1 Samuel 1:20- 28
Well, you might be thinking “here’s an odd reading for Mothering Sunday.” We heard that Hannah, Samuel’s mum took him to the Temple when Samuel was just weaned, an important celebration in those ancient days and usually happened when the child was one or two years old. She took him to the Temple and left him there.
What’s that all about? What do we think of abandoning a two year old to strangers for the rest of his life and then going home?
The trouble is that today’s reading begins at the end of the story. The beginning of the book of Samuel tells us that Hannah had no children while PENINNAH, ELKANAH’s other wife, for he had two, had plenty of children. Year after year Peninnah would tease Hannah about her childlessness.
Frances and I and possibly some of you know something about this. It came upon us in the middle of our careers to want to start a family, and it is then that you discover that it is not so easy, sometimes extremely difficult in fact and inevitably at that very time all around you are announcing imminent births, you seem to be surrounded by people falling pregnant and the unfairness and pain of it is very great. So it was for Hannah. There were of course none of our modern options to help Hannah so she did what she could and prayed for a son, vowing that should she have one she would dedicate him to the service of the Lord. So here is a first aspect of motherhood: The desire to have a child.
And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son and she kept her vow made in extremis, for remember she would have done anything to have a baby.
In 1760, which is quite recent compared with Biblical times Laurence Sterne writing in Tristram Shandy opened his book by saying:
“I wish my father and mother, or indeed both of them, had minded what they were about when they begot me.”
It was a commonplace idea you see that the time place and conditions of conception would determine a child’s future and so Sterne is grumbling a little. He felt sure that his mum and dad had chosen the wrong time and if only they had been more careful in consulting the star charts his life would have been much better. So limited was the eighteenth century understanding of childbirth in fact that Sterne in the next chapter was able to talk about the HOMUNCULUS, the “little man” a theory abounding in those days that the complete human being in miniature came entirely from the father and mother only provided nutriment for nine months and no elements of character!
Now of course we know of course that mothers are important form the very start. I always felt that it was difficult for our adopted boys when they were growing up not to have been able to know their birth parents. I had the comfort for example of being able to say to myself “I have my mother’s Irish temperament -I can be a bit fiery -and I am so because my mother is like that and whether or not that trait was good or bad at least there was some sort of tangible explanation. Our boys did not have that. So a second aspect of motherhood is the gift of genes and character that she has given us.
Thirdly, all of us has had a mother and nearly all of us have had a mother figure in our lives, sometimes not the woman who gave birth to us but someone who nurtured us, taught us, helped us and who played a pivotal part in making us who we are today. They may have been a family member or perhaps not, but someone who gave us advice to whom we turned in trouble or joy.
So among the things we celebrate today are those three things: the desire to have children, the miracle of conception and birth and the love that mothers have for their children whoever they are, the love that grew and nurtured us and indeed the love that then and still grows in us.