Discover more from Church Blogmatics
I like to imagine a group of moms meeting in the kingdom of heaven
Kind of like MOPS, but it’s called “the Consternation”
Why, “the Consternation?”
Because, Gentle reader,
The interwebs tell me that “consternation” is the right collective noun for naming a group of mothers, like a litter of puppies or a swarm of bees. Like a murder of crows, a glaring of cats, a loveliness of ladybugs,or a superfluity of nuns, a group of mothers is a consternation.
(Your regularly scheduled Monday post is here early, for Mother’s day. Look for your next letter from Church Blogmatics on Thursday, May 18. If you see a message that this post is too long for email, you should be able to click “view entire message” to view the whole thing.)
Church Blogmatics is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
The group is gathered in someone’s living room. The air smells of cinnamon and pears. The sofas are cozy, and the fireplace roars. A purring kitten wraps her fluffy self around your ankle when you walk into the room.
St. Monica scoops up the kitten and welcomes you in with a kiss and a big hamper of North African goodies: olives and butter, chicken with apricots and a fish tagine, mint and candied lemon in layers of paper-thin pastry, and a very good glass of wine.
“It’s from Cana,” says Monica, with a wink. She wears jeans and a tunic, along with a watery crown of flowing waves, which dances in the firelight. She’s den mother for the group. Twin rivulets of crystal tears roll down her face, a shining fountain, an echo of those she cried for her Augustine during her life on earth. She prays the prayers she once prayed for Augie for all the parents who have ached for their children. The tears on her face are no longer of anguish. Now they’re of joy, because she feels how safe our babies are in God’s hands.
Blessed are the mothers who have wept, for God is comfort, body and soul.
Katie Luther is tending bar. She’s pulling pints—her own recipe—but she’ll make you a cocktail or pour you a Coke, if that’s what you prefer. She wears a cropped tank top that shows off her stretch marks from bringing six children into the world. They’re in the same linear pattern she wore on earth, but now they’re limned in gold. She wears a crown of bread, jeweled with coarse salt, and is always breaking off the pretzel shaped points, sharing them with the party.
Blessed are the mothers who have hungered, for God is the bread of life, body and for soul.
Consternation, from the Latin: noun. Gender: feminine
Women whose hands are scarred from forced labor and whose babies were ripped from their arms by slavers now wear robes of fur, their children planting kisses on their brows, great crowns of gold and rubies on their heads, glittering in time with their joy.
No more, the consternation of Harriet Jacobs, who wrote so piercingly of the laws facilitating the abduction of people once enslaved;
“Every where, in those humble homes, there was consternation and anguish. But what cared the legislators of the ‘dominant race’ for the blood they were crushing out of trampled hearts?”
No more. For the consternation of God returns children to their mothers and brings justice to slavers. The consternation of God is a whirlwind of justice and joy.
These mothers get no recompense, lest it dishonor the irreplaceability of every moment they were dispossessed, for sons and daughters are not fungible. Instead, they get recognition: full, clear-eyed truth telling, from which none can look away.
Blessed are the mothers who were robbed, for God is restoration, seven-times-seventy-fold, body and soul.
Sarah and Elizabeth sit comparing stories, both resplendent in cascades of wrinkled skin and silver hair, which itself forms their braided crowns. Sarah rises to bring steaming cups of jasmine tea and a plate of fresh pastries to a group of women in warm conversation by the fire; she hands the plate to Hagar, and the two share a look of care which holds the truth of what was done and of the labor of repentance and forgiveness.
Hagar’s hair crowns her head too, woven with ribbons of gold. She takes a tart and hands the plate to Jochebed, Moses’s birth mama, who takes an éclair and passes the plate to Pharoah’s daughter Bithiah, who adopted the little son Jochebed surrendered to the river. Those two will hardly stop holding each other’s hands long enough to eat their treats. Their crowns are woven of Nile grasses and jeweled with gossamer-winged butterflies.
Blessed are the mothers who were wronged, for God is righteousness, body and soul.
Mother Julian has left Margery Kempe in charge of the library they keep together, and she’s brought a basket of kittens to the consternation. A striped one crawls over her shoulder, and “all shall be well” is repeatedly tattooed on her arms in silver ink, snaking its way around and around and shimmering with her joy. Her face shimmers too; the babies she lost to the plague are now safe at her side, along with the throngs she mothered over the centuries, when she gifted us her revelations. Her crown is of parchment inked in blood.
Blessed are the mothers who poured love into their children and their works, for God treasures both the books in Julian’s library and the children at the feasting table; in both places goodness runs over, body and soul.
Next to Julian sits Anna Jarvis, Methodist founder of Mother’s Day, together with her mother, Ann Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe. They wear crowns of scissors and paintbrushes. Anna’s hair is wild, as she gleefully slices Hallmark greeting cards into confetti, passing the colorful pieces to Julia, who incorporates them into great works of collage art, paint and glue testimonies to peace.
No more, Anna’s consternation at the florists who wrung profit from the day she founded:
“WHAT WILL YOU DO to rout charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest and truest movements and celebrations?”
No more. For the consternation of God has finished the routing of charlatans, and the feast of God’s consternation is all that remains.
Perpetua and Felicity bear the scars of their deaths, but now each mark of bite or sword is crusted in gemstones. Iesusia Aemilia is with them; you’ve never met her before, but she—once enslaved in ancient Rome—now wears the crown of the free. Before Perpetua went into the arena, she placed her infant in Aemilia’s arms, and it was Aemilia who nursed her until it was time for her to wean. The faces of these women shine with transfiguration light; all wear crowns of seashells and pearls.
Blessed are the mothers who lost time and labor, for the goodness of the LORD is the redemption of time, for ever and ever, body and soul.
No more, the consternation of Camus, whose plague town, with our plague towns, recoiled at the “squelchy roundness” and the “abcesses” of death;
“You must picture the consternation of our little town, hitherto so tranquil, and now, out of the blue, shaken to its core.”
No more. For the consternation of God is victory over death and brings—out of every false peace which once pretended to reign—true peace for the city, body and soul.
At a round table, there’s a lively collaborative workshop going on sermon writing and poetry. Sojourner Truth and Phoebe Palmer and Jarena Lee and Jeannette Li and Anne Bradstreet have starlight in their eyes as they share their work around the table. Their crowns are of forget-me-nots and honey, circled by flights of silvery bees.
Definitions of consternation:
No more. For the consternation of God has known the consternation of the mothers. The consternation of God has aided their mutiny against the powers of darkness and brought about a new world.
Carte-de-visite of a woman with a young boy, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Linda and Artis Cason, 1865, public domain.
The inseparable Leah and Rachel are at a little table together with Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon, who are best of friends. Their Mary and Elizabeth are close friends too, but they’re not attending today’s group meeting, as they quite prefer roaming the hills while singing carols to the King. Leah is typing fiercely while Anne makes notes with a fountain pen. The four, crowned in typeface and lichen and wool, are collaborating on a substack called “after the patriarchy.” All the moms subscribe.
First known use of the word, “consternation,” 1604, together with the words:
Blessed are the mothers who were set against one another, for God is their reunion, body and soul.
Mary’s on the sofa, snuggled against St. Anne, who braids her daughter’s hair. “Goodness,” says Anne, “How did I never notice it before? Jesus got your ears exactly, didn’t he?”
Mary laughs. “They’re your ears, mama. You’ve got strong genes.” Mary’s crown is sunlight and spring, and Anne’s is made of lightning.
Staunch Susanna Wesley is composing a new hymn with Hannah and a woman named Zarina, who once wrote songs in her local church in Kenya. Thick-waisted with love, these three wear crowns of emerald and unveiled glory. They’re playing with a melding of musical themes from England, the Ancient Near East, and East Africa. “Hey,” Mary turns her head to them and yells across the room, “you’ll have to teach me that one when you’re done.” Anne gently turns Mary’s head back to center, so that she can finish her braids.
Mother with Two Children c. 1855 Jean-Baptist Frénet
St. Zélie is here with all her children: Pauline, Marie, Céline, Léonie, and Thérèse, all no less fruitful for their status as virgins, all in lace gowns, crowns of fruit and flowers springing from their heads. The flowers unfold so quickly, the fruits ripen so many times a day, that they must be endlessly plucked. Thérèse harvests the thornless roses and the honey sweet apples, filling her basket, distributing the produce around the room, returning to harvest again.
Blessed are the mothers who have known exhaustion and scarcity, for God is their rest and peace and unending abundance of love, body and soul.
Blessed are those who have longed for mothering love, for the consternation of God gathers up all, and they nestle under Jesus’s wings.
Perhaps “consternation” shares a Latin root with prostrate, sternere, “to strike or throw down.”
In the consternation of God, the empires of this world have been thrown down, and the Consternation of mamas falls prostrate before the Lamb.
Augustine wrote of Monica, after she died,
“Thy handmaid bound her soul by the bond of faith. Let none sever her from Thy protection: let neither the lion nor the dragon interpose himself by force or fraud…she will answer that her sins are forgiven her by Him, to Whom none can repay that price which He, Who owed nothing, paid for us.”
Japanese mother and daughter, agricultural workers near Guadalupe, California, Dorothea Lange, 1937
The consternation is a conflagration,
a concatenation of praise.
The group meets, I believe, on first and third Tuesday afternoons at 2pm, just beyond the veil. There are no membership dues, and you—gentle reader—have a standing invitation to join the party.
Grace and peace,
If this post has been good to you, I’d be grateful if you’d like, comment, forward, or share.
This piece contains associate links.
Consider supporting my work at Church Blogmatics by becoming a free or paid subscriber.