The Mother Label


Chalice lighting

We kindle a flame today for mothers.
Whether the mothers who gave birth to us or the ones who stepped into that role.
For the women who nurtured us and protected us.
For the women who were there to comfort when we suffered.
Who beamed with pride when we succeeded.
And who would have risked themselves for our safety.
May the light of motherhood ignite the spirit of mothering in all our hearts.
May we all - whoever we are - come to know and offer
The selfless love we know as a mother’s love.

Reading: Chains Of Fires, by Elsa Gidlow

Each dawn, kneeling before my hearth,
Placing stick, crossing stick
On dry eucalyptus bark
Now the larger boughs, the log
(With thanks to the tree for its life)
Touching the match, waiting for creeping flame.
I know myself linked by chains of fire
To every woman who has kept a hearth
In the resinous smoke
I smell hut and castle and cave,
Mansion and hovel.
See in the shifting flame my mother
And grandmothers out over the world
Time through, back to the Paleolithic
In rock shelters where flint struck first sparks
(Sparks aeons later alive on my hearth)
I see mothers , grandmothers back to beginnings,
Huddled beside holes in the earth
of igloo, tipi, cabin,
Guarding the magic no other being has learned,
Awed, reverent, before the sacred fire
Sharing live coals with the tribe.
For no one owns or can own fire,
it lends itself.
Every hearth-keeper has known this.
Hearth-less, lighting one candle in the dark
We know it today.
Fire lends itself,
Serving our life
Serving fire.
At Winter solstice, kindling new fire
With sparks of the old
From black coals of the old,
~Seeing them glow again,
Shuddering with the mystery,
We know the terror of rebirth.

Mother's Day (to my children), by Daisy Zamora

I do not doubt you would have liked one of those pretty mothers in the ads:
complete with adoring husband and happy children.
She's always smiling,
and if she cries at all it is absent of lights and camera,
makeup washed from her face.
But since you were born of my womb, I should tell you:
ever since I was small like you
I wanted to be myself - and for a woman that's hard -
(even my Guardian Angel refused to watch over me when she heard).
I cannot tell you that I know the road.
Often I lose my way and my life has been a painful crossing
navigating reefs, in and out of storms,
refusing to listen to the ghostly sirens who invite me into the past,
neither compass nor binnacle to show me the way.
But I advance,
go forward holding to the hope of some distant port where you,
my children - I'm sure -
will pull in one day after I've been lost at sea.

Message by Rev Andy Pakula

Happy Mother’s Day! Today is the one day a year we set aside to honour mothers. Those who are mothers know that their job is a big one - a hard one. When their children are young, it is a non-stop almost 24/7 job. And then, when their children are older, it can still be almost as big a job.

So, one day hardly seems to scratch the surface of gratitude due to those people who take on this role - a role that involves nurturing, feeding, encouraging, cleaning, washing bedding at 3 in the morning, getting covered with bodily fluids, breaking up fights, disciplining, setting boundaries, getting yelled at, getting lied to, being disappointed, and then doing it all over and over again.

All of you had mothers of some sort. Some of you are mothers.

Since we’re focusing on labels until the end of this month, I want to think about what the label of ‘mother’ means and its impact. You can get a good sense of what the label means if you browse through the Mother’s Day cards that have been on display just about everywhere. Mothers are women. Mothers are always patient. Mothers are always nurturing. Mothers always know the right thing to say. Mothers worry. Mothers are devoted. Mothers do the cooking. Mothers are patient with dads who pretty much do nothing. Mothers want chocolate and flowers - and sometimes perfume. Mothers are self-sacrificing and care more for their children than for themselves. Did I miss anything?

Being a mother can be a powerful and amazing experience. Some of these attributes I just listed might even be true sometimes. But none of them are always true and mothers are - despite the suggestion the label carries - not perfect. My own mother passed away seven years ago. Our relationship was not always great. In fact, it was often quite difficult and I was more than a bit warped by the way she mothered me. She was certainly not perfect. On the other hand, I always had the amazing comfort that - if and when things went wrong for me - she would be there. I can remember the young adult and adult crises when she dropped everything to be my mother again. I always knew I had someone who was always on my side, and that feeling remains with me although she is gone. My mother was anxious, controlling, charming, vain, nurturing, loving, and dedicated. In other words, she was a human being with strengths and weaknesses like all of have.

I listed a lot of attributes that the idealised label of mother is supposed to encompass. The reality is that it also includes all of the fallibility of normal humans. Some mothers are anxious, some are depressed, others are selfish, impatient, fearful, insecure, conceited, and on and on. I suspect that the many mothers also have another attribute - they feel guilty. They look at a day like Mother’s Day when mothers are honoured and idolised and they realise they can’t or didn’t live up to that standard - and no one can because it’s impossible.

When people talk about the poor parenting they had, friends will say ‘well, she did her best.’ Well, you know, I’m not sure I did my best as a father of a young child and I don’t do my best as a parent of a young adult now. Doing my best would mean putting all other concerns aside, giving all my time to my son. I don’t. And normal human mothers don’t do that either. As Daisy Zamora wrote, ‘I wanted to be myself.’ I did not want to give up everything else I am and everything else I dream of to be only a parent. Neither did your mother and neither do the mothers amongst you.

We want to be good parents, yes, and we want to do the other things that give our lives meaning. We want to grow as individuals. We want to have a purpose that includes but also goes beyond being parents. And so, when our children grow up to be less than perfect, we may carry around a heavy load of guilt. Even though no one is perfect, we may blame ourselves thinking we could have done better - we should have done better - we should have given up being ourselves.

The world is bigger than our families. The world calls us to do more than give up everything else to be the best parents we can possibly be. So, if you are a mother, and you are carrying guilt about not being the number one mum in the world, I hope you will recognise that - while important - being a parent is not your only purpose in life. And for all of you, if your mother was less than the ideal mum you might have wished she was, I hope that you will recognise that she was or is human - flawed as we all are. And recognise too that - as important as you are - she was also called to be herself.

The idealised label of motherhood can be painful to those women who are not mothers. It can be painful too to those women who are mothers. And for all of us, maybe this label can do something more. The ideal of caring so deeply for other - the ideal of trying to remain patient - of being understanding and accepting - these are qualities the world needs to become a place of love and justice. Whether women or men, is it possible for the protective nature of the mother to be directed beyond our children, beyond our own flesh and blood relations, beyond those who are most like us, and extend out in an understanding of family that is greater?

Today, may the protective, nurturing, selfless spirit of the motherhood ideal grow in all of us beyond its biological bounds. May we share that loving way of being in the community we love. May it spread wider still helping to create the world of mutual connection and care that is the only hope for our world. May we be inspired to create a world of more love and justice.