By Ann Fontaine
The second Sunday of May is the Hallmark High Holy Day of Mother’s Day. The creation of this commemoration was supported by Julia Ward Howe in her Mothers’ Day Proclamation, and the day was set aside in 1914 by President Woodrow Wilson as a day to honor mothers whose sons had died in war. Since that time it has become a day of difficulty for many clergy and preachers.
Every year I wrestle with how to balance the almost idolatrous honoring of mothers by the greeting card, flower, and gift industries and the reality of “mother” for many. While many have wonderful mothers whom they wish to honor, others had abusive mothers and flee from activities on Mothers’ Day that only salts their wounds. Those who wanted to have children and could not and those whose children have died also find it difficult to sit through a service when the focus is on something they have yearned for or lost.
How might we approach this day? Embrace it? Ignore it altogether? Add prayers for all sorts and conditions of mothers and non-mothers? Transform it? All hold possibilities
We can embrace it in the spirit of Hallmark - celebrate an idealized image of mother. Give thanks that it is a well-attended Sunday as mothers and grandmothers ask their children and grandchildren to go to church this one day that is not Christmas or Easter. Give out flowers to all mothers who attend our services. Sing hymns and songs glorifying motherhood. One priest I know changes the words of Faith of our Fathers to Faith of our Mothers, recognizing that most of us attended church because of our mothers, not our fathers.
We can ignore it. Let it slip by unnoted even though many women will be wearing corsages sent by their children. We can hold on to the Anglican tradition of celebrating Mothering Sunday during Lent, usually mid-March. Transformed from a Roman celebration of the goddess Cybele on the feast of Hilaria, to a festival honoring Mary, the mother of Jesus and by extension all mothers. Marked for many years as the one Sunday when domestic servants were allowed a day off to see their mothers. Perhaps there can be movement similar to the idea that churches should not sing Christmas songs during Advent.
Another possibility is offering prayers but not preaching on the subject. Offering prayers for those who are mothers whether kindly or abusive, for those who have mothered us regardless of gender, for those who grieve death of a mother or of a child or the inability to be a birth mother can raise the awareness that the church understands the joys and difficulties of this day for many. The following is an example by Melissa Roberts:
God of mysteries, I don’t know why Mom [insert reason mother left]. Despite all the changes in my life, I miss her. Remind me that I am Your beloved child, with whom You are well pleased. You, O God, will never abandon me. Heal me in body, mind, and spirit when I feel that my mother abandoned me. Lead me to others will nurture and guide me as a mother should and let me, also, share the love of a mother with others, in the light of Your love. Amen.
Yet another idea is transformation. This seems to be gaining favor with many both in and out of churches. As early celebrations called for an end to war current celebrations add the honoring of women for the work they do providing for their families, changing unjust laws, risking jail or death for a better life for their communities and the world, and working for a safe healthy world for all children. The US State Department recently announced the winners of the Women of Courage for this year. A developing activity for Mothers Day is called Standing Women. Women, men and children stand in silence at 1 p.m. local time for five minutes as a call to action on behalf of the world and our communities, as a type of mothering of the whole world into wholeness:
We are standing for the world’s children and grandchildren, and for the seven generations beyond them.
We dream of a world where all of our children have safe drinking water, clean air to breathe, and enough food to eat.
A world where they have access to a basic education to develop their minds and healthcare to nurture their growing bodies.
A world where they have a warm, safe and loving place to call home.
A world where they don’t live in fear of violence – in their home, in their neighborhood, in their school or in their world.
This the world of which we dream.
This is the cause for which we stand.
One year Mothers’ Day fell on the same day as the reading from the Gospel of John. After talking about the difficulties and joys of the day, I paraphrased the reading as a way of taking another look at the gospel and mothers:
Jesus said: I am the good mother. The good mother lays down her life for the children. The hired caretaker, who is not the mother and does not care for the children, sees the fearful thing coming and leaves the children and runs away -- and the children are snatched and scattered. The hired caretaker runs away because s/he does not care for the children. I am the good mother. I know my own and my own know me, just as my Mother knows me and I know my Mother. And I lay down my life for the children. I have other children that are not of this family. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one family, one mother. For this reason I am loved, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from the Holy One.What do you do in the church you serve?
The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.