'The One Supreme Asset of the National Life'

In his classic sermon, "Keepers of the Springs," the late Dr. Peter Marshall, former chaplain to the U.S. Senate, talked about "a certain town that grew up at the foot of a mountain range." High in the hills, a forest dweller took it upon himself to be the keeper of the springs, which fed the town with water below. "He patrolled the hills and wherever he found a spring, he cleaned its brown pool of silt and fallen leaves, of mud and mould and took away from the spring all foreign matter, so that the water which bubbled up through the sand ran down clean and pure."

But then one day the City Council, a group of "hard-headed, hard-boiled businessmen," scanned the city budget and decided to do away with the keeper of the springs and to build a cement reservoir.

Soon the new reservoir filled with water, but the water wasn't the same. "It didn't seem to be as clean, and a green scum soon befouled its stagnant surface. There were constant troubles with the delicate machinery of the mills, for it was clogged with slime, and the swans found another home above the town. At last, an epidemic raged, and the clammy, yellow fingers of sickness reached into every home in every street and lane."

Fortunately, the City Council acknowledged their mistake and begged the keeper of the springs to return to his old job. He agreed, and it wasn't long until "pure water came lilting down under tunnels of ferns and mosses and to sparkle in the cleansed reservoir. Mill wheels turned again as of old. Stenches disappeared. Sickness waned and convalescent children playing in the sun laughed again because the swans had come back."

"Do not think me fanciful -- too imaginative -- or too extravagant in my language," said Marshall. But "I say that I think of women, and particularly of our mothers, as keepers of the springs."

Allow me, if you will, to continue with excerpts from that same powerful sermon. "There has never been a time," said Marshall, "when there was a greater need for keepers of the springs, or when there were more polluted springs to be cleansed. If the home fails, the country is doomed. The breakdown of home life and influence will mark the breakdown of the nation. If the keepers of the springs desert their posts or are unfaithful to their responsibilities, the future outlook of this country is black indeed. This generation needs keepers of the springs who will be courageous enough to cleanse the springs that have been polluted. It is not an easy task -- nor is it a popular one, but it must be done for the sake of the children, and the young women of today must do it."

"We hear about every other kind of women" added Marshall -- "beautiful women, smart women, sophisticated women, career women, talented women, divorced women, but so seldom do we hear of a godly woman -- or a godly man either, for that matter. The world has enough women who know how to hold their cocktails, who have lost their illusions and their faith. The world has enough women who know how to be smart. It needs women who are willing to be simple. The world has enough women who know how to be brilliant. It needs some who will be brave. The world has enough women who are popular. It needs more who are pure. We need women, and men too, who would rather be morally right than socially correct."

"Let us not fool ourselves -- without Christianity, without Christian education, without the principles of Christ inculcated into young life, we are simply raising pagans. Physically, they will be perfect. Intellectually, they will be brilliant. But spiritually, they will be pagan. Let us not fool ourselves. The school is making no attempt to teach the principles of Christ. The Church alone cannot do it. They can never be taught to a child unless the mother herself knows them and practices them every day."

You know what makes the words of Peter Marshall's classic sermon so urgent in my mind? It is that they were preached approximately 50 years ago. If the words of Marshall's sermon were relevant in his day, how much more is the weight of their import today?

A mother's role in the family is pivotal to the nation. Theodore Roosevelt summarized it this way: "The mother is the one supreme asset of the national life. She is more important, by far, than the successful statesman, businessman, artist or scientist."
Rev. Mark H. Creech (calact@aol.com) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.