Battle Cry of Freedom” by George Frederick Root, the New Church composer of two songs in our Liturgy.) I believe both of these people from their New Church background saw freedom as something worth fighting for, and saw the Civil War as linked to the Last Judgment and the Second Coming, since “wars at the present day… correspond to spiritual things… that have a relation to the church.” (Divine Providence 251)
Yet Howe grew sick of the bloodshed and longed not only for freedom but for peace (another promise of the Second Coming: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3) After the war, in 1870, she appealed to mothers to work together to bring peace into the world, with what we now call her “Mother’s Day Proclamation.” She asked women “to take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.” She established Mother’s Day festivities on June 2, which continued for a number of years. Howe loved the teaching in the Writings about marriage, and her appeal for women to bring peace to the world follows the nature of women: “The intelligence of women is by nature modest, gracious, pacific, compliant, soft and gentle, while the intelligence of men is by nature critical, rough, resistant, argumentative, and given to intemperance.” (Married Love 218) “Pacific” literally means “making peace.” If women have more facility for making peace than men, what is their role in bringing world peace?
Our modern celebration of Mother’s Day began with Anna Jarvis in 1907 in remembrance of her mother. Her campaigning for a day to remember and honor mothers on the second Sunday in May led to national and international recognition of the day in 1914. Jarvis would rather we offer handwritten notes of thanks than commercially printed cards, flowers, or candy. Yet I hope we don’t forget Howe’s suggestion that the best gift for mothers, and from mothers, is to “live in peace, man as the brother of man.”
“Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; on her sides shall you be carried, and be dandled on her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 66:12-13)

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