Last Saturday, my wife and I made our annual trek to the statewide homeschool used curriculum sale, about 45 minutes from home, and picked up about $600 worth of curriculum and other materials for …get this …just over 60 bucks! (Yes, it was a good day!)
As we were standing in line to check out, my wife reached into one of the over-stuffed canvas bags we had brought to lug around our purchases and said, “I’ve got a surprise for you!” They have some great Christian literature and resource tables there, and so I thought maybe she’d found a bargain book of a favorite author, or maybe a resource volume I didn’t have. Instead, she pulled out a brightly colored children’s book called Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman. She smiled at me with a knowing look in her eye and said, “Just for you, dear!” A smile spread across my face, as well, as I wondered how she knew me so well.
Now before you think me just a little strange, please allow me to explain. For starters, I admit that I do like kids’ books and also have fond memories of this one from childhood, but that is more of an aside in this particular case. You see, my wife has heard me mention on a number of occasions that the book, Are You My Mother?, makes me think of a spiritual parable. Now, I’m sure it wasn’t written as one, and it doesn’t fit in every detail, but it does lend itself rather profoundly to portraying some significant truths for us as believers.
If you are unfamiliar with the book, or it’s been a long time since you read it (or had it read to you), let me give you the gist of the story. (Now everybody sit quietly, “criss-cross, applesauce” and put on your “listening ears”! 🙂 )
The story begins with a mother bird sitting on her egg in a nest way high up in the top of a tree. She feels the egg begin to move beneath her and thinks she better go get some food for her baby who will soon be hatched, so off she flies. Soon the baby bird hatches, and not seeing his mother, begins to look for her from the edge of the nest. Still not seeing her, he launches out to find her and steps out of the nest. Down, down, down he falls all the way to the ground.
He couldn’t fly, but he could walk, and so off he went looking for his mother. Now he didn’t know what she looked like, and he walked right by her not seeing her.
On his search, he came across a number of different animals: a kitten, a hen, a dog, and a cow and asks, “Are you my mother?”
After that he wonders if a few mechanical things he comes across are his mother: a car, a boat, a plane, and, finally, a steam shovel.
As the bird is standing on the bucket of the steam shovel it lets out a loud “snort!” The baby bird tries to get away but can’t and cries out in desperation for his mother.
The “Snort” then drives off with him, lifts him up, and drops him right back in his nest in the top of the tree.
Just then his mother returns to the nest, and they see each other for the first time. “And,” (…though they don’t’ actually say the words, I presume…) “they lived happily ever after!” 🙂
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Are You My Mother? as a Spiritual Parable
This story is a simple tale and yet it can be seen to have a some deep spiritual parallels concerning the Church and our life as believers.
A portion of Scripture in Galatians 4 comes to mind, in particular, as I think of this “parable”:
“Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise.
Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.” (vs.12-26)
Here, then, is how I see this simple children’s story unfolding as a spiritual parable:
The Church is born from above. She is born “seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph.2:6) She is “raised with Christ” where He is “…seated at the right hand of God”, and her “life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (see Col.3:1-4) She belongs to “the Jerusalem above” (Gal.4:26). This is her birthplace. This is her home. This is her origin. This is her “Mother”. We are like that little bird hatched in the nest way atop that tree.
When we are “born”, however, our “Mother” is nowhere in sight. We look for her, but we cannot see her, and because we haven’t yet learned how to “fly”, we stumble out of the nest and fall down, down, down to the earth. Here on the earth, there is a deep yearning in our heart for our Mother, that “city whose builder and maker is God” (Heb.11:10), “the heavenly Jerusalem”, “the church of the firstborn” (Heb.12:22-23). We have spiritual instincts that cause us to pursue her, but we don’t really know what we are looking for. We’ve never seen her, and though she is actually on the earth with us, we don’t even recognize her. We walk right by.
In our search, we come across one thing after another and think that maybe this is her…maybe this is our Mother! Some of these things are “living” and friendly, but deep inside we know it just isn’t HER. Other things are lifeless and heartless and pay us no heed, and we know for sure they aren’t our Mother either. So we keep on looking.
Finally, at the end of our search, we come to something big and ominous. When it “SNORTS”, we are terrified and cry out for Mother all the more. We try to get away from it, but it carries us off. In our dismay, however, in the end, it lifts us up and places us right back in the highest place that is our Home.
Now, that big, ominous thing, as I see it, is death! It is through death that we are eventually lifted up to our heavenly home and there behold our Mother, the Jerusalem that is above.
Probably for most of those who are born of her, it will not be until physical death transports them up to the heavenly Jerusalem that they will then encounter their Mother for the very first time. When that is the case, however, they tragically live their entire lives in a fallen, earth-bound state. They never learn to “fly” and are consciously separated from their true Mother, even though she is also right there with them on the earth. This is the unfortunate tragedy of many, and probably most, of those who are the children of “the Free Woman.”
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Now let us consider how this story may have turned out if that baby bird did have an idea of what his Mother looked like before he ventured far and wide in search of her. Would they not have met much sooner? Don’t you think she would have then proceeded to feed him, nurture him, and help him to learn how to fly until he was able to spread his wings and soar up together with her to their home, safe and secure? Would he not have then been free to live in the heights as well as on the earth with her… free to come and go, no longer bound by the downward pull of nature? Oh, what a different life he would have lived if he had only known how to recognize her when he first saw her!
This is the story that God wants to write in our lives. He desires for us to deeply encounter our Mother now, and learn through her to become what we were created for in this life. He wants to teach us to “fly” and “soar”, and live a life in the heavenlies, free from the downward pull of “the law of sin and death.” (Rom. 8:2) Then we will be free, and free indeed. Then we will live the life we were meant to live, both in the heights, and also upon the earth. This is our calling as we live with and learn of our Mother.
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Now, let us explore one last twist that could have been woven into the storyline, even as some other children’s stories have. (Think The Ugly Duckling, Jungle Book, etc…) How could this tale have developed differently if the baby bird decided that the cat, or even the cow, actually was his mother, or was good enough to be his mother, and lived out his days being raised by one or the other of them? I’ll leave it to your imagination to take it from there, but one thing would be for sure, he would have learned the ways of his adopted “mother” and, though still a bird, would have turned out acting and behaving much differently than a normal bird would.
Or consider just how tragic it would be if he ended up bonding and imprinting with the plane, instead? Where would that story lead?
Now, what if the bird then met his real mother later on in life as an adult “bird”? Would he recognize her then? Would he embrace her as his real mother and put off all of the cat, cow or plane ways that had been instilled in him from “chick-hood”? Could he unlearn and be free of them then? Could he ever be “normal” again?
Consider, also, if the baby bird also had numerous brothers and sisters who, likewise, bonded and were raised by the various animals and things he had come across. Since “birds of a feather flock together”, would the “cat-birds” flock with the “cow-birds”? Would the “plane-birds” not think their “Mega-mom” was superior to them all? Would they all live and act as one, happy family, all having the same real mother, or would they only roost with their own?
These things also have their parallels with those who are born from above but live confused lives of bondage to earthly “mothers”. Many bond and imprint with earthly alternatives to the heavenly City. They end up learning the ways, habits, patterns and mindsets of these substitute “mothers”, and in the end, grow up acting and behaving very differently from what they normally would had they bonded and imprinted naturally with their heavenly Mother. They would, likewise, learn to flock only with their own, aware of the vastly different ways, lifestyles and mindsets of the others. They might mentally ascend to their common family ties, but not being imprinted and raised by the same Mother, they would not naturally flock as one.
Further on, if they come face to face with their heavenly Mother on the earth, it is most often the case that they won’t even recognize or embrace her. Her ways seem so foreign, and even impossible. (“FLYING!?!… Are you kidding!”) There is so much to unlearn that it is almost impossible for them to transition from the earthly surrogate to the true Mother that birthed them. This is an untold tragedy, and yet is so often the case!
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This simple children’s story, with all of its possible alternative endings, is actually OUR STORY! We were born on high. We were made to soar. We were created to be free. We have our home in the heavenlies, but most of us are scurrying around on the earth searching for who knows what. We are fooled by false alternatives to Mother, and learn their earthly patterns and ways. We are earth-bound and (truly) homeless.
All the while, our Mother is actually with us wanting to feed us, nurture us, teach us to “fly”, take us to our true home, and cause us to become all that we were created to be and do. This is our calling, our birthright and our destiny if we will but learn to recognize her, both in her heavenliness and in her earthly presence among us. She is here, and we will find her if we know who she is and what she actually looks like.
My prayer is that you will seek and find this true Mother, the free woman, and learn to fly with her!