A Book Review: _The Beauty of Motherhood_

Spoiler alert: I’m not a mother.

But I am a parent, a father even, and in picking up the new book The Beauty of Motherhood by Kimberly Knowle-Zeller and Erin Strybis found echoes of my own experience in these pages.

Organized in a similar fashion as To Bless the Space Between Us by another deep-thinking writer after my own heart, John O’Donohue, The Beauty of Motherhood provides reflections, prayers, and practices that correspond to that age-old question by the pensive writer of Ecclesiastes, “What time is it?”

As any parent knows, each stage of development in those early years is also a stage of development for the parent walking with that child. This book surrounds the stages of “infancy,” “toddlerhood,” and “childhood” with words that bless, console, and encourage moms and mothering figures, bringing intention and attention to the movements of the heart.

I always balk when people tell young parents to “savor every moment,” because honestly you’re usually too tired, confused, or even annoyed to enjoy one moment, let alone every one. This work provides some scaffolding to that sentiment, though, easing the pressure that phrase can cause. A parent need not savor every moment in real time, but with the help of these authors can bring memories and moments that may have slipped away, giving them new life through these reflections.

A special part of this work, and one that is all too familiar to so many but rarely talked about, are the parts where the anxiety and heartache surrounding “waiting for motherhood” is given voice.

Motherhood is a mixed bag. These authors know this well and are attentive to the prismic emotions that comes with it.

The Beauty of Motherhood is a book that, while geared toward those first years of being a mama, could certainly help one awaken meaning at any stage of mommy-ing. My own boys have long since abandoned calling their mom “mommy” (a sad milestone of its own!), and rarely call me daddy anymore. But having something that notes that threshold makes a difference to these parenting hearts, even if for a few paragraphs.

This is the perfect gifts for moms and moms-to-be, and I would contend makes a great gift for grandmothers, too, especially as they watch their children live into parenting in their own way.

Trying to encapsulate the distinctive reflections in this book in a succinct post is difficult, so maybe I’ll let the author’s words do their own speaking here at the end.

When talking about exploring nature with their young son Jack, one mom is brought to a fallen tree trunk where green moss is growing tenderly on bark, “a burst of color amid a muted landscape.”

“What’s this, Mommy?” the young Jack asks.

“It’s beautiful,” the mom replies. (p. 120)

And that, Beloved, is kind of what it feels like at the best of times to be a parent, a mommy (and a daddy).

It’s beautiful.

And it is.

This daddy saw himself in the beauty of motherhood here.

Patron Saint of Evening Hymns

Today the church remembers the author of one of your favorite hymns and stalwart keeper of his word: Saint Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, Creator of Earworms.

Saint Thomas Ken was the son of barristers in 17th Century Britain. In these turbulent times factions between Protestants and Catholics loomed large over everything, including the crown. Saint Thomas was an Anglican priest and chaplain to King Charles II (namesake of the current King of England). Though he was the confessor of King Charles, he would not allow the king’s mistress to enter his homeā€¦and the king respected him for this. In thankfulness for both his service and with respect for his uncompromising word, King Charles II made Saint Thomas Ken the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

In 1684 King James II ascended to the throne as King Charles’s successor, and though King James II was a Roman Catholic, Saint Thomas Ken gave him his allegiance. This sworn allegiance, though, did not prevent Saint Thomas from speaking up with King James II attempted to undermine the authority of the Church of England, and this political stand had a political price.

Saint Thomas was thrown in the Tower of London for refusing to do as King James II decreed.

King James II was deposed only four years later shortly after Saint Thomas was acquitted, but though William of Orange took the throne, Saint Thomas had sworn his oath to King James II and felt he couldn’t betray that word (even though King James had thrown him in the stocks).

Saint Thomas Ken was removed from his bishopric and died on this day in 1711.

Despite the political and ecclesial turmoil of the time, Saint Thomas Ken was able to do some majestic penmanship behind his ecclesial desk. He is remembered and celebrated even today when the church sings the melodious morning hymn, “Awake, my soul, and with the sun” (ELW 557), and the contemplative, beautiful, and tear-inducing evening hymn, “All praise to thee, my God this night” (ELW 565).

It’s that last one that most probably know him for.

Saint Thomas Ken is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes turbulent times can produce wonderful moments of beauty.

Under the Ash Moon

In Celtic tradition, the month of March is associated with the great ash tree. The ash tree is one of three trees that the pre-Christian Celts held sacred (ash, oak, and thorn), and according to tradition, Yggdrasil, the “world tree” was an ash tree from which all life was birthed.

Because ash trees are so tall, they were seen as the connection between the heavens and the earth, and therefore were understood to be powerful symbols of good in the world. In fact, it was rumored in ancient times that snakes were so afraid of the ash tree that they wouldn’t even slither over its shadow.

Snakes are an interesting evil symbol, too, until you remember that in the ancient world the snake was very scary: quiet and often venomous. It would attack you in your sleep, often looking for warmth in the bed of a person. Or it might strike you in the field, shaded by the grass.

Our modern zoological minds may wonder at this ancient symbol of evil, but our pre-modern ancestors just knew “stay away!” This, and its unusual form, is why it’s often a representation of evil in the ancient world. After all, snakes are not bad creatures, just misunderstood by humans who think they have to understand everything.

Celts would often carry ash leaves in their pockets to ward off evil, and would sometimes put ash leaves in their shoes to help with foot problems.

Beyond the magical and practical, though, the metaphorical can speak to our lives today. The ash tree can be a reminder for all of us to tap into our strengths in this month of March, trying to balance our lives a bit, bridging the heavens (ideals) and the earth (reality) of our being.