My wife and I recently visited a farmstead where we take our kids to play and pet animals. While we were at a large playground, my wife disappeared. I looked for her for some time as I watched our kids play, and eventually found her walking with a little boy, about 5 or 6 years old. He was lost, crying, looking for his mother.

I’m not sure I would have ever noticed such a sad and lost little boy, let alone rushed to help him. But here was a mother, mothering a boy who couldn’t find his way. And with the help of this momentary mother, both the child and his frantic mother soon found comfort and reunion.

This isn’t the only time this has happened. There have been several other times when my wife will notice a lost child at a store. She and other women around her swoop in and hover like wolves to make sure nothing happens to the child until the parent is found. These children, as our own, are the beneficiaries of the finely tuned attention of a mother.

And this maternal attention, necessary for the health, sustenance and growth of every one of us, mirrors the attention we give and receive from God. 

The French philosopher and theologian Simone Weil wrote that the essence of prayer is attention. When we give our full attention to God, he reflects his attention back to us, and we are nourished in body and soul.

The attention of a mother functions in much the same way. And all women, from a 5-year-old to a 100-year-old (I’ve seen this in my daughter) having birthed a child or not, have the divine capacity to mother. This motherly attention both gives and sustains life, and helps to keep our world distant from entropy, destruction and death. Without these mothers, our world would be a significantly harsher place than it is. 

In the novel “Blood Meridian,” Cormac McCarthy paints an apocalyptic view of a world without mothers. The novel, nearly devoid of women, and arguably one of the most violent in American literature, starts with the protagonist, the Kid, whose mother dies giving him life in childbirth. In his lack of a mother, the Kid grows up a violent reprobate with no moral compass and wreaks endless havoc and destruction.

Conversely, the novel “Lila,” by Marilynne Robinson, shows how a mother’s attention brings restorative healing and peace. The story begins with a young Lila, crying on a porch stoop, abandoned by her mother and her family. She is eventually rescued, however, by a woman named Doll.

Doll is not perfect, but she sacrifices for Lila, loves her, cares for her, gives her attention and teaches her to read and write. The narrator says that “Doll had come to her like an angel in the wilderness.” And that angel mother gives Lila life.

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The real world is not much different from the worlds of fiction. In many ways, the literary fiction writer uses lies to tell the truth. And the truth is that we all need mothers. We need our own mothers, we need our mother-teachers, our mother-citizens, our mother-leaders, our quiet mother-angels. These angels among us keep the world spinning, give life divine meaning and help us endure the often cruel reality of life.  

In the devastating book “Smoke Over Birkenau,” Holocaust survivor Liana Millu writes “one of the most powerful European testimonies … from the women’s lager at Auschwitz-Birkenau” and tells six stories “revolving around the specifically feminine aspects of the prisoners’ wretched and minimal lives.”

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Beyond the suffering in Millu’s account, however, she shows that, even despite “the haunting presence of the crematoria, located right in the middle of the women’s camp,” those women formed familial units that cared for each other and endured together and even celebrated birthdays. Even in the most disconsolate and violent of all human circumstances, the women transcended their humanity and bonded together as mothers to care for the little ones and for each other.

Amid the range of suffering across the world, there are millions of children, young and old, longing for the divine attention of a mother. On Mother’s Day, we celebrate those women who give this divine attention freely, who sacrifice for life and nurture our health, both mental and spiritual.

May we all find time this year to give our attention and thanks to the mothers in our lives and reciprocate the love they so freely give. They are the angels in the wilderness around us, and our children depend upon their love — as does the world.

Scott Raines is a writer and doctoral student at the University of Kansas.

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