The Motherly Impulse
Posted On April 21, 2017
by David Fleischacker
Generally, one thinks of nurturing when one thinks of motherhood. Usually I find a guttural revolt against this idea today. Yet intrinsically “to nurture” is a good thing. I would like to give some thought as to what this means in relationship to motherhood. To nurture involves feeding and caring for basic needs but also the spiritual needs of another. In other words, it is a type of mutual self-mediation (To read about mediation, see Lonergan, “The Mediation of Christ in Prayer”). I would argue that starting in the organic matrices of the female body, there is a special attunement for nurturing. Even the neurons in her skin are far more numerous than in a man. Her senses are designed to be attracted spontaneously to details about the body and disposition of another. Girls can read faces more accurately at a much younger age than boys (boys do not catch up until age 40 on average — at least in some studies I have read). These needs stir sympathy in a woman much more rapidly than in a man. [Though for another blog, men more often than not are stirred to sympathy through their mothers and wives and sisters.]
Socially, this care impulse leads a woman to want to create a physical and personal space about her that is inviting. She takes care of it to reveal the dignity in another for which she naturally cherishes. She has a finality that is fulfilled when she can illuminate their worth and fulfill the conditions for their existence and their flourishing. This can get distorted of course, like all good things, but intrinsically it is supremely good, and its privatization is a supreme evil in a culture.
Psychologically, the motherly care stirs a warmth and love in the recipient of that care. It communicates to them their inherent dignity and worth. It lets them know that their lives matter, because the care is coming from a beautiful creature whom God has made and sent to care for them. A motherly smile and embrace can undo anger and bitterness. It can open up the heart to higher things. Through simple meals and gifts of nurture–another human being comes to thrive.
The mother is created to care about all the details of those who come into her realm. Naturally and most intimately it is “her man” and from this relationship, his children conceived in her body. I say “his” because I think it highlights the nature of begetting and bearing at the moral level and the depth of the bond between a man and a woman. It is hers too of course, and the man will stand in awe of “her” children. It is hers as received, even though the egg was formed in her. It is his seed, and his act to love her. She of course may have called him forth. And in the bonds of marriage, this bond has a sacred character, found in the promise in God’s witness of “until death do us part.”
The descriptive conjugates that develop regarding the motherly impulse must be multiple. There would be conjugates naming various desires of course, as well as her body and its contours, and how it changes during adolescence, and her apprehension of caring for a child, and for loving a man, as well as falling in love. There are conjugates of family too.
When I think of how we have degraded life in the home, it is incredible. We have made everything in it seem trivial, and thus a burden. How sad. We have really targeted the mother in the home–turning everything she does into a land of waste and a life not worth living. But in fact the opposite is true. Every act of love in the home provides conditions for the existence and thriving of her husband and her children, her neighbors and extended family, and even her own well-being. This includes the simple things that analogically extend from her own bodily schemes of care and protection of the unborn, whether that is the order of the kitchen and a place for everything in it, or the cleansing of the body, the routines of washing clothes, and the cooking that transforms and mold hearts.
Providing such conditions is a participation in the divine light that shines in the world upon each individual who comes into that house. They are called by name in that light. It shows each person that even their bodies and psyches are sacred and pondered within the mother’s heart.
It is built into the body of a woman to be radically attentive to others in this world, to see easily into their hearts and souls, to see even the littlest of physical, psychic, and spiritual needs.
As a note I do not want to say men can do none of these things, but at this point I just want to focus on the glory of a woman.
The woman’s body is structured to receive so as to give. Her body is the space in this universe in which life comes to be and then has its first days and months nurtured and protected. Her body feeds the new life so that it will grow and develop.
It is important to realize how the human heart works here. The essence of the human person is a capacity to self-transcend. A person lives through all of the conjugate forms, schemes of recurrence, integrators of lower levels and operators for higher, all within the unity that is the subject, the concrete person. Below summarizes the higher and lower levels of proportionate being (see Insight for more). All of these come together in the human person.
- Faith and love
- cellular conjugates
- chemical conjugates
- subatomic conjugates
The woman’s body has a form made to receive the seeds of life, to call these forth from her man, to be awakened in her own intentionality and life by this calling and reception. Even chemically and organically this is true–from the hormonal responses to the illumination of regions and cortices of the brain and how neural demand functions transform conscious attentiveness. I wish these could be discussed in their beauty rather than in the light of the fall and the horizon of concupiscence, and modern gender theories.
When the seed has transformed the egg, and life comes into existence–yes existence!–Then the mother’s body becomes the child’s home. Warmth and sustenance are provided from the very schemes of the woman’s body, designed for this right down into the quarks and quark compounds emergent upon which are the atomic and atomic compounds, the cells and cell compounds of her body.
During gestation, her psyche undergoes a transformation rising from an increased rate of synaptic formation in various parts of her brain, prompting her, calling her from the depths of her being to rise into the glory of motherhood. Literally her brain increases its synaptic connections so that she will develop more rapidly in her concrete insights that will constitute some new schemes of motherhood, and so she will form a vibrant horizon of affectivity that will call forth acts of love and care. In other words, when all is allowed to come forth, this organic realization of her motherhood emerges into a neural set of schemes which bursts forth into a generous affectivity that re-orients motor-sensory operators toward a new attentiveness to the growing life inside of her.
Her growing affectivity also spontaneously turns to her beloved and calls forth from him and awakens in him this growing intention in her toward the new life. She awakens him with the goodness and glory of life. [And of course the reverse can happen as did happen with Eve and Adam.]
This new set of operators turns to the physical world to build a home that will welcome the new life. It will provide protection and nurturing of all the needs of the newborn. It will communicate to the world the love of this new one. It will bring about shifts of habits–all of which have been organically and psychically prepared in the body of the woman. As a note, I know there are similar neurological and psychic shifts in the man which I suspect is tied to his commitment and bond to her–but I have not seen studies on this.
Of course, culture can help these neurological and psychic reorientations to thrive or it can crush them. And there are potential for deformations at every single point along the way.
The mother also then finds something glorious about which to converse with others, namely the new life growing within her. Those who care about life will wonder and be in awe about her. They will come to her, embrace her, confirm her, raise her up into the light of being. She has become one in whom life comes into existence. Her mother and father will come alive to this as well as should his parents. But lurking around the corner is a massive if. All of this mutual self-mediation of the glory of a new one and the glory of motherhood only rises to its rightful heights if the scale of values constitutive of their moral horizons are properly formed.
One can see this welcoming of life throughout Scripture. Think of the sadness women and men in the old testament experience at infertility. Sometimes the shame goes too far–and others would mock the barren woman, and she would even think of herself in this highly negative light. But sadness would be a proper response, as would the turning to God with wonder about her fate and hope for the gift of a child. Children were her glory and rightly so. And how blessed a man is with a good and faithful wife and the gift of children conceived in her and born of her (think of the Psalms and Proverbs).
When we turn to the New Testament, this glorious element of motherhood reaches heights unheard of before. Mary of course is that central icon, The Mother, the woman of the fiat, the one in whom God was conceived in her womb, the one from whom the source of all life is born. This dignity bestowed on a woman is a great and beautiful mystery. And look at what it calls forth from Joseph! Even before he has his revelation from Gabriel, he is moved by her and will not divorce her publicly. Already, her intrinsic virtue is calling him forth. Once he is illumined to what has been given to her, he immediately becomes her protector, her husband, whose heart is now filled with her and the fruit of her womb.
And think of how her own son brings life to her. His death will be a sword through her heart because his heart became sin for us, our sins, the sins of all humanity, and these sins form the blade. But he makes all things new. He is the eternal fruit, life, and salvation of all. And she is his mother.
God created Mary, the woman, who would be the sacred temple in which he would enter this world. He became us so that we might become like him. We too are the fruit of a womb, conceived into existence in the womb, born of a woman.
Even more so are consecrated virgins in the likeness of Mary as the mother of God. They bear the Son into the world. The firstborn of their consecrated wombs is the eternal Word of God. Eternity flows through them with motherly tenderness to each person who enters their midst, and their hearts sing of their man from whom they have received life into their souls and bodies. They are his betrothed in a personal and intimate way. They have entered the inner love and exchange of our triune God. The fruit of the womb is theirs, and their hearts will be pierced with the sins of the world, sin which rejects their beloved and the fruit of eternity which flows through them.
The motherly impulse in each and every woman springs from the finality of each and every quark of their being. It rises with greater and greater degrees of freedom until it reaches the apex of a state of being in love with the unrestricted one. In the biochemistry of their genetics this bursts forth into cellular differentiations and entire cellular systems that constitute their hormonal cycles, their biophysics, the bio-schemes of their womb, and the neural structures of their body. It bursts forth into sensitivity with attentiveness, trust, and affective love. It calls forth caresses and nurturing, which then rises into the intrinsic freedom of the spirit, which transcends the empirical residue in the world of common sense, artistry, drama, intelligence, culture, personal life, and faith. If fully integrated as in Mary, the finality becomes an operator of God’s maternal love in this world, and an integrator of the Trinification of the world, of each individual, of family life, of parishes, and of a civilization of love that is in a pilgrim state as a sacrifice within the cities of Cain and civilizations of death.
Oh how glorious is the motherly impulse of a woman.
I would like to say a little bit about how I am making most of these arguments in this blog.
- From the generic intelligibility of the levels of consciousness.
- From the generic intelligibility of metaphysics or generalized emergent probability.
- From specifying these generic intelligibilities to a) Higher and lower viewpoints, b) Higher and lower levels of schemes and things.
Though I have read studies that move from higher and lower levels into species with regard to female cycles, I am not discussing those here except in a generic fashion. I do have some other blogs that have looked at some of these–see for example 40 years since humanae vitae, female procreative schemes.