Opening Words: Adapted from “Letters To A Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke
Time for All Ages: The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering (from the book by Sharon Mehdi)
First Reading: Excerpt from A Mother’s Day for Peace by Rev. Stefan Jonasson
Second Reading: Wage Peace by Judyth Hill
In his book: It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, Robert Fulghum writes: “For twenty-five years of my life, the second Sunday in May was trouble. Being the minister of a church, I was obliged in some way to address the subject of Mother’s Day. It could not be avoided. I tried that.”
“Mind you, the congregation was quite open-minded, actually, and gave me free rein in the pulpit. But when it came to the second Sunday in May, the expectations were summarized in these words of one of the more out spoken women in the church: ‘I’m bringing my MOTHER to church on MOTHER’S DAY, Reverend and you can talk about anything you want. But it had better include MOTHER, and it had better be GOOD!’ She was joking – teasing me. She also meant it.”
Although no one talked with me about today’s service with Mother’s Day marching orders I confess I understand Fulghum’s predicament.
The fact is, even when not in the middle of a pandemic, preaching on mothers’ day is… complex. As a minister I am always thinking about how to be inclusive and for one thing this particular holiday seems to naturally exclude about 50% of you. Even if we broaden the definition of mothering to include men and all women who nurture, care for, and tend to the well-being of others, the fact is if there are 100 of you online with us today, we mostly likely have here 100 widely varying feelings and experiences around mothers, mothering, our own mothers, having children, not having children, how those children are doing if we do have them, being a child right now, etc etc.
As one colleague eloquently put it: “The task before me is to dance gracefully across a thin rope without falling into the sticky syrup of far too unreal sentiments about Hallmark mothers or fall into the deep dark chasm of psychological explanations of what happens when this most important of relationships goes wrong.”
(Wish me luck).
But Mother’s Day cannot be avoided. Whether or not you personally choose to mark this day, Magazines, newspapers, TV shows are all referring to it – it’s everywhere. Not to mention it’s been programmed into most of us since we were very small – daffodils and warming weather are, for many, practically synonymous with mother’s day. My hope is that the gentle attention we pay to it here will offer some appreciation for motherhood’s trials and its blessings, while still acknowledging that the day is not simple for many, nor is it joyful for everyone.
Fortunately, I do not attempt this feat without help. In fact, as I have over the years read and thought and read some more, I have come across lots of down to earth insight from colleagues and journalists, poets and everyday sages whose wisdom I am glad to be able to share with you this morning.
Take this excerpt from Alyce McKenzie, Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, from a recent sermon titled “M” is for the Many Things. She begins with a mother’s day poem:
“M is for the million things she gave me
O means only that she’s growing older
T is for the tears she shed to save me
H is for her heart of purest gold
E is for her eyes with love light shining
R is for right and right she’ll always be
Put them all together and they spell Mother
A word that means the world to me”
As I am one who might naturally tend to fall off toward that sticky sentimental syrup side, that imagery resonates with my wish that mothers, of all kinds, might to be honored for what they do and who they are. As Alyce puts it, “for all the wonderful moms, Moms in traditional families. Moms in special circumstances. Single moms. Step moms. Step in moms. You deserve our honor today. You deserve breakfast in bed. Lunch in bed, if you want. A pendant. Flowers”
Yet, at the same time, this poem, and thousands of others like it, sets up an expectation that is as difficult as it sounds lovely. Because, as Alyce continues, “no human Mom can [possibly] fulfill her role as perfectly as the mom in that poem.”
“Mother’s Day is a day,” she writes, “when moms suspect that the cards they receive tell them not who they really are, but who we, their families, society, and maybe even God wishes they were.”
“Happy Mother’s Day to the mom who keeps the perfect home.
[..] sets the perfect table.
[…] who’s raising the perfect kids.”
We do have a way of idealizing that mother role.
Check out “favorite moms” on TV surveys and you will see names like Marge Simpson from the Simpsons, June Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver, Shirley Partridge from the Partridge family all rank near the top.
Marge Simpson – who could feed a family of five on $12 a week, saw only the best in her layabout husband Homer, and believed hellspawn son Bart is a good kid? 
Shirley Partridge was the first working single mom in TV history, dispensing sensible maternal advice to her brood of five, she kept the wheels of the family music bus rolling and never even took time out for a date 
And of course June Cleaver, who set the standard for TV moms in the fifties and beyond. In most of the series, the disciplining of her mischievous sons was left to husband Ward, while June busied herself with making lunches, hosting bridge parties and making the perfect pot roast.
How can real life moms live up to all of that? Would they even want to?
So in Alyce McKenzie’s version of the poem, M is for mixed feelings. In my version, it would be too.
The fact is, idealizing mothers on this day can leave worthy moms feeling inadequate. And, perhaps more importantly, those pristine models we hold up gloss over the bigger picture in which motherhood actually happens.
I don’t need to tell you that unlike the sets of the sitcom TV shows, the world is not a simple place. Especially now – nothing like a pandemic and an economic crises to complicate things. Real world problems cause real world stress and that stress can so easily be passed back and forth with the people we love.
There’s a lot we can be stressed about these days, and while the particulars change with time, there’s always been a lot.
Maybe that’s where the attachment to these airbrushed images comes from: our desire to simplify, purify, and rectify problems that we don’t have a clue how to fix. Because somehow, somewhere we suspect the solution has something to do with children and mothers and nurturing and love… with some simpler way of being or living that values kindness and, yes, maybe even apple pie.
I actually think the answer does have something to do with all those values. I just think it’s a little less Hallmark and a lot more Julia Ward Howe.
I suspect that many of us who have mixed emotions about mothers day might feel differently if it had remained the way Julia Ward Howe had first envisioned it, as a mother’s day for peace. As a day in which the nurturing inclinations of mothers (and the rest of us), rather than being idealized, were put to good use.
What if, like the grandmothers and their fellow park-standers from our story this morning, we prioritized our natural inclinations toward peace? Toward kindness? Toward re-envisioning a world we *want* to live in? What might that mean in our day to day lives?
Although standing clustered in a green space would be ill-advised these days, there are other ways to make hope real.
Judyth Hill’s poem urges us to find them. Wage peace, she writes.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
It’s a mental exercise that doesn’t take a lot of time, but it does take intention and imagination.
“Think of chaos as dancing raspberries.”
as the outbreath of beauty.
When we breathe in the difficulty around us and apply imagination, something can shift. Something can shift inside us, something can shift around us because we are in a new place.
Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious: Judith writes.
She even suggests we might have a cup of tea and rejoice.
On the one hand it seems somehow wrong to think of rejoicing in a time so filled with suffering. On the other hand, I go back to that opening reading – Right in the difficult are the friendly forces. Right in the difficult we must have our joys. Seems particularly appropriate for celebrating mother’s day in a pandemic.
You know the book, where’s waldo, For some reason lately, I’ve been finding myself doing an unusual spiritual practice – a little bit like where’s Waldo. The other day I had this image of – in the most depressing news article, seeing a little tiny waldo popping up behind some adjective. Or poking his head out from a period or comma or the word “and.” Waving at me. Or maybe in the middle of some difficult phone call, there he is poking his little head out from behind a potted plant in my living room, winking at me.
I suppose it is unusual for a spiritual practice, but there’s something about it – when I remember, it pulls me out of being fully absorbed by what’s difficult, brings me back to the present moment, where playfulness is possible. Where joy lives.
Playfulness is a great strength of children, who have a gift for living in the present.
And playfulness is in every one of us, no matter what age we are on the outside.
I realized as I was writing this that playfulness may be one of my favorite pathways to peace. Peace flourishes, in that balance between the hard and the sweet, in the learning how to hold it all, in the expansion of our awareness – not to exclude what’s hard – but rather to include what makes us laugh and gives us joy. So we can stay with whatever’s important, now.
Whether that’s getting on yet another zoom call, whether that’s attending to someone we love from much too far away or from a little too close, or whether that’s participating in actions like UU the vote, to help elect someone who reflects our UU values, whether that’s advocating for prison reform, whether that’s making masks, making donations, helping our people.
Saving the world while remembering dancing raspberries, accompanied by an impish Waldo or just opening to some spark of lightness that helps us remember our own expansive wisdom and our hearts, right in the difficult.
What was it Emma Goldman said – something about the revolution needing to include dance? Maybe saving the world, on a small daily scale or a larger societal one, maybe saving the world doesn’t have to be onerous. Maybe it doesn’t have to be a forcing, a pushing, full of frustration or stress.
Maybe, as we ground ourselves in peaceful loving playful awareness of what’s true and needed act on that, we might just find we draw others in, not with slogans or armies, but by heart. Maybe as we more and more allow ourselves to find then act from this kind warm creative place, others might just find it irresistibly engaging and join us – all, coming together, toward common goals. Until before we know it we’re 20 and then 80 and then 320 and 2000 and perhaps one day we may be delightfully surprised by what we do and do not read in the papers.
On this mother’s day, may we, in any moment, whatever our gender, whatever our relationship with our mothers or children or anyone else, choose to wage peace, and allow the world we want to be born through us, together.