Mothering Sunday. A day to celebrate and give thanks for mothers. For our biological mothers and for those who were, for all intents and purposes, our nurturing mother figures. Not always our real, bloodline mother.
In our Service today we reflected on Motherhood, its relation to us, and to our world. How our actions towards mothers - our own and all mothers - can be an indication of our actions towards to world at large. The words of the sermon are below, or click on the link at the top of this post for free MP3 download of it.
A mother is someone I will never be. I have a mother. I am married to a mother. Who knows, I may be a father to a future mother. I am surrounded by mothers. But I am not, and never will be, a mother.
I sometimes wonder if Motherhood is a closer biological link to our children than fatherhood. It is of course the case that the mother carries her child, physically, inside her for the duration of pregnancy. But in fact, that egg, that egg that became you, that egg was carried by your mother from her beginning. I am not a doctor, and I cannot be precise, but I believe that all the eggs a woman will ever carry are actually formed whilst she herself is within her own mother. So the egg that became you, was formed when your grandmother was pregnant with your mother.
Amazing isn’t it.
So we are, most of us, somewhere between 20 and 40 years older than we first thought we were.
And we are formed and descended through a long, and overlapping line of motherhood.
I never knew my maternal grandmother. But to know the base material from which I was formed was carried by her, over twenty years before I was born, leads to a closeness I had never previously felt. But can now realise as a maternal link stretching back so far.
As I said, I never knew my maternal grandmother. She died just before my mother and father’s wedding, and three years before my birth. For my mother, the loss of her mother was devastating and, although not entirely unexpected, the suddenness of the loss was something that was almost tangible in my mother whenever she spoke of the grandmother I never knew. That link to her mother and, we can now surmise, her grandmother (a grandmother who, like me, she never knew) had been taken away.
But mothers and babies are being created all the time. Everyday, somewhere in the world. In lots of places in the world. All the time.
But that does not make our maternal links any less special. Or any less personal.
Mothers give. I think it may be some unwritten rule of motherhood – for our biological and non-biological mothers. Mothers give.
And mothers teach.
In our first reading this morning, Jeffrey Lockwood talks of the story of he and his wife, Nan, when they took their children into the mountains for a ski trip. They forgot their daughter’s mittens. But without a second thought, mother took off her socks and allowed the small girl’s hands to warm.
Not a difficult thing to do really. But instinctive – and noticeable that Jeffrey hadn’t thought of anything similar himself. He even stresses the point that this was hardly a heroic act – in fact it simply saved the skiing holiday rather than anything more newsworthy.
Yet mother gives.
Jeffrey compared this to the story of the Buddhist monk – caring for the health and safety of a man who robbed his room. The story is, I’m sure, just that. A story. But maybe not.
The parallel is clear. Neither of these events required heroic deeds. Neither really resulted in discomfort for either the mother or the monk – you will recall the mother always wore two pairs of socks, and the monk had both a jumper and a coat – and gave only one of these to the robber.
But they were instinctive acts of generosity and support; immediate, heart-led action to share comfort.
And is this perhaps the approach we expect of motherhood. Generosity, support, comfort.
We often refer to good, wholesome, issues and items with a nod to mothers. Homely things are like motherhood and apple pie. And even the earth we live on, the planet that gives us everything, one of the very few constants in our lives, we refer to as dear old Mother Earth.
Mother Earth. The Earth Mother. The notion of Earth as Mother is thousands of years old. We know, as well as we can, from artefacts dug up or discovered in other ways, that the notion of a full, motherly figure as the central heart of our lives has been the notion of the ‘other’ for far longer then the idea of a ‘Father’ God.
Our second reading this morning – the Goddess Creation myth from Starhawk's book 'The Spiral Dance' was very clear with its mythological notion of a Mother Goddess.
A Creation myth for sure, and about as valid in fact as the Biblical one but, like the Biblical one, it is a story that might help us to reflect on the nature of the Divine, and its relationship to us.
And, in fact, even the Biblical Creation story is not so far removed from the Goddess tradition. In the first Creation story in Genesis, in the original Hebrew, we actually have a very intriguing line (and one that the Established Church does its very best to forget:
‘Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness’.
It’s very clear in the Hebrew text. This earliest scribe appears to have considered God as plural. Most likely male and female. So even if not exclusively male, God was in part, in some way, female.
Now, the revived Goddess traditions, such as those led and inspired by the writings of Pagan leaders such as Starhawk, are reconnecting to the notion of the Goddess. Reconnecting to the female qualities of the natural world. Of that which has been known as God, and by many other names.
The alternative Creation myth we heard earlier, from the book ‘The Spiral Dance’, talks of the way in which the Goddess becomes filled with love and produces another. The offspring is a God, who turns into many things, but is always drawn back to the Mother. Always drawn back to the Goddess. The wonderful phrase:
“all began in love; all seeks to return to love”
And here lies the dichotomy. We have the Mother Socks image – the one we all recognise – the mother who will always be there for you, always willing to give up something for you. And then the strong Mother Goddess, the Mother Earth, creator of all. Creator of all of us. The mother to whom we are forever drawn. The Mother to which we are called.
Of course, Mother Earth is not only that great Mother of all. Mother Earth can be seen as that which shares all with us. The bounty of the Earth is that which sustains us. Mother Earth is the ground, literally, the ground on which we walk and from which we are, ultimately, created.
Creation myths from many sources – we’ve spoken of two already today – are almost universal in aligning the notion of God, or the Goddess, or both, to the birth of our world. Not unreasonable for people to have thought of the Earth is such a mighty and amazing place, that it could only be created by something equally amazing and unimaginable. It certainly couldn’t be made by human hands – so the Divine must have played a part. Perfectly reasonable.
So, Mother Earth. We can expect her to provide everything we need. Continuously. Without true thanks or favour. And without requirement from us to allow rest, recuperation, recovery.
We know all too well today, with Climate Change, pollution and dwindling natural resources, that this precious Earth – as amazing as it is – is not inexhaustible. We expect too much of it. We often fail to allow it to rest. To regain some strength.
A reminder to our responsibilities to mothers everywhere. Not just Mother Earth – and not just our own mothers. But to all mothers.
Like we ourselves, Mother Earth is currently sowing the seeds for the generations after us – in the same way we began our lives not in our mothers, but rather in both our mothers and our grandmothers, so this planet is continuing to prepare for those that will come after us.
Like our own mothers, we hope the Earth will aways be there for us – there to provide those things we need – but only if we take care of her. Like Mother Earth, the apparently endless stream of nurture and care that mothers provide, all the time, everywhere, can only continue if its allowed some time off occasionally.
And I suspect the 24 hours of Mothering Sunday is probably not sufficient for the full recovery needed. But it is a start. And a reminder to us all of the need to recognise the needs of mothers everywhere.
Mothers provide support. Mothers share. Mothers need rest. Mothers give love. Mothers need love. Our mothers provided the generation after our own. Lets honour that through our love of Creation, and a generosity to mothers everywhere.
Happy Mothering Sunday.