Mothers' Day is sacrosanct. It is almost a law of nature. Nobody dare disparage the purchase of those boxes of chocolate and the saccharine-flavored greeting cards that accompany them. Few would dissuade from dragging mom out to a crowded restaurant for that obligatory Mother's Day meal. It is behind us now. Had I questioned its value as a revered date on our calendars last week, I would have been excoriated for blasphemy. This week however, my musings can be welcomed as, oh say, research.
You see, here is what bothers me about it: Whether you like it or not, most would agree that the Ten Commandments lie at the core of Western civilization. Why, even retaining our seven-day week in place of what would be a vastly more convenient calendar based upon a five-day week, is only on account of the fourth Commandment regarding the Sabbath day. Without that pesky fourth Commandment, we could reuse our calendars year after year since every year would be identical.
Well, the fifth Commandment doesn't instruct us to honor our fathers and mothers only on two special days each year, does it? No, the Commandment is valid for 365 days each year and 366 in leap years. My wife and I have always suspected that observance of an annual Mother's Day or Father's Day actually diminishes observance of the fifth Commandment. Not wanting to run the risk of that happening, we just declared from our children's' infancy that in our home, Mother's Day and Father's Day was everyday!
To my relief, our children accepted this, but on growing a little older, they inquired about another verse found early in the 19th chapter of Leviticus, "Everyone should fear his mother and father." Contrasting this with that fifth Commandment which did so much for our family's lifestyle, they asked, "Why reverse the order?" In Exodus, honor your father and mother but in Leviticus fear your mother and father? Does the Bible instruct us to honor our fathers more than our mothers but to fear our mothers more than our fathers?
Behaving naturally is not the goal, dominating our nature is.
Of course not! The Bible never asks us to do the easy and the natural. In fact, its very greatness is how it introduces us to the revolutionary idea that makes Western civilization possible. Namely that it is not only possible, but vital that we overcome nature, particularly our own. Toilet training a young child is the first time this lesson is administered. Don't relieve yourself when it would be natural to do so, just as animals do. Be unnatural. Hold it in until an appropriate time and until you're in an appropriate place. Behaving naturally is not the goal, dominating our nature is.
Although many in America consider it uncivilized to eat without first saying a blessing of gratitude for the food, it would be hard to find instructions about grace before meals in the Bible. However in the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy we are clearly instructed to give thanks after eating, "And you shall eat, be satisfied, and bless the Lord your God."
Ancient Jewish wisdom assures us that most of us feel considerably more spiritual and holy when hungry. (This dictum must be related closely to the one about no atheists in foxholes!) Fasting is necessary to observe the Day of Atonement because it puts us in the mood to atone. Since hunger induces piety, it is completely natural for all sensitive humans to say grace prior to satisfying their hunger. Thus, we can be counted on to do so without instruction. What is unnatural is for the satiated diner with bulging belly, to pause prior to staggering away from the table in order to express profound gratitude to the Creator. That is an amazingly unnatural feat and it is precisely what is demanded of us.
Similarly, most of us feel a natural respect toward our mothers while we feel a natural fear of our fathers. I know that as a child, I much preferred my frequent mischief to be discovered first by my mother. Thus the fifth Commandment teaches us the unnatural. Honor your father as much as you would naturally honor your mother. Then, in Leviticus, fear your mother just as much as you naturally fear your father. In other words, always strive to be far better than nature dictates. Mother's Day may be part of nature, but it is unnatural and far more desirable to make today and tomorrow, and yes, everyday, just as much a Mother's Day as was last Sunday.
This article originally appeared in National Review Online.