In 1870, in the wake of the United States’ bloody Civil War and the start of the Franco-Prussian war, Julia Ward Howe (American abolitionist, suffragist, pacifist, and author of the well-known “Battle Hymn of the Republic”) penned an “appeal to womanhood” which would later come to be known as the “Mother’s Day Proclamation.” She wrote:
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of tears!
Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says “Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance
of justice.”Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons
of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a
great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women,
to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the
means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each
bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
but of God.
In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a
general congress of women without limit of nationality may be
appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at
the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the
alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement
of international questions, the great and general interests of
Howe appealed to American leaders to create a national day she called a “Mother’s Day for Peace” to be observed annually on June 2nd, to no avail. Howe’s was a call for all women to engage in public life in a time when women were officially barred from such participation. She imagined Mother’s Day as a call to action, a day of work, a day when particular responsibilities held by women could be employed to disarm people from their sense of nation-hood and become bound up by their common humanity. “Mother’s Day for Peace” was not about individual mothers or even mothers generally–it was about recognizing how the absence of womankind from public life contributed to a world of war and carnage.
It is precisely that absence that motivated hundreds of Nigerian girls to get an education even at the risk of their own lives. Kidnapped in the middle of the night on April 15th by a militant group of men who have waged war on the education and public life of women, nearly 300 girls remain missing from their school in northern Nigeria.
In the wake of this horrifying abduction, Amy Isaksen Cartwright, has invited us to participate in a “bring back our girls day of interfaith fasting and prayer” this Mother’s Day. Participants are asked to choose a name from the list of girls whose names have been released and pray and fast on her behalf. I have felt so helpless while reading details of this unthinkable tragedy unfolding on the other side of the world. I have no skills or resources to offer to bring those girls back, but I have reserves of love and compassion and a desire to turn my rage at their captors into action on that can aid the victims. I am grateful for the call to devote conscious effort to thinking of and praying for a woman in need of human and divine care.
I don’t know if anything divine or tangible will result in the life of Aisha Ezekial because I hope and pray and fast for her, but I am hopeful that the deliberateness, discipline and discomfort of my fasting on her behalf, will commit me to the cause in a way that might better “promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, and the great and general interests of peace.” I hope that such spiritual practices can better prepare me to reach the needs of strangers near and far, to be awakened to the suffering of others and feel an urgency to aid them and take action. That’s the kind of mothering I desire and that this world so dearly needs. May all the powers of heaven and earth conspire to bring back our girls.That we may all be fortified, healed by, and bound up with one another is my earnest prayer this Mother’s Day and always.