Monday, September 3, 2012

Alma Mater

("Halo Repair" by Brian Kershisnik)

When I was a young boy, my mother read to me every night. She sang the world to me. She told me the stories that created my being. Every act of mothering is sacred. And every mother is a minister in the highest, holiest sense of the word, because every mother spends her life immersed in brilliant charity. When the Savior walked this lovely, dusty, weary, green planet, He elevated seemingly insignificant acts of service to a godly level. “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11). I still marvel at the gentle selflessness my mother appears to have inherited from her mother, and I stand astonished at the greatness of my wife’s mother-soul—her willingness to give of herself, to gift her time, her love, her strength. How many of a mother’s everyday activities are exalted because they are the shadows of the very actions of the mortal Son of God? How often have I watched my wife wash small feet and thought of that last night Jesus spent with His closest friends in that warm upper room?

Often I’ve seen her bending over a bathtub to perform sacred ablutions for my lithe, holy children.

I saw the world anew today
Holiness written on every forehead
First morning
Morning stars
Morning songs of praise

My wife bathed my three holy children today
Anointed their heads with shampoo
Washed them with water
Clothed them in towels
Draped like robes

Oh, the holy

And I have watched four times in stunned powerless awe as she gave birth. That act seems as close to the saving act of the Atonement as anything I’ve ever witnessed. To suffer and to bleed so that another might have life. Isn’t that the very essence of Christ’s offering? David O. McKay, that gentle prophet whose devoted love for his wife Emma blessed the whole church, once said, “Motherhood is the one thing in all the world which most truly exemplifies the God-given virtues of creating and sacrificing. Though it carries the woman close to the brink of death, motherhood also leads her into the very realm of the fountains of life and makes her co-partner with the Creator in bestowing upon eternal spirits mortal life.”

Each mother has offered her body—has experienced discomfort and disfigurement and deep pain—so that others might live. Thinking of this one day, I wrote this poem. It’s called “Stretchmarks.”

Something holy happened here;
something sacred slept.
a luminescence brought to light—
premortal promise kept.

She wept, and as she strained,
in pain, to introduce to earth
pre-resurrection miracle:
this angelsong-bright birth.

Motherhood is not always popular, praised, or applauded in contemporary society. But it seems like Jesus’s priorities are more often than not at odds with the attitudes and foci of the world and culture that swirls around us. The things that matter most seem to be the quiet, simple things of everyday life: stories and songs and laughter and family and kindness and the beauty of the world and the lives of little ones. I suppose that motherhood ranks fairly high among these gentle, lovely, holy things. Neal Maxwell once said, “When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses? When the surf of the centuries has made the great pyramids so much sand, the everlasting family will still be standing, because it is a celestial institution, formed outside telestial time. The women of God know this.”

So much of a mother’s life may seem uninteresting and unimpressive. But those who have eyes to see perceive. She is a healer. She is a creator. She is a teacher. When you think about what the Savior spent His mortal life doing, it seems like He did a whole lot of what I watch my wife do every day, and what I took for granted almost every day of my growing up years. He fed people. All the time. How often have I sat down to eat a meal that appeared on my table as if by miracle? Every meal offered by every mother at every table every night is a holy thing. Every meal is a chance for communion, a nourishing, a grace.

Even all the laundry that piles up and smells and needs to be folded and returned to closets. Even this is holy. Clothing in scripture is a symbol of covenant. And Jesus Christ was the first one to provide clothes for the newly distraught and naked Adam and Eve. One day our robes will be washed white in the blood of the Lamb. Until then, praise be to the mothers who keep us covered. The Hebrew word for cover, kaphar, is also the word translated as “atonement.”

When the Divine Mind sought for a perfect metaphor to express the love and devotion of the Savior for the inhabitants of this bruised, broken, blessed world, He came up with this: “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” He is the mother hen who would gather her chickens under her wings, who would give herself for the life of her brood.

As I snuggled you this morning in our bed,
I snuggled, too, two other hearts you made.
The one, our son, lay between us,
His fevered heart pounding.
I felt it through his unzipped pajamas
And thought of David and Absalom.
No wonder that father wept so.

Thank you for giving me a love like this.
The other heart, smaller, faster, fainter—
Still beating like bird wings under the umbrella
Of your strong, stable, mother-bird heart
What a blessed child to have you for mother.
Life within life. Light within light.
All these loves within the love we share.

On our kitchen counter,
The evidence of your bright hands’ work:
Sustaining bread, children’s homework, and
This paper profusion of hearts.
Symbol of your life-giving, love-quickening power.

Four times I have watched in utter powerlessness as my wife has performed the ordinance of childbirth: the desire to help, the inability to do. Just as the Father had to allow the Son to suffer alone on the cross, the gift of agony that brings life is a solitary struggle. The mother is alone with the babe to be born, the new universe to be brought forth.

Her scream was a song
As she sang you to light
People speak of birth—almost flippantly—as a miracle
Almost like a magic trick,
With a wave of a wand
And Voila! See it!

But if you’ve seen it,
You know it's not like that.
It is a miracle in the most expansive sense—
A grace
A mercy

The miracle is your mother—
The pain she bore to bear you,
The grace she gave to give you air:
Divine means of help or strength

Every father knows the impotent vigil
Of prayer and powerlessness
Hope in a power beyond
Trust in lovingkindness
Love for the one who sacrifices to give life

How many times is Jesus likened unto a mother
In scripture?
No better image.


  1. Words cannot describe how beautiful and touching and true this is. I don't know how you are so eloquent all of the time, but I love it. I would have to say that this is your very best post. Thank you, brother Taggart.

  2. Brother Taggart, I saw this a while ago when Shaylee posted it. I've been thinking about it quite a bit recently, though. I cannot comprehend a love like you describe. At least, not yet. However, this helps me to get a taste of what it must be like. Thank you for posting this. It is truly beautiful.

  3. What a beautiful tribute to motherhood, and really to the Savior as reflected in motherhood. I'm so grateful to you for writing this and sharing these beautiful thoughts! Thank you for sharing your beautiful insights and your gift with words! We have so much to learn from the sacred hidden in the simple, every day details of our lives.