Julie L. Paavola, mother and spiritual director, opens her new book with a beautiful description of the work given to mothers: “It is a mother’s work to honor the sacredness of the earth and of each new life given by God, and to keep believing in the goodness of creation for the sake of generations to come.” In The Mother’s Calling: Love in the heart of the world (Paulist Press, 2011), Paavola offers an inspirational discussion of mothering as a spiritual discipline.
Becoming a mother intensely deepened my spiritual life. I stood before my daughter in amazement, and I felt a connection across time to the generations of mothers who have lived before me, trying to do right by their children. I was startled by the miracle of new life, and awed to have been such an intimate part of bringing new life into the world.
When a mother keeps her connection to this sense of awe, it has the potential to draw her closer to God. A mother knows that only through her Creator did her child come into this world, and that the love of her Creator also is the source of the mother’s love. This awareness can be a powerful aid when the daily tasks of mothering feel heavy. Paavola writes, “Our daily limitations and failures may sometimes make us feel powerless, but by our attention and love for the person right in front of us, we are put in immediate contact with the grace of the kingdom of God.”
I appreciated that Paavola emphasized the countercultural need to emphasize family and nurturing, in contrast to materialism. We strive to imitate God’s love when we offer our loving presence to our children. Acquiring material comforts, attending the latest classes, or pursuing perfect grades–these have nothing to do with it. We have to slow down in order to pay attention to our families and to God. We must trust that God has equipped us for our vocation, rather than worrying that we must “try harder” to keep up with an external, materialist standard.
Each of the seven chapters closes with a section called “Encounter and Practice,” which offers exercises for exploring themes from the chapter and applying them to one’s own life.
I found that Paavola’s voice was strongest when she focused on how God equips us for living out our calling, and when she encourages the reader to answer that summons with steadfast faith.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta famously remarked that if we want world peace we should go home and love our families. This is precisely what God has called mothers to do. Paavola reminds us that, by nourishing our spiritual life, we can live out this remarkable calling.