And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord!” – Luke 1:46
Lula Mae Hardaway was born in 1930 to a teenage sharecropper mother who abandoned her to a string of abusive relatives. She moved north to find work and married a man thirty years her senior who forced her into prostitution in order to feed their growing family. Lula Mae fled her husband and took her young family to Detroit, where she found work as a maid and took her children to church every week.
She was always very protective of her third son, Steveland, who was blind and spent much of his time indoors, teaching himself to play a variety of musical instruments. Steveland performed at church, becoming a neighborhood sensation, and was discovered at age 11 by a Motown executive who gave him an album contract and a new name—Little Stevie Wonder.
While Lula Mae is credited with co-writing several of Wonder’s best-loved hits, including Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours and I Was Made to Love Her, it’s impossible to know for sure the full creative impact mother had on son. I wonder if the songs that became Stevie Wonder’s hits started off as hums and improvisations around Lula Mae’s house. Maybe the words “here I am, baby,” started as a lullaby, a song of strength and survival in spite of seemingly insurmountable circumstances.
It is also impossible to know the full creative impact of Mary’s words and music on her son, but the first chapter of Luke gives us a glimpse. Her song, that incredible cry of faith and liberation, burst forth while Mary’s child still rode inside her. Hummed in bits and pieces, I imagine the song was not silenced at his birth but was the soundtrack for all of Little Jesus Wonder’s childhood. Like mothers in every time and place, she sang for comfort, for hope and for survival. Her song became his song. And his song became the world’s.
God Our Mother, sing us a lullaby. Not to put us to sleep, but to wake us up to your hope for each of us and for the world.
Jennifer Brownell is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Vancouver, Washington, and the author of Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath, her inspiring memoir.