Making Sense of Motherhood brings together some work from writers of quite diverse Christian and Jewish backgrounds. Several of the chapters converge to form a polyphonic discussion of spirituality in motherhood which is more sustained than what Motherhood as Spiritual Practice offered.
If contemplation is key to spirituality, as it so often seems, what is a mother to do, especially in the chaotic years of young children? Cristina Lledo Gomez applies Karl Rahner’s work on sharing Christ’s death and resurrection to motherhood as a way of showing how lived experience carries with it a spiritual dimension. Rebecca Lindsay gives a more personal reflection on what resources have helped her to bring her ministry and motherhood identities together. Thirdly, Sarah Foley Massa, brings some midwifery research into conversation with Walter Brueggeman to ask how the process of becoming ‘mother’ is a reorientation of self and identity. From their different angles, they paint a picture of spirituality in the everyday. Each of the authors also interacts with the experience of sacrifice or self-giving in motherhood, and sensitively show how it provides a framework for being a disciple. At no point do they suggest that motherhood is the telos of women, but they recognise the uniqueness of the situation, and provide a practical theology of spirituality and transformation in motherhood.
While these chapters complemented one another beautifully, there were several other chapters that fell short of their potential. Anthony Rees asked whether Moses could be considered a mother in Israel, but found too many inconsistencies to answer in the affirmative; Shayna Sheinfeld’s chapter on Lot’s daughters and Tamar argued that their reprehensible behaviour was redeemed by motherhood, but I wanted her to push further into the implications of this; meanwhile Ruth Sheridan’s chapter on the parable of the labouring mother in John 16:20-22 carried some excellent insights on her own experience of labor but didn’t really apply these to the passage. I’m not quite sure what these chapters offered to the volume as a whole either; they almost seemed superfluous.
Apart from Beth Stovell’s chapter, ‘The Birthing Spirit, The Childbearing God’, the highlight for me was Alicia D. Myers’ chapter on milk metaphors in Hebrews and 1 Peter. I guess I’d taken breastfeeding metaphors in the Bible at face value, but Myers shows how they are rooted in the complex gender constructions of ancient Greek and Roman cultures. Breastfeeding was considered integral to raising a virtuous (read: masculine) man, and it’s this that both Peter and the author of Hebrews draw on in their calls for Christian maturity. That may seem like the ideal mature Christian is fashioned off a particular type of masculinity but Myers’ insights present these images as mingling the feminine into that space, and as well bringing out how the New Testament both uses and undermines those cultural constructs of masculinity. This chapter was an oustanding, and one I think I’ll be returning to.
There are definitely some dull moments in this volume, but the gems absolutely sparkle!
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.