The Church As A Mother

By Rev. Eric H. Carswell

Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.” But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!” (Matthew 12:50)

On this day when many of us reflect with gratitude on contributions made to our lives by our own mother and other mothers that are near and dear to us, Jesus’s distance, at times, from His own mother can seem off-putting. For example, when his parents thought Him lost at age twelve and searched for Him with great sadness for three days, His response was “Why is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49) The account does go on to say that Jesus then went home with Joseph and Mary and “was subject to them,” but still this distance can be troubling from some perspectives.

The Lord told His disciples that His life was an example for them. We can regularly ask ourselves as we face difficult situations, “What would Jesus have done in a situation like this?” But how are we to take from this particular example? Are we also to feel little allegiance to our biological mothers?

The explanation of the fourth commandment given in the True Christian Religion states the following:

Honoring your father and mother means in the natural or literal sense honoring one’s parents, obeying them, being devoted to them, and showing gratitude for the kindnesses they do. These include feeding and clothing their children, and introducing them into the world, so that there they may live civilized and respectable lives; also bringing them into heaven by teaching them the rules of religion. (True Christian Religion 305)

Honoring, obeying, being devoted to, and showing gratitude to the women who gave birth to us is an essential foundation for our spiritual lives as we grow from infancy toward adulthood. And it is also important that as we grow and mature that the first commandment comes more and more to be the central guiding force in our lives. The Lord has commanded us, “You shall have no other gods before me” and in the New Testament the first and great commandment is stated as, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your hear, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) As we grow and mature I would hope that the vast majority of us can grow in appreciation for the ways in which our mothers served our welfare in the upbringing they provided. But even the best mothers are still fallible human beings. And with some certain flaws are conspicuous. A person’s allegiance to the desires and principles of his mother should not supersede that of his allegiance to following his best understanding of what the Lord wants him to do. Anytime our allegiance to another human being or any motivation or principle exceeds our allegiance to follow the Lord we are transgressing the first and great commandment to some degree. Certainly a seven-year-old isn’t shouldn’t be in the position of questioning fundamental issues with his mother. Sadly enough there are some children who at very early ages need to start forming a somewhat independent life from their mother or their father because of fundamental flaws in these parents. The failure to form this independent life would be destructive to the child’s growing spiritual health. Some children have a mother who so regularly puts down healthy qualities in them that they have the choice but to either reject their own lives in accepting their mother’s judgment as correct or they have to recognize that the person with the problem in this situation is their mother.

In the short story read as a lesson from Matthew, the Lord said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!” In doing this He was not rejecting them as unworthy of any attention. Instead He was qualifying their importance in relationship to higher priorities. Can you picture it making any sense for me to interrupt my sermon at this point because a phone call had just come from my mother who just wanted to chat? If you got that phone call, wouldn’t you be inclined to say, “Can I give him a message to phone you as soon as he gets a chance?” This is true of all relationships. Being willing to drop all other considerations to follow the inclination of one person can be quite spiritually unhealthy. This is true of parents with their children, and husbands and wives with their spouses.

But enough of this qualification.

Mothers do wonderful things many of which can be so regular and can show themselves in such small ways that they become nearly invisible. Warm smiles, supportive words, gentle nudges toward different perspectives, even clear exhortations to better behavior are all part of the environment of the home that mothers can help create. As they day-to-day oversee the natural pattern of wants and needs within a household, they create the environment that allows for healthy growth. For many of us the foundations we have in very deep parts of our perspective on what it means to be loved, to be safe, to be cared for have been provided by our mother. In many families the majority of the family patterns at holidays and through out each day–all the different family rituals–were directed and formed by the woman or mother in the household. Nearly all of us can look back and recognize that our mothers did many wonderful things for which we can be grateful.

A powerful comparison is drawn in the Writings of the New Church between the role of a mother and that of the church. The church as a healthy organization of human beings dedicated to being led by the Lord in His Word produces a powerful matrix for the birth and growth of our spiritual life. The connection between natural mothers and that of the church is drawn in detail.

In David:

But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God. (Psalm 22: 9, 10)

This describes the regeneration of the spiritual person by such things as belong to natural birth from the mother; therefore “You are He who took Me out of the womb” signifies that one is regenerated by the Lord and made a member of the church; “You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts” signifies that one is afterwards led and spiritually educated, “the mother’s breasts” signifying spiritual nourishment in such things as belong to the church, “mother” meaning the church; (Apocalypse Explained 710:6)

Quoting from the Arcana Coelestia:

The Lord’s kingdom on earth is the Church, therefore “the womb” also means the Church. For the Church exists where the marriage of good and truth exists. This explains why “opening the womb” means the resulting doctrines taught by the Churches, as well as the ability to receive the truths and goods of the Church, while “going out of the womb” means being born again or being regenerated, that is, becoming the Church since a person who is born again or regenerated becomes the Church. (Arcana Coelestia 4918:1)

Also quoting from the True Christian Religion:

Regeneration is effected in a manner analogous to that in which a person is conceived, carried in the womb, born, and educated. In each human being there is a perpetual correspondence between what takes place naturally and what takes place spiritually, or between what takes place in his body and what takes place in his spirit. This is because each person as to his soul is born spiritual, and is clothed with what is natural, which forms his material body. Therefore when this body is laid aside, his soul, clothed with a spiritual body, enters a world where all things are spiritual, and is there affiliated with its like. Since then, the spiritual body must be formed in a material body, and is formed by means of truths and goods which flow in from the Lord through the spiritual world, and are inwardly received by a person in such things in him as are from the natural world, which are called civil and moral, the way in which its formation is effected is evident; and since, as before said, there is in each person a constant correspondence between what takes place naturally and what takes place spiritually, it follows that this formation is like conception, gestation, birth and education. It is for this reason that natural births in the Word mean spiritual births, which are births of good and truth (True Christian Religion 583)

This quality that is the Lord’s church can grow within an individual’s life and can be shared between two or more people. Remember the Lord said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” When we gather together to try to make a home for the church on earth, whether it be a family unit, among a close and supportive group of friends, or on the level of a congregation, this gathering to be led by the Lord through His Word creates a powerful spiritual climate that is good for each of us. It is a spiritual mother. It is a living presentation of the truth that makes the church. It can bring not just the hard rocks of truth to our lives but the living bread that the Lord offers us. By working together with others we can see wonderful examples of what truth in life means for the people around us. By gathering together to worship, and to share the ups and downs, joys and tragedies that exist within this world a quality that is very much like a mother’s role in a family can take place within our lives.

On this Mother’s Day, may we turn our thoughts in gratitude for what the natural mothers we have know have done for good. May we thank the Lord for His work through them, and thank them for their willingness to do so much. May we also recognize the importance of the church as a spiritual mother. May we thank the Lord for His work through the church, and thank the people who help make that church in our lives for their willingness to do so much as well. May each of us be blessed with a spiritual home that cares for us, guides us, yes even exhorts us to be the kind of person that the Lord is leading us to be.