My husband took the first call. It was a call from a member of the St. Martin’s community—the day shelter for the homeless where I often preach and preside. He wanted to remind me that Mother’s Day was coming up. He wanted to make certain that I included it in my sermon. I took the second call on Friday. My friend again reminding me about Mother’s Day. The third call came yesterday morning. Another reminder and then a suggestion—flowers would be a nice addition. I wonder if my friend knows about my ambivalence towards this day.
This is one of those days in the Hallmark year that has the power to divide between the halves and the have-nots. This is one of those days that underscores how very differently we humans experience the same thing. One of those days that stirs up the pot of memories. One of those days that highlights yearnings met and unmet. So much stuff swirling around mother.
And yet all of us have a mother. That’s the way get here.
Sometimes our notions of things are just too darn small. Sometimes our thinking is way too narrow. We get trapped by our expectations. We get hemmed in by our definitions.
That’s been my problem this week. I’ve been hemmed in by a Hallmark Card notion of Mother’s Day. I’ve been looking at those cards and thinking, “I have no one to send them to.” I’ve been reading those cards and thinking, “There’s no one to say that to me.”
Or is there? Is there someone to whom I can say how much I value their mothering? Is there someone who might say to me, “Thanks for the mothering.”
Good mothering goes on all the time—some of it by birth mothers but much of it by men and women—young and old—who walk side by side with us, who steady us when we stumble, who nudge us on when we get stuck, who nurture our souls. Good mothering comes from so many different sources—friends, neighbors, colleagues, children, strangers even. Folks who encourage, folks who remind, folks who love us enough to call us when we get out of line, folks who help us to see things in a whole new way, folks who give us a new charge on life.
I think those disciples on the road to Emmaus got trapped by their expectations of God, their expectations of the Messiah. Remember what they said to the stranger on the road? They said, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Then they went on to tell the stranger how the three days Jesus had talked about had come and almost gone. They told the stranger about the empty tomb, the women’s vision, the disappointing trip to the empty tomb. Imagine, there they were walking the road with the living God, and they didn’t even know it!
Like the disciples, we, too, can get trapped by our expectations of God; we, too, can get hemmed in by our own definitions. Years ago, on Christmas Eve, I watched my niece who was then three years old walk into church for the first time in her life. Throughout the service, her eyes were focused on the creche. After all the worshippers had left, she went to creche. She wanted to see Baby Jesus. She looked closely at the baby and then said to me, “Tell me about her.”
“About her?” I wanted to scream. Instead I said gently, “Jesus was a boy.” My niece remained unconvinced. The Jesus she met that night, the Jesus she knew in her heart was a girl—a girl like her. My niece was light-years beyond me in her knowledge of Jesus. Caught up in the drama of it all—the story, the meal, the baby in the manger—my niece knew that Jesus, like a mother, feeds us.
Today is the feast day of Julian of Norwich—a woman not hemmed in by narrow notions of God or Christ or the Holy Spirit, a woman who knew deep in her bones our mother Jesus; a woman who knew the mothering nature of God.
Today we celebrate the mothering in our lives—the mothering we’ve received, the mothering we’ve given, and most of all the mothering of God. I’m reminded of a hymn based on the work and words of Julian:
Mothering God, you gave me birth
In the bright morning of this world.
Creator, source of every breath,
You are my rain, my wind, my sun.
Mothering Christ, you took my form,
Offering me your food of light,
The grain of life, and grape of love,
Your very body for my peace.
Mothering Spirit, nurturing one,
In arms of Patience hold me close,
So that in faith I root and grow
Until I flower, until I know.