Thankful for those who mother us into new life
At choir this Thursday – I don’t think we were there more than fifteen minutes before we started talking about the challenge of Mother’s Day.
Those with healthy relationships with their mother celebrate today – they give thanks for the love that held it all together – that offered compassion and hope and forgiveness. But for others, Mother’s Day reminds us of broken relationships: struggles and hurts that refuse to heal, calls that will go unanswered, and the guilt that comes with it all. And what exactly constitutes as mother? A family?
It’s challenging to celebrate a day knowing that for some, is a reminder of failure.
That’s why I read Love you Forever on Mother’s Day. While on the surface, it is a beautiful tale of a mother’s love…its greater power is in what prompted it to be written.
It started from the song (which according to Robert Munsch’s page everyone sings differently) but that song was written because they, Robert Munsch and his wife, experienced two stillborn deaths. Nine months of preparing to be a mother, planning and dreaming and praying only to have that destroyed in a matter of minutes. While we would never call that a failure, it is hard as a mother not to internalize that guilt, to experience and imagine shame, and to desperately want to sing to the heavens, to the child who never got to hear, I’ll Love you Forever…
To that end, Anne Lamott, author of Help, Thanks, Wow, and Hallelujah Anyways, wrote a piece once called I Hate Mother’s Day … (and thankfully her words come from experience)…She says that…
[m]othering has been the richest experience of [her] life, but [she is] still opposed to Mother’s Day. It perpetuates the dangerous idea that all parents are somehow superior to non-parents.
[Mother’s Day]… feels incomplete and imprecise. The main thing that ever helped mothers was other people mothering them; a chain of mothering that keeps the whole shebang afloat. I am the woman I grew to be partly in spite of my mother, and partly because of the extraordinary love of her best friends, and my own best friends’ mothers, and from surrogates, many of whom were not women at all but gay men. I have loved them my entire life, even after their passing.
And so we look to our faith to seek an understanding of what mothering truly means. Mothering means giving rise to…bringing about…For our God gives rise to the goodness in us…birthing kindness and compassion and forgiveness. Some of those gifts we learned from our own mothers, and some not. And even if you didn’t have the blessing of a mother who taught you these things – we are to learn, or sometimes re-learn, what it means to be people of God.
For we hear in John 14, anyone who has faith in me will do the works I do – and greater works besides. Anyone, woman or man, can believe and act out of the faith that they’re given. While not “all women are not mothers, just as certainly as all men are not fathers” we all have the power to give rise to a new world. It starts with the subtle notions of how Jesus speaks in this passage. I can tell you it was difficult to find a translation that I was happy with for this passage from John 14. If you read it in the New Revised Standard, or really 95% of the translations that are out there, you’d hear the very familiar words of:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
And that’s fine there, but when the word Father comes up thirteen times in the fourteen verses we’re reading, and especially that it’s Mother’s day, hearing Father over and over again just doesn’t hit the ear right. But substituting in the word Mother doesn’t make it all better. The Inclusive Bible (which Maureen read from today) re-translated this name of God as Abba God, getting to the root of why that word Father was there at all. For Jesus was speaking to a group of people who struggled with the idea of an intimate relationship with God. The only thing that God gave rise to, was fear. God was an out-there, not an in-here. God demanded sacrifice. God maintained a contractual relationship with the people. And over time, the people in their wisdom grew apart from God, as we see the starts of it in Exodus 20. Here, in the story of Moses, long after the Garden (of Eden), long after God’s blessing of Abram and Sarai, and even after the saving acts of God liberating the people from Egypt, God sought us. God spoke, and in an act of power and majesty, lighting up the heavens and the earth, the people grew afraid…they demanded an intermediator, someone to go between them and the divine. The people chosen the Levites, those to act as priests, those to be the ones to carry prayers and come close to the holy of holies. Prophets and visionaries listened to the divine but the everyday people struggled (to even want) to hear such a voice.
And so the God that Jesus speaks of, as only a child can speak of a loving parent (as he’s experienced the divine) comes from an experience of compassion and mercy. This description of our relationship gave rise to a new understanding of what it means to be people of God. At the water’s edge, Jesus heard the blessing of child of God, and vowed his whole life long to not keep that blessing for himself, but ensure that everyone lived into that hope. So when we hear Jesus speak of Father God, or Abba God, we can just as easily fit in our own words…
In my generous God’s house there are many dwelling places…
No one comes to this gracious God but through me.
If you really knew me, you would know my loving God also.
From this point on, you know God’s compassion and you have seen God.”
“Rabbi,” Philip said, “show us this mothering God, and that will be enough for us.”
Whoever has seen me has seen God who gives rise (to all that is good within us).
How can you say, ‘Show us your living God’?
Limited by language, the early biblical writers spoke of God as giving rise to this earth, giving rise to justice and peace, giving rise to new and fulfilled relationships with our Maker even when our biological parents, in their struggles and humanness, fail us. Yet even in our humanness, even in our quest to “get everything right and failing miserably” (as any good parent after that first trip to the ER, or that first bit of junk food enlivens every neurotransmitter in your child’s brain, or how you just hand them a device to get five more minutes of sleep…) despite all of that, we are to do the works [Jesus] do[es] – and greater works besides.
Which I think today, is one of the biggest challenges facing this current generation. Being an (older) member of this generation: to see the rise in stress levels, addiction to both drugs and video screens and every sort of escape from this world, the hopelessness that drives our young people to suicide, the rampant rates of all of these on First Nations reserves…how the world has changed, where you grew up, studied, and got the one job you’d keep for forty years, defined by your work as a teacher, as a lawyer, or doctor…this world no longer exists for grads who struggle to even qualify for Tim Hortons. There was a Netflix show come out just a couple of months ago called Thirteen Reasons Why, and it tells the story of a young girl who commits suicide and gives her thirteen reasons why it happened…And for this generation, from us “older” we need to give those growing, those struggling for meaning, those for whom the world doesn’t pay attention until it’s too late…we need to give them thirteen reasons why not why the world desperately needs them, why we are called, each of us, to do the works [Jesus] do[es] – and greater works besides. This is powerful and important to hear from the voice of Jesus, because for him, it’s not just about hero worship. In this new understanding of God, Jesus says we are each vital participants in this creation, we each find the strength, the power, to give rise to a new creation. We are to give thirteen reasons why this world needs each one of us. We are to uplift and mother and give rise to one another.
For this is the work of Jesus, for we are called to even greater work still.