Recently I came across this quote: "The only two lasting bequests we can give our children are roots and wings."
Once when I was a child, my mother sent me to get the rations. The shop owner — instead of returning two rupees — gave me 12 rupees by mistake. Since we were quite poor, I was so glad to have that apparently large extra sum of 10 rupees.
Afraid that someone would steal my money, the whole night I slept (not very well!) with my hand in my pocket. Before I went to school the next morning my mother asked why I held my pocket so tightly and had such a restless night.
When I told her the truth she said, "Today you are not going to school. You will go to the shop and return that money to the shop owner. Did you realize that you have stolen the bread of his children? He will have to give the account to the ration authorities and when he finds he is missing ten rupees, he will have to pay from his own pocket."
"Since you robbed someone else, you are being robbed of your peace, which is much more valuable than any amount of money can buy. Don't you trust that your parents will provide for everything you need, and above all that God provides for her children?"
When I returned the extra money, the shop owner called my mother and congratulated her for teaching me the lessons of truth and peace. He joyfully gave her a gift of extra rations. On the way home I walked beside her in her shadow, as the sun was too hot, and that night I slept like an innocent child.
Even today, that lesson is alive in my conscience. My mother did not tell me to go to confession, but in her wisdom she embodied love; like a sea of compassion she helped me unburden myself from the guilt of stealing. On our way home, she told me inspiring and motivational stories from Aesop's Fables. Her pat on my shoulder and "good girl" began to nurture the roots of peace within me.
Though I am not a mother in a physical sense, my mother makes me think that there is an enormous motherhood embedded in the universe. Just as a child is delighted looking at its mother's face, the entire creation gives great delight to anyone looking at it. There is the beauty and fragrance of flowers, therapeutic and curative nature of herbs, nurturing food, liveliness of birds, dynamism of snakes, energy of fish, and the sustaining touch of a barefoot walk on Mother Earth.
As religious, we are called to follow Jesus, the fully awakened "One" in the wisdom traditions of Israel. He went out in nature and taught people from the sacred open book of creation as revelation. He awakened the people of his time to the universal motherhood of all.
The 14th-century Julian of Norwich provides a unique interpretation of the motherhood of Jesus: "The mother can give her child a suck of milk, but our precious Mother Jesus can feed us with himself and does. …"
I was teaching in one of the largest Jesuit Schools of Theology in India. After finishing a three weeks course on "Liberative Nonviolence from a Feminist Theological Perspective," two sisters who were accused of being lesbians ran away from the convent and came to me for shelter in the middle of the night. Noting how traumatized they were, I kept them with me for two weeks.
First I asked my friends for old clothing in their size, since they had run away in their religious habits. Then some Catholic women offered me a small amount of monetary help, but somehow this act of mercy reached the bishop's ears and he put a stop to it with an official circular at the diocesan level. That door was closed.
Finally, I approached my Hindu friends, and they reached out to these girls generously. They provided not only food and clothing but also some professional guidance for their future. After two weeks, I contacted their parents and sent them home to claim their share of property, to enjoy life, and to make decisions with parental guidance and protection. Then I gave them what money was left, to buy cell phones.
This incident proved to be the beginning of my future mission. To this day, many sisters come for to me for spiritual, emotional, psychological and financial support. When it comes to food, I treat them as I would treat the bishop; when it comes to accommodation, I prepare their room as I would for the provincial; and when it comes to education, I treat them as my siblings. All this is being done in memory of my sustaining father and nurturing mother, and as a follower in the footsteps of Jesus.
During the past decade, nearly 30 sisters have contacted me, to join the Sisters For Christian Community (SFCC). They had either left their congregations because their dreams were stifled or they were sent away because they were not a good fit for the congregation's particular charism.
After they learned that SFCCs neither provide the security of the convent walls, nor turn adults into infants, several of them walked away from my community, too. But some have stayed because of the nurturing and sustaining accompaniment.
Universal motherhood does not demand our money or land but our time and compassionate love. Motherhood is the embodiment of love, and each of us is the harvest of that love.
It does not matter what your figure is like; your body is the source of universal motherhood, and the universe is a harmonious blend of motherly love. We need to stay connected to that universal womb for our own sustaining and nurturing motherhood that maintains relations with our friends and family.
From the perspective of religious motherhood, we are called to support the need for nurturing across relationships, both personal and professional. God feeding the birds every day and clothing the fields with flowers must have shaped Jesus' nurturing attitude to creation.
Overcoming evil with good is God's distinctive nature; Jesus, our true mother, overcame evil with good. Our own maternity starts with gently protecting the needy and upholding unconditional love for all. "A world that does not nurture its weakest does not know God the birthing mother," says Joan Chittister in her book Heart of Flesh.
My mother gifted me with the "roots of truthfulness" and the "wings of peace" there in the market place, in the ration shop. There is a correlation between leadership and motherhood — every leader ought to be a mother and every mother ought to be a leader.
Today's crises are urging us to wake up and claim our universal motherhood: all that is noble and gorgeous, nurturing compassion, gentle strength, relentless sacrifice, faithfulness, wisdom, and undying love. Let us wake up like Buddha and Jesus — the "awakeners" of motherhood.
[Margaret Gonsalves belongs to the Sisters for Christian Community, Washington D.C. (WEB Region). She is the founding president of ANNAI Charitable Trust and networks with various newly founded women religious congregations for the empowerment of tribal/indigenous girls, including religious women.]