In light of Mother’s Day this past weekend, I thought I would share with you a poem from my collection True North, featuring one of my favourite “moms” from the Bible, Moses’ mother Jochebed. I have long cherished this story as a representation of what I like to uniquely call “Mother Love.”
Behind a simple chapel, nestled among the reeds of a pond at Westmont College where I recently had the pleasure of teaching, there is a beautiful statue of Jochebed releasing the infant Moses into the mercy of the water. At the close of day, I often liked to wander there and ponder the depths of Jochebed’s sacrifice – an offering, as I put below, no smaller than Abraham’s.
I would also marvel at the intelligence of this mother. She is a woman of heart as well as head, of trust as well as innovation. She surveys her options, she proposes her strategy, and in doing so, she preserves her son’s life, and participates in God’s plan for the ultimate securing of provision for all of His people.
If you recall the story, all the Jewish male infants are to be slaughtered, according to Pharaoh’s indictment. This Jewish woman’s composure at the river’s edge secures her son’s safety (and affluence) while maintaining her intimate role as his mother. She sets her son afloat in the river so that the bathing Pharaoh’s daughter will find him and take pity on him. Then she positions her daughter to approach the adoptive mother, offering the real mother as the baby’s nurse. As a result, she sidesteps the snares of politics and gets to essentially raise her son as an intimate caretaker, keeping him connected to his roots and his faith.
It is a brilliant plan.
This combination of reverent action reminds me of that old Russian proverb, which I share particularly tongue-in-cheek here given the context: “Pray to God but row to shore.”
But even more so, it reminds us to never underestimate the power of a mother.
Particularly that of a mother who serves her Lord.
A great wonder, and yet no wonder, that the Lord of All chose to come into the world through Mother Love.
Mother Love – and all that entails – from acceptance to launch, through protection to pieta, in the dying of self for the living of other – this is the reflection of God through us when we bow down at the river’s edge.
He had been particularly cranky the past few days;
the betrayal of his cries harder to hide,
his discontent more difficult to soothe,
as though he could sense the impending launch –
as an infant prophet
he well could –
though it would take murder
to set all in motion.
She had many to choose from, some quite ornate,
marked with the tradesmanship of her tribe,
any of them much more appropriate,
you might think,
for cradling one who would speak with God.
But she wanted to make the basket herself.
She chose papyrus.
Rendering unto Pharaoh’s,
what was Pharaoh’s –
while keeping the dearest coin for herself.
Peeling the slender rods,
circling close to the core,
she worked until her fingers bled,
fingers that shook as they braided
stalk upon stalk,
forging a silent design of silent sorrow,
a bowl that carried best
by not filling;
impenetrable by even
a single tear.
During the season of its making,
she remained bent over her work,
the fine baby restless at her breast.
With the tilt of her chin,
she could kiss the top of his head, nuzzle his hair,
whenever she wished,
and drink in the newness of his skin,
that sweet infant scent,
a fragrant balm
to her heart cracked wide.
So, in this bowed bearing,
each plait became a prayer,
the weaving became the way,
until she could no longer tell
the difference between night and day:
the river ran a murky silver
in her dreams,
rushing up to meet her
swirling all around them
with its serpentine streams.
and a princess,
At first her fear rattled the reeds,
anguish made the river bank slick:
what is this sleight of hand,
this double-edged weaving?
This eluding of one death
only to meet another?
The river at the reeds’ roots moved not,
but curled like a snake,
in waiting …
and yet the stalks grown tall above her
swayed leafless in the wind,
with a rush like resounding waters
pouring over her head –
sedge topped with dense clusters
dusting the intangibility
Breathing deep their brushing joy,
she drowned to herself
and danced with the stalks,
danced with her fingers as she wove,
plaiting her strain
to their song.
As it is for those who mother-love,
her fingers grew steadier and steadier
with the twisting repetition.
On the third day, the finished basket
sat humming in her lap.
Such an ordinary thing to the outward eye:
no indication of its beginning,
of its heritage or place.
Though fine in texture,
its handiwork lay hidden
by a coat of no real colour,
tar and pitched against all beauty,
the vessel now secured
against the seepage of the mire.
But to the inward eye:
an ark of one
built from a flood
of tears and milk and blood.
She lined the river cradle
with a single palm leaf
and then lay inside
a sacrifice no smaller than Abraham’s.
And so the papery boat
A simple, child’s tabernacle
on the rippling grace of the river.
And from the muddied shallows
the danger of drowning
tips to the promise of refuge
in the gentle push
from the river’s edge
of a faithful hand.
I would like to thank those many readers who provided thoughtful feedback on my poems when I first shared the draft of True North some time back with my email newsletter subscribers. Thanks to you in particular, I was able to make helpful corrections to context and editing, and fine tune the poems for publication. I also greatly enjoyed your additional comments, reading recommendations, sharing of your own poems and our wonderful “conversations.” What an immense blessing and privilege!
I am pleased to announce that the collection has finally made it into Kindle version. Formatting poetry for ebooks is still a tricky business but we’ve made some progress. As a result, True North is now available on Amazon (and it may be available soon in other places). I would welcome any forms of additional support, such as posting a review and/or recommending the volume to friends. It is a short read so I pray it is a convenient yet compact one in edifying and encouraging you or someone you know in your life on this pilgrimage together.
Thank you and God bless!