Most reflections on motherhood strike me as sacchariny, inconsequential, and over boiled.
There is a long history of talking about women in the role of mother in an oversimplified way—so as to suggest that all women should seek fulfillment in their God-given role as the Goddess of the Hearth. What it boils down to is a kind of sexist trope— whereby women are only valued in one role, that of procreation.
Mother’s Day is upon us, everybody! Which raises the question, how is it possible to celebrate well this day in a postmodern community of faith?
Here are some of the obvious challenges: how to honor mothers and at the same time validate the decision by women in our community to focus on creative projects other than the rearing of children? How to craft a blessing for mothers that is sincere and authentic rather than an overly commercialized celebration dependent on non-sustainably harvested flowers? And lastly, how can we celebrate mamas without giving credence to a hetero-normative world view which implies that same sex couples (especially gay men) should not be parents?
Honestly it would be easier just to avoid the day.
But if we avoid it all together, or do what many progressive churches do and celebrate “woman’s day,” we miss an opportunity to value the often invisible work of the mothers in our community. If we take seriously Jesus’ call to love those who are vulnerable, we should definitely care for the caregivers of the young. For it is through the hard working hands of mamas and papas that the very young experience tangible expressions of love.
So how to honor mothers well? I think one way to do it is to allow mothers a space to acknowledge the complexity of the role. Clearly, not all mothers feel the same way about their offspring and sadly not all mothers care well for their children. But it may be even more challenging to acknowledge that no mother feels the same way about her kids all the time.
The Hallmark soft-focus lens does not allowe ambiguity within the mother’s role. But the ambiguity is real and it makes one feel more sane to have space to admit it.
Take Monday night for example. I had been listening to coverage about the death of Osoma bin Laden on NPR all day and really wanted to talk about it with my husband. (An aside: I am really interested in the Middle East. I studied it during my year abroad at the London School of Economics. It was so stimulating to study the history and politics of the region sitting next to students with identities rooted deep in the Palestinian struggle, and Israelis, and Egyptians, and students from all across Europe and more.)
Monday night I so wanted to enjoy a meal and deep conversation with Richie about social media and democracy and the youth movement in Libya and Syria and other countries during this “Arab Spring.” I wanted to talk about the complexities of celebrating death and our national grief regarding 9/11. Like all of you, I had stuff to think through and to talk about.
But Rosetta was getting sick so it took all of Richie’s attention to get her to sleep. And Coleman and Perl really needed some snuggle time. It was one of those nights where they wanted me to be in the middle of the bed and to pull the covers over all three of us. I tried to extricate myself but Coleman said, “don’t you miss me?” You haven’t been with me all day!” Which wasn’t really true since I pick him up from preschool at three and it was now eight thirty, but I took his point. He was telling me that he needed some quiet time with me. So I gave up on adult conversation and holding one on each side –heads resting on my shoulders we all went to sleep.
A sweet ending in some ways to the day but also a moment of setting aside my deep yearnings for adult conversation and connection with my partner. And while I loved holding onto my children and feeling them breathe quietly beside me I longed for a space to process the news of the world.
Now, I want to be careful here. I don’t share all this to suggest that putting aside our own needs is always the right road. But rather to acknowledge the complexities of the role of mother: it can be deeply humanizing and soulful as well as utterly depleting. This is why mothers need honest, life-giving community. And children need their mothers to be in community, for no woman should have to do it by herself.
This Eastertide we are exploring “Fresh Expressions” of our community gathering time. This series gives us an opportunity to move beyond our traditional worship format centering on the Conversation and to explore alternative means of connecting with God and each other.
How about a fresh expression for Mother’s Day? Let us create a space to honor the particular women we have among us who choose to dedicate a lot of their life energy to educating and loving their children. Let us also craft a celebration that invites everyone to reflect on the nurturing female relationships in their lives (mothers, grandmothers, others) and what they choose to take forward from those relationships and what they want to leave behind.
I look around our community and I see mothers in their twenties and mothers in their seventies and mothers in every decade and stage of life in between. Each of these women has a story to tell about how they navigate the role and the trade offs it demands. Surely in a community such as ours we can find a way to hold lightly the tensions of the day at the same time as we hold dearly the very real women in our midst who claim the role of mama as their own.
Mothers Day CitC Style
Genny Rowley has bravely stepped into the role of worship facilitator this week to allow me the chance to participate as a mom. She has crafted a beautiful experiential service for all of us to enjoy. Please read her description below and join us Sunday.
“Join us Sunday for an experiential prayer walk. We have three stops: Sacred Reading, Meditative Walking, and the Altar of Blessing.
The Sacred Reading Space will be a chance to engage the ancient spiritual practice of lectio divina : a slow, deliberate way to take in a particular passage so that it “soaks” you. Readings will center on Sophia, the ancient feminine voice of Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures.
The Meditative Walking Space is made up of two small labyrinths and can be used to physically symbolize entering deeper into a state of meditation. There will also be finger labyrinths available for participants to sit quietly and trace the movements.
The Altar of Blessing is a chance to offer a written response, or simply to sit and connect to the Feminine Divine through iconography. There are materials available for you to craft a blessing for a particular mother if you like, or to bless God, who is as much our Mother as our Father.
During the Conversation time of our service you will be invited to wander through these stations: there is no one correct order. Instead, you may go where you find life and some connection in your spirit. We will reconvene at the end for parting words and song.”
Interested in helping with the service?