Mother’s Day Musings

by Karen Richter

I kinda hate Mother’s Day.  There are reasons:

  • My family – and many many other families – feels pressure to spend money for things I don’t need to show their appreciation.
  • Progressive churches feel pulled in multiple ways: to recognize and appreciate mothers, to honor people who are nurturing others in various ways, to affirm persons who are not parents, to make some nod in the direction of gender equality and the feminist movement, to give at least passing attention to the neglected feminine images of the divine in our scripture and tradition. We end up doing none of these well.
  • I imagine that in a less patriarchal culture, Mother’s Day wouldn’t need to exist at all. In fact, I suspect that the more we wax nostalgic about motherhood, the less the actual, real life work of women is valued. More concretely, when we have an emotional attachment to the sacrifices parents (particularly women) make for their children’s benefit, we don’t push for public policies that makes families’ lives easier.
  • I’m encouraged to leave the dishes in the sink… “After all, it’s Mother’s Day!” which in some years just means that they are waiting for me on Monday morning.

Like many of us who think purposefully (and perhaps too often) about theology and gender, I’m conflicted about the whole idea.

Yet this year, almost by accident, I agreed to plan worship for Mother’s Day. There are several of us at Shadow Rock, a mix of clergy, staff, lay members, and members in discernment, that tackle certain liturgical seasons and apply our creativity and inspiration to the lectionary to plan our time together on Sunday mornings.

And, almost with a little wink at my inner conflict, several things began stirring…

First, May 8 roughly coincides with the end of our exhibition of the Shower of Stoles project. Planning around Annual Meeting, we arranged to receive about 80 stoles of LGBTQ pastors, deacons, church staffers, and other faith leaders. Each stole tells a story. For some it’s a story of terrible pain and a loss to the church of a potential leader as someone was denied their ministry because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. For others, it’s a journey of questioning and struggle ending in wonderful affirmation.

As I read the stories attached to the stoles, my heart was enlarged, swollen with tenderness for the lives the stoles represent.

What if this story were my child’s story?

Then I looked at the gospel reading for this Sunday, May 8. It’s John 17.20-26. I’ve heard John Dorhauer preach movingly on this same passage. “The prayer of our dying Savior,” he says. But this time I heard something different… a parent preparing to leave her children.

“I ask…  that they may all be one.”

It’s good that I must leave you, Jesus says. You will go on to learn so much more, he promises. Are they really ready to live their faith independently, without the guidance of Jesus? Four times in this section of John’s Gospel, Jesus prays for unity. Do you feel his conflict? Anguish: at having to leave behind these dear friends, these precious beloved students and Confidence: with faith in their continued growth and guidance into all truth (16.13).

He sounds like Mom.

The final movement for me was a parenting meme I ran across online:

child's inner voice

Next week, we celebrate Pentecost, the arrival of the Holy Spirit. This anticipation, too, tied in to the growing idea of Jesus the Mother. As a parent, I hope that my children have absorbed the best of my instruction and attitude as their inner voice. I pray that as adults, they hear my voice from the times when I was accepting and encouraging, peaceful and faith-filled… rather than the times when I failed to express my best intentions. And I wonder if, in the Garden in the midst of this prayer, Jesus wondered about the voice his friends and subsequent generations of Jesus People would hear as their inner voice, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit.

Now I don’t know if Sunday’s service will reflect in any way this series of ideas and stirrings that have happened for me as I wrote liturgy, prayed, and planned. Who knows what will happen in the hearts and minds of those gathered in the pews? I trust the Spirit will do what it will.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Joyous Pentecost.

May they be for us One Celebration… not of chocolates and Pajamagrams and brunch but love and fire and unity. Amen.