Yesterday was Mother’s Day and, as usual, I solicited “Joys & Concerns” from the members of the congregation, and then offered a “Prayers of the People.”
Each week I begin by sharing a brief quotation from a wise spiritual mentor, or saying a sentence about why we pray together in this way. Yesterday I was not nearly as concise as usual. But my words seemed to strike a chord with many people, so I thought I’d share them here. I don’t believe that anything I said was unusual. I think what felt unusual was context: hearing these words in a sanctuary before we prayed together.
(Note: it’s entirely possible that some people were upset but didn’t mention that to me. In my experience the pastor is often the last to hear criticism. Feel free to give me feedback both positive and negative.)
Mother’s Day is not a liturgical holiday, but we tend to treat it like one, perhaps because it falls on a Sunday. There are many theories about the connection between Mothers Day and church. I’ve heard two opposite schools of thought. Some say that Mothers Day is a banner day for the church, second only to Easter in terms of church attendance. There are many mothers whose desire is to be in a church pew with their families — and families make the effort to make a good showing for Mom.
And here at Western Church, with our tradition of the Children’s Choir singing, we do enjoy a special buoyancy in our worship on this day. We’re also celebrating a baptism, which is a special event, both solemn and festive. It’s wonderful to see whole families worshiping together here today.
But for some folks, Mothers Day is a painful experience. They might be tempted to avoid church on this day. Their hearts are not lifted: People whose mothers have died since the last time they celebrated this occasion. People who are estranged from their mothers. Women who have always wanted to be a mother, but for whom that hasn’t happened. Women who had an abortion and now regret it. Birth mothers who have given a child up for adoption.
I’ve been through my share of Mothers Days — as a daughter, a mother, a pastor — and I’m aware of how fraught it can be. A celebration like Mothers Day takes all our cultural myths about women & mothers & love and puts it in a powerful package that lands with a wallop!
On one hand we sentimentalize motherhood — drenching it in pink and sprinkling it with candy and flowers.
On the other hand, we still don’t have decent maternity leave throughout the land. We have legislators who want to pass laws about women’s reproductive organs. Culturally, we have the so-called “Mommy Wars” — which I don’t believe occur on a woman-to-woman level but which are a product of the media. I believe these are a way of labeling the ways in which women are put in impossible situations, having to choose between career and family. It’s not easy to be a mother.
There’s something about Mothers Day that shines a spotlight on how schizoid our culture is about women. And even about love itself.
So I suggest that on this Mothers Day we celebrate all that is good and lovely about our families, our mothers. We soak in the experience and the love. And at the same time we exercise kindness and compassion even as we celebrate this day. Be gentle with each other, because we don’t know everything about each other’s stories. Leave room for those other emotions.
Then I asked for Joys & Concerns (at last!), and quite a few were lifted up: updates on some people’s physical health, a reminder of the war in Syria. One man listed the names of the three women in Cleveland who had been freed. I was moved that he had their names on the tip of his tongue. To me, that is love in action.
Then I prayed aloud. I always write the prayer out word for word ahead of time. I clutch the paper and don’t look at it. But my mind is focused from the writing and rereading. This practice also keeps me within my (self-imposed) 500 word count.
After I finish the prayer, I say something like, “And now we offer the prayers that are too personal for us to share aloud,” and there is a minute of silence. We close by saying the Lord’s Prayer together.
The truth is, I love corporate prayer. I think it’s a very important function of the Body of Christ. To me corporate prayer is quite different than praying alone. Those moments of silence are perhaps the most golden moments of my week.
To close, let me share the scripture for the day. I rarely do that on this blog. But I so love hearing scripture read aloud by various people. I love the different voices, male and female, young and old, scratchy and velvety. The particular voice and day create a specific context for the reading of the Word, and I often hear something differently than I had before. Scripture is always familiar and always new, and the reading aloud is part of that old yet new experience.
Yesterday, I enjoyed hearing our Head of Staff, Rev. Beverly Dempsey read the lesson from Colossians, particularly these verses:
Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. ~ Colossians 3:13-15
Amen! How was your Mothers Day?