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.