Craving the Maternal

Published March 12, 2024

The Epoch Times

I just listened to Tammy Peterson’s story of the miraculous healing of her cancer in the Hallow app’s Pray40 Lenten series. In this short reflection, Ms. Peterson, the wife of Jordan Peterson, spoke of her cynicism and self-reliance before the discovery of a disease that neither she nor any doctor on earth could cure. She was given 10 months to live.

Ms. Peterson describes what happened when she had to tell her son about her terminal diagnosis, a reality all parents fear. But her story was quite different from expected. Something happened to Ms. Peterson when she told her adult son the news. She said that it was the love she saw in his eyes, in his face, that told her that she was loved by him more than she even loved herself. Somehow, this fresh reality gave her a new strength, a release from fear. She said it was like a great weight had been lifted.

She told him that the diagnosis had come from a man, but that it was not from God. They would take it one step at a time and see what happened, but that each day would be met with gratitude. The cynicism and the self-reliance melted away, and the wisdom of a mother, who knows she is loved by her son, but also by God, stepped into its place.

We live at a time when we have few examples of deep, wise, and compelling women. Ours is an age of the screen, and it is very hard to see the deep wellsprings that women have to offer. Flash and flesh are much easier to convey.

But there is something qualitatively different about a wise and mature woman who knows she is made in the image and likeness of God. We see so few of them, raising the questions: How could we start to help these women to be seen? It is truly a challenge, just looking at Ms. Peterson’s testimony, to imagine how one could visually convey all the subtle but pronounced stages of emotion and ideas that happened in an instant when she saw the love in her son’s face. How does one express the beauty of the movement away from self-reliance and into the arms of God? And how does one measure the outwardly small changes in a life that is no longer cynical, but suddenly grateful? It can be done, but it is hard and requires great skill, patience, and inspiration.

Why it should be done is equally as important: We need to see what women are truly supposed to look like. These elements of women, when mature and developed, create a gravitational pull. A holy woman is attractive. Her beauty, even if not physical beauty, radiates from her. She isn’t self-absorbed. She isn’t grasping at things not meant for her, or rejecting things that are. She sees life as animated by the graciousness and bounty of God, and she wants nothing more than to share and gift that to others. It isn’t about a career. It isn’t about what she does for a living. It isn’t about her weight or her wrinkles. Her life is solely about passing along the life of God, grace, to others, done among the daily tasks.

We know well the life-giving capacity of women on a biological level, but we have forgotten this on the level of the spiritual. The life-giving woman is compelling because she brings order, purpose, peace, and hope to those merely through a life well lived, in love, kindness, presence, patience, and gratitude.

Ms. Peterson’s simple story, of both biological and spiritual healing, was able to bring all these elements to life. Her life represents the very things so many of us long to find. In a world shot through with chaos, disorder, ugliness, and the vile, we want something more; we want the beauty of the maternal.

Carrie Gress, Ph.D., is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where she co-directs EPPC’s Theology of Home Project. She earned her doctorate in philosophy from the Catholic University of America and is the co-editor at the online women’s magazine Theology of Home.

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