A new Mother’s Day song for Mormons

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Mother's DayI’ve blogged before about how I tend to skip sacrament meeting on Mother’s Day (see here and here for past kvetching).

Yes, I know that planning a Mother’s Day sacrament meeting is like a Kobayashi Maru test just for Mormon bishops; there’s no way for them to win and please everyone.

And yes, I realize that plenty of women love Mother’s Day and find it all rainbows and unicorns. Bully for them.

But the Church’s usual emphasis on lionizing “motherhood” in an ideal way never speaks to me. I would much rather hear concrete, real examples of actual women. I would especially like to hear more about one woman in particular: our heavenly mother, about whom we know so little.

Having read my various MD complaints, last spring a reader, Kim McCall, emailed me to tell me about an interesting development in his California ward. The Primary president asked him, as Chorister, to write a new song for the kids to sing in sacrament meeting on Mother’s Day. I wanted to know more, so here are his thoughts. The music, available as a free PDF download, is at the end of the post.

RNS: How did the idea for the song come about last year?

Kim McCall: Three weeks (!!!) before Mother’s Day our Primary President told me (and I wish I could remember her exact words) “I’m really tired of the same old Mother’s Day songs, and I think you should write a new one.”  The way she said it communicated that she wasn’t just tired of them, but underwhelmed and maybe even  “sick and tired” or a bit insulted.  We really ought (as a church) to be able to do better.

RNS: What do you hope the song communicates about mothering? 

McCall: The question of what I’m trying to communicate is a harder one for me. My first task, as I imagined it, was simply to write a song that was somehow a tribute to mothering and that the kids could sing authentically.  I think I want it to be a grateful acknowledgement of the variety of ways our mothers affect and bless us.  I pondered “mothering” and thought the essence of it might be feeding.  I actually elicited that from the kids before we practiced it the first time last year.  “At the most basic level, what does a mother do for you?”  The first answer (after a little pondering) was “She feeds you.”  I said, “Exactly what I was thinking. Yes, she feeds your body.  Anything else?”  The leading question was immediately answered “your mind” and “your spirit.”  So I said, “Well, that’s what the song is about.”

. . . The last line is a very oblique allusion to Heavenly Mother.  I had to teach the kids what “foretaste” and even “divine” meant, but then I asked them to interpret the whole line, and one of the girls talked beautifully about how much Jesus loves us and how the love we can (sometimes) feel from our parents is a hint of what that love is like. I took the opportunity to talk very simply about the mother/Mother rather than the parents/Jesus analogy that I had in mind.

I also spent time having them say that they know their parents aren’t perfect, and they don’t have to be.  I happened to know that one of the kids had suffered a horrible experience that week at the hands of his (nearly perfect, really) mother. They still love us, and we can often feel that.

RNS: What have you and others found lacking in previous church celebrations of Mother’s Day?

McCall: I know that Mother’s Day is the most agonizing day of the year for the bishopric.  There are so many ways to go wrong, and someone will always feel that you have.  I live in the San Francisco Bay area, and my (family) ward is sort of a magnet ward for singles who don’t want to belong to a singles-only ward, so speakers and leaders often do a decent job of trying to help the childless feel like they can play a huge role in the lives of kids in the ward.  I feel that deep in my bones, and I’ve loved serving as a Priesthood quorum advisor, as a Seminary teacher, and as Primary chorister.  I of course also wish that I could hear a reference or two to Heavenly Mother on Mother’s Day, at least.

I used to feel (the standard complaint) that Mother’s Day was too prescriptive or idealized motherhood unrealistically.  But you asked what it’s missing, rather than what it has too much of.  I miss the same thing I generally miss at church (although we have a few exceptions in my ward and stake).  I miss spiritual imagination.  I miss vision.  I miss both the celebration of our understanding of the eternities and the creative imagination of how our deep identities might be reflected in our lives and how we conceive of them.  I miss hearing new songs or even new verses to old songs (metaphorically speaking).  We don’t have to be so boring, and we don’t have to quote conference talks all the time.  Maybe also, I miss genuine compassion for the difficulty of the roles we’ve assigned ourselves.  Exalt, perhaps, the effort, the occasional triumph, the glimpse of eternity.

5.8.15 Because My Mother Feeds Me

  • TomW

    O my Bishop, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

    And so it is that this year’s Kobayashi Maru test falls upon my shoulders in Sacrament Meeting. Pray for me!

    Jana, I think you’d actually appreciate my approach to the topic. Let me know if you’ll permit my sending it to you should I survive the weekend!

  • Sharee

    I like the song. Too bad we don’t all have Kim McCalls in our wards. I agree the choices of hymns we have for Mothers’ Day is rather limited. We will, of course, be singing “Love at Home” in Sacrament Meeting, Don’t know what the Primary is doing. We need some new songs for adults, too. How about writing something for the adults, Kim?

    By the way last year one of the speakers (a member of he Bishopric) spoke about Heavenly Mother. He’s our bishop now.

  • KMD

    LOVE the song. Thanks! What a positive addition to mothers day!

  • Maddy

    I am a mother. I must confess. I hate Mother’s Day. What do I hate about it? For one thing it has become way overblown–especially at church. One exception, I love seeing the children sing in church. I hate that it is a painful day for childless women. I hate that the glowing reports of awesome mothers makes me–and perhaps other mothers–wonder if I “measure up.”
    To my children: don’t give me presents, or card or flowers because of a national holiday or Hallmark ads. I just like having the day off from cooking. I enjoy it when you call any day of the year. My thanks is seeing you moving forward with your own lives in a healthy and productive way. Could we change Mother’s day into “Thank-You/Recognition Day? or Women’s Day or ????

  • Orson Pratt in his book “The Seer,” page 172 that God the Father has a plurality of wives. That would make it Gods the Mothers, not God the Mother.

    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/2015/03/progressive-revelation-or-making-god-of.html

  • Joseph M

    We had a couple of very interesting Talks this year.

    One sister told stories of three of the women in her family who didn’t follow the usual path and pattern of motherhood.

    The first was a great aunt whose rape by her father at age 12, before he left her and her siblings at the orphanage, broke this aunts mind. She never developed mentally past 12 but became an incredible healer of animals. ( Mother of ALL living, gen 3:20).
    Next was a n aunt who became a step mother after the death of her own children and third was her daughter who almost died from a tubal pregnancy.

    Our Young Men’s President spoke of how his mother left his abusive father after 7 years of marriage at a time when you just didn’t DO that. and the hard work she did raising him and his siblings.

    I think we need to expand our understanding of what ‘mother’ means.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    I think there is a growing sensitivity to this issue. It’s worthwhile to emphasize that motherhood is as much a state of mind as a family relationship. Not only can the celebration be awkward for childless women but, gee, not every mother deserves all the things we say about mothers.

    It is worthwhile upholding an ideal, even when we know that the ideal is rare or non-existent. It serves to instruct and to encourage. But true motherhood can be many things, and no one should feel left out due to personal circumstances.

  • Emmef Jota

    Jesus didn’t tell you to be like your Heavenly Mother. He elevated the status of women to as high as it could be when he said, “What manner of men ought ye to be? Even as I am.” There is no separate standard for men and women, not in anything that matters.