Simeon blessed them and said to Jesus’ mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed-and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
But kids don’t stay with you if you do it right. It’s the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run.
-Barbara Kingsolver, Pigs in Heaven
To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.
-Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
So how on earth can I bring a child into the world, knowing that such sorrow lies ahead, that it is such a large part of what it means to be human. I’m not sure. That’s my answer: I’m not sure.
-Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year
I preached (from a distance) yesterday, which was Mother’s Day. It’s never been my practice to preach about mothers on this day, as much as I loved my own mother. I know other clergy do different things, and my practice has been a disappointment to some over the years. I recall one vociferous parishioner who assailed my wife on the way out of church one Mother’s Day because I had not mentioned mothers in my sermon. God bless clergy spouses. They aren’t paid enough.
It’s not because mothers have not been on my mind and in my heart. Earlier this year, both my mother and my step-mother transitioned to eternal life. They each had long, full lives, for which we give thanks. I’ve been thinking a lot about both of them in recent days, missing them, thinking I should give them a call, ignoring reminders to send them flowers. It made me think about how motherhood, how parenthood, how any relationship marked by love probably always brings some bit of sorrow with it.
In this heavy season of health and economic crisis, with lots of loss, my thoughts and prayers went out to mothers for all kinds of reasons. I think of mothers of those who have lost loved ones to this virus, and those children concerned about their mothers who are isolated, maybe in nursing homes where they can’t be visited. I think of mothers of 20% of the children in our country who don’t have enough to eat. I’m praying for a mother I know whose son ended his life this past week, a loss beyond imagination. I think of mothers who risked everything, covering hundreds of dangerous miles in the hopes of a better future for their children, who were then separated at the borders, now apparently forgotten in the crush of other news. I think of the mother of a young man in Georgia who died jogging while black. Those are the mothers on my heart this morning. Who is on your heart and in your prayers?
None of this goes on a Hallmark card. It may feel like a downer on a Monday morning. But love and suffering seem to go together. That’s in the Bible, in the story of Moses’ mother (Exodus 1) who in a dramatic act of faith, courage and self-sacrifice set her baby in a make-shift boat in the river, letting him go, trusting him to God’s care. I think of Hannah who couldn’t have children until late in life and when her child, Samuel, arrived, she turned him over to a life in the temple, giving him over to God’s care. (I Samuel 3) I think of the words that came to Mary, mother of our Lord, from Simeon in the temple (included above). Simeon says that as a mother, a sword will go through Mary’s heart. It’s central to our faith, with its crucial moment at that place where love and sorrow flow mingled down. We sing as we survey the wondrous cross: Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?
All of which is to say that we give thanks for the ministry of mothers, even when on occasion they drive us nuts. (Part of why I hold back on preaching about mothers, is that there are many complicated relationships between parents and children, some healthy, some not so much.) But we also recognize that mothers know better than anyone that when we open our hearts, we let pain in. When it comes to any expression of love, there is cost along with promise. In the midst of it all, we hear story after story about how grace abounds, overcomes, supersedes. With that in mind, maybe preachers don’t need to talk about mothers in sermons. The mothers themselves preach the finest sermons, thank you very much.
As we give thanks for mothers, as we did this past weekend, perhaps we can be mindful of those whose motherhood bears pain this day, and aim towards a world where that pain can be relieved. Is there anything you can do this week towards that end? Begin with prayer.