How grand that Sunday somewhere in 1965 when the late Leighton B. McKeithen Jr. closed his Mother’s Day sermon by recounting “A Little Parable for Mothers,” written in 1933 by novelist Irene Temple Bailey for Good Housekeeping magazine.
His words were measured.
His cadence so perfect on that Mother’s Day Sunday, when Leighton B. McKeithen Jr. was the senior pastor with the tender heart at Highland Presbyterian Church with the towering white steeple that keeps vigil over Haymount Hill.
Mama sat by my side, as she had done on so many Mother’s Day Sundays before.
Irene Temple Bailey’s “A Little Parable for Mothers” has been a part of my very being ever since, and it is framed by the narthex of this little, scratch-brick house that Mama called home from 1956 to 2009, and where Mama raised her only child who loved and admired her all his life and does to this day beyond a mother’s almost 89 years. And not a day has passed that Mama isn’t in a son’s heart.
A mother’s journey
“The young mother set her foot on the path of life,” the pastor would quote from Irene Temple Bailey’s parable. “‘Is the way long?’” she asked. “And the guide said: ‘Yes, and the way is hard. And you will be old before you reach the end of it. But the end will be better than the beginning.’
“But the young mother was happy, and she would not believe that anything could be better than these years. So she played with her children and gathered flowers for them along the way and bathed them in the clear streams; and the sun shone on them, and the young mother cried, ‘Nothing will ever be lovelier than this.’
“Then the night came, and the storm, and the path was dark, and the children shook with fear and cold, and the mother drew them close and covered them with her mantle, and the children said, ‘Mother, we are not afraid, for you are near and no harm can come.’”
You could feel this young mother’s journey with her children. You could see in your mind’s eye a mother’s long walk through life with her children.
“And the morning came, and there was a hill ahead, and the children climbed and grew weary, and the mother was weary,” the preacher would continue with Irene Temple Bailey’s words. “But at all times she said to the children, ‘A little patience and we are there.’ So the children climbed, and when they reached the top they said, ‘Mother, we would not have done it without you.’”
“And the mother, when she lay down at night, looked up at the stars and said, ‘This is a better day than the last, for my children have learned fortitude in the face of hardness. Yesterday, I gave them courage. Today, I have given them strength.’
“And the next day came strange clouds which darkened the earth, clouds of war and hate and evil, and the children groped and stumbled, and the mother said: ‘Look up. Lift your eyes to the light.’ And the children looked and saw above the clouds an everlasting glory, and it guided them beyond the darkness. And that night the mother said, ‘This is the best day of all, for I have shown my children God.’
“And the days went on, and the weeks and the months and the years, and the mother grew old and she was little and bent,” Leighton B. McKeithen Jr. would lead us along in the parable. “And when the way was rough, they lifted her, for she was as light as a feather; and at last they came to a hill, and beyond they could see a shining road and golden gates flung wide. And the mother said: ‘I have reached the end of my journey. And now I know the end is better than the beginning, for my children can walk alone, and their children after them.’
Leighton B. McKeithen Jr. would take pause.
He would look into the eyes of every church member on this Mother’s Day Sunday that for some of us continues to resonate like yesterday at the sanctuary with the Christian cross behind the pulpit.
“And the children said, ‘You will always walk with us, Mother, even when you have gone through the gates,’ the good preacher would close Irene Temple Bailey’s parable. “And they stood and watched her as she went on alone, and the gates closed after her. And they said: ‘We cannot see her, but she is with us still. A mother like ours is more than a memory. She is a living presence.’”
Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at email@example.com or 910-624-1961.