We kindle this flame for mothers
For the mothers who gave birth to us and 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 this flame ignite the spirit of mothering in all our hearts
Let us be parents of the loving and just future world of our dreams
Reading: Invisible Work, by Alison Luterman [Adapted]
I think all the time about invisible work.
About the young mother on Welfare
I interviewed years ago, who said, "It's hard.
You bring him to the park,
run rings around yourself keeping him safe,
cut hot dogs into bite-sized pieces for dinner,
and there's no one to say what a good job you're doing,
how you were patient and loving
for the thousandth time even though you had a headache."
And I, who am used to feeling sorry for myself because I am lonely,
when all the while, as the Chippewa poem says,
I am being carried by great winds across the sky,
thought of the invisible work that stitches up the world day and night,
the slow, unglamorous work of healing,
the way worms in the garden tunnel ceaselessly so the earth can breathe and bees ransack this world into being,
while owls and poets stalk shadows, our loneliest labors under the moon.
There are mothers for everything, and the sea is a mother too,
whispering and whispering to us long after we have stopped listening.
I stopped and let myself lean a moment, against the blue shoulder of the air.
The work of my heart is the work of the world's heart.
There is no other art.
Message, part 1 – by Rev. Andy Pakula
Today is a day set aside to celebrate mothers. It’s a day that we come to and that strikes us in so many different ways. It is a day of joy for some and it can be filled with sorrow or anger for others.
All of you had mothers of some sort. Some of you are mothers.
We get a sense of what “mother” means when we 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 are devoted
Mothers do the cooking
Mothers are patient with dads who do pretty much nothing for their children or around the house
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 the claims of the greeting cards – not perfect.
The reality is that mothers also have all of the fallibilities of normal humans. Some mothers are anxious, some are depressed, others are selfish, impatient, fearful, angry or insecure.
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.
I – and most parents – want to be more than a parent. We want to also be ourselves and live for our own dreams.
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 purpose that includes but also goes beyond being parents.
And so, when our children grow up to be less than perfect as 100% of children do, we may carry around a heavy load of guilt. 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, I hope that if you are carrying guilt about not being the number one mum in the world, 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 others, 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.
Reading: V'ahavta, by Aurora Levins Morales [Excerpt] [V’ahavta means literally ‘and you shall love’]
imagine winning. This is your sacred task.
This is your power. Imagine every detail of winning,
the exact smell of the summer streets in which no one has been shot,
the muscles you have never unclenched from worry, gone soft as newborn skin,
the sparkling taste of food when we know that no one on earth is hungry, that the beggars are fed,
that the old man under the bridge and the woman wrapping herself in thin sheets in the back seat of a car,
and the children who suck on stones, nest under a flock of roofs that keep multiplying their shelter.
Lean with all your being towards that day
when the poor of the world shake down a rain of good fortune
out of the heavy clouds, and justice rolls down like waters.
Defend the world in which we win as if it were your child.
It is your child.
Defend it as if it were your lover.
It is your lover.
When you inhale and when you exhale
breathe the possibility of another world
into the 37.2 trillion cells of your body until it shines with hope.
Then imagine more.
Imagine rape is unimaginable. Imagine war is a scarcely credible rumor
That the crimes of our age, the grotesque inhumanities of greed,
the sheer and astounding shamelessness of it, the vast fortunes
made by stealing lives, the horrible normalcy it came to have,
is unimaginable to our heirs, the generations of the free.
Don’t waver. Don’t let despair sink its sharp teeth
Into the throat with which you sing. Escalate your dreams.
Make them burn so fiercely that you can follow them down
any dark alleyway of history and not lose your way.
Make them burn clear as a starry drinking gourd
Over the grim fog of exhaustion, and keep walking.
Hold hands. Share water. Keep imagining.
So that we, and the children of our children’s children
Message, part 2 – Rev. Andy Pakula
Once, a young woman, walking along a country road, came upon a very old woman planting something in a field. She moved slowly from one spot to the next and gently lowered herself to the ground - digging a small hole - placing a seed inside - covering it gently - and painfully raising herself to walk again.
“What are you planting there?” asked the young woman. “Hazelnut trees,” answered the older. “But why would you do that?,” asked the younger. “Hazelnut trees take years to begin bearing fruit. You will never have the opportunity to enjoy them.”
The old woman replied: “I plant these trees because all my life I've eaten the fruit of trees I did not plant.”
We have talked for the past three months about human relations – about the many ways we do and can connect with and care for one another. We talked about those of us who live today, but our relationship and our responsibility goes far beyond that. What we do today affects those who will live long after we are gone - our children, our children’s children, and beyond.
The world we live in today was shaped by those who came before. We think of our mothers today and their mothers and those who came before then. An unbroken line of people giving life, nurturing, and tending in ways that made our lives possible.
We think of the many more people who shaped our world. They gave us a nation with great opportunities – a nation with freedoms and opportunities and equalities far beyond what most of them could have experienced. Their actions led to universal suffrage, to same-sex marriage, to the creation of the NHS, to superb public transportation systems, to free education for children, and to a public benefits system that lessens the suffering of millions.
Like our own mothers, these past parents of the present world were imperfect. Their choices allowed industries to spew enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, allowed income inequality to grow, glorified individualism, oppressed other nations, polluted the air and the soil, and permitted mistrust and hostility between groups to grow.
In many ways, they could not know the impact their actions would have. In other ways, though, the consequences could have been foreseen.
We are shaping - in all of our words and deeds today - the world in which the children of the future will live. As a mother gives life to a new generation and works to give her children the best life she can, we are all of us parents to the world to come - shapers of the lives that will extend far into the future.
As we act today, it is too easy to forget these relationships that stretch into the distant future. It is too easy to think only of our own present safety and comfort and that of our friends and children.
One of the people in this congregation introduced me to the writing of Mac Macartney. Macartney tells a story of wisdom learned from native peoples – a story of leaders gathering around a blazing fire hundreds of years ago.
Those elders struggled with how to govern their people in a way that would balance their short term needs with the needs and consequences that stretch far into the future.
Macartney writes: “They recognised that the children represented the tribe’s capacity to survive into the future and they also knew themselves as relatives to everything in existence. [...] they listened and they waited for wisdom until they had words for their new understanding. They made a pledge to their people and to life: ‘No law, no decision, no commitment, no action, nothing of any kind will be permitted to go forth from the council that will harm the children, seven generations to come.’”
And they recognised too that the children to whom they were responsible were not only their children but the children of all.
They ordered that a small fire be lit always in the centre of their council circle. This small fire was called the Children’s Fire. It served to remind the leaders that their obligations were not just to themselves and their people of today, but to those who would come after – the people of the future.
How would our decisions today be different if we followed this wisdom?
Imagine a children’s fire at the centre of the fine wooden table around which the powerful board members of a multinational corporation meet. How might this impact our inaction on climate change? How might it impact the way we treat developing nations? How might it impact the pressure for short-term profit over long-term happiness?
Imagine such a fire present in the decision-making of politicians. How might this impact their decisions on the availability of education for all, on youth provisions, on housing, on immigration and asylum, on early childhood education?
How might it affect the decisions you make in your own home? Would you buy differently, help differently, give differently?
And New Unity is not immune to short-term thinking - to making decisions that place too much weight on short-term needs at the expense of the more distant future. How might the presence of the children’s fire cause us to think, speak, and act differently about the people who are not here – the people who have not found us, the people who feel they would not fit, the ways we could help the world, the young people that our children are becoming?
A Greek proverb declares that” “Society grows great when [the old] plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
Let us live into our relationships and our obligations to those who come after. Let us be responsible parents of the future.
May it be so.
Let us be grateful for those who came before us
The mothers and fathers and grandparents of our lives and of our world
We – the mothers, fathers, family, friends and leaders – are the parents of a future to come
Let us be wise in our words and actions today
Creating a future of love and justice for the generations that stretch out millennia beyond our own lives