‘M’ is the Million Things She Gave Me

Readers of my vintage (and historians) will recognize the above title as the first line in the song extolling motherhood, with each letter in the word “mother” standing for a particular maternal attribute.

(‘O’ means only that she’s growing old; ‘T’ is for the tears she shed to save me, etc. etc.)  The song was popularized by Eddy Arnold.  My own biological mother was a woman of faith and love, and I will not speak of her here.  But I do want to speak of my ‘other’ mother and yours:  the most-holy Mother of God, the spiritual mother of all who confess the Name of her divine Son.  And as the Eddy Arnold song does for his biological mother, I would like to extol the Mother of God for the million things that we receive through her prayers.

Protestants have always pointed out in their polemics that the Mother of God (or “Mary”; they resist calling her the Mother of God, even though they acknowledge Jesus as God and Mary as His Mother) is not much mentioned in the New Testament.  This is true; she is not.  But what they take as evidence of her unimportance, I take as evidence of her greatness and her humility.  She is not much present in the pages of the New Testament because she chooses to be not much present.  That is, from the day of the wedding of Cana in Galilee when she uttered the words to those present, “Whatever He says to you, do it”, she was content to vanish behind her Son.  That is, as her Son’s first and best disciple, she recognized that it was not all about her.  It was about Him.  She remained in the background, keeping all that she saw in her heart (compare Lk. 2:51).  We see this in the picture of the seminal Jerusalem church offered in Acts 1:14:  here St. Luke gives a list of those present in the upper room, awaiting the day of Pentecost.  It included the Twelve, “the women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers”.  Note that she does not even come at the head of the list, but in the middle of everyone else.  It is as if she is intent upon disappearing into her Son and His body, the church.  It is this kenoticism, this self-emptying, that is the source of her greatness—and of the original incarnation of her Son (see Phil. 2:5-11).  The Lord promised that those who humbled themselves would be exalted, and she led the way in her kenotic humility.

Anyway, Eddy Arnold could sing; I cannot.  But I can write, and therefore I offer this poem about my Mother.  Through her prayers and the tears she shed to save us all, may we all reach the Kingdom of her divine Son.

Three Songs:  a Triptych of Love


The baby was crying (as all babies do), tiny lungs tearing

the still air of a Bethlehem midnight, inconsolable, wracked

with gas or indigestion or

some secret knowledge of Herod’s hooves approaching

to paint the little town red with

the spilled blood of prophecy.  His mother was singing softly over His tears,

a gentle Hebrew lullaby to drown out the frantic wailing.

Joseph was packing the last pan on the donkey,

dream-born fears speeding  

his fingers as they prepared for their flight.  The young mother’s song

was having no effect whatsoever,                           

but still she bent over Him and whispered the melody like a family incantation, and prayed,                     

and prayed, and the sweet notes lingered long in the air like a supplication:

the Mother of God, singing to her Son.


The afternoon sky was black as midnight as she knelt                                                              

at the foot of death and cradled in her arms the nailtorn corpse.  The blood

from His scourged back stained her sleeves as she rocked back and forth, back                                      

and forth, shrieking like a mad woman, wailing out the grief of the world, inconsolable,                       

wracked with a swordthrust that pierced her heart. 

The sounds she made were unintelligible, but still            

she kept wailing, still the sound poured from her lips, like blood from an open wound.                             

The terrible sound hammered the hearts of all who heard, and men clamped their hands                            

over their ears to stop the endless lament

the Mother of God, singing to her Son.


In the high halls, an endless multitude offers hymns to Christ enthroned, crying out                                

with full throats, and the sound drowns earthly sorrows like a mighty flood. 

One song

ascends above the others, humbling the descant of the cherubim and the seraphim,                                 

its victorious notes lingering long over the whole assembly like a pillar of fire.                                     

The song is wild as the winds of Pentecost, a hurricane of joy,                                                     

an ecstatic storm of exultation, tearing

and melting and breaking the heart,               

and all who stand before the throne

fall silent as they drink it in, and listen, and wonder, and weep,                                                     

and pray that it will never stop:                     

the Mother of God, singing to her Son.