Sunday, March 18, 2012

What's in a name?

In this case, rather alot.

Today we are celebrating Mothering Sunday in the UK.

NOT Mothers' Day - that is something entirely different - a "Hallmark" festival dedicated to saccharine images of the perfect mother, the one whose cosy but spotless home is a haven where each of her 2.4 children is fed a diet of wholesome but delicious food and all her washing is whiter than white. Outside the book of Proverbs I've never come across such a woman - which is fortunate, as I'd probably have to kill her on the spot - but a trip to pretty much any shopping centre across the country yesterday might have convinced you that she's alive and well as are all her delightfully grateful offspring.

Even when my children were at the stage of egg-box daffodils and those lovingly hand-made cards that dropped glitter all over the house, so that it shimmered for weeks afterwards (TOLD you there was no such beast as the hallmark Supermum!) I struggled with this image of motherhood, as I knew I could never, even for a second, live up to it. I hope that my children know that I love them with every fibre of my being - but I'm just NOT that sort of mother - so I felt uncomfortable, even fraudulent, when subjected to that kind of gushing praise. 
Also, of course, I missed my own mother, dead 10 years before my first-born entered the world (oh she  would have been so appalled to be showered with the largesse that the High Street would like us to think is inevitable)....and I thought about the babies I'd carried who were never born...and the friends who longed for children but failed to conceive...and I had a friend whose own mother was a nightmare, someone who, long before J K Rowling wrote about Dementors, would suck the life out of you so that you thought you would never be happy again....

So - Mothers' Day has never been a riotous success for me.

But we're not talking about Mothers' Day, are we?

In contrast, I'm delighted that the Church invites us to observe Mothering Sunday...because, of course, we can all both give and receive mothering.
I always ensure that the churches I lead have enough flowers to share with everyone who comes - men, women & children, as a thank you for the ways in which they love, care and nurture one another...
And I try very hard to make space for those whose experience of motherhood has been distressing.

Today having launched the proceedings with Fr Simon's splendid "Dangerous Pet"  (which went down a treat in both churches) I talked about the Church as the family created at the foot of the cross, when Jesus told his mother "Woman, behold your son" ,and his dear friend John
"Here is your mother".
I talked about the joy and the pain of mothering - about how they represent two sides of the same coin of love that God gives us to spend with reckless abandon, about how it can be hard to disentangle them, so that even those whose experiences of mothering and being mothered are really positive may find themselves a bit weepy today.
And, as I always do, I created a prayer station where people could light a candle in thanksgiving for any who had mothered them, or as a prayer for healing of sad memories of relationships lost or damaged...or never realised.

I know that this isn't enough, that amid the tide of posies and chocolates and fulsome praise the pain of so many may seem to be ignored. Some of our flowers went to a family not far from here who are spending their last Mothering Sunday together, as the mum is almost at the end of her cancer journey. Her children are just a little younger than my own, and the care that they offer to their mother is a testimony to the care and love she has lavished on them...They seemed genuinely pleased to see me but I'm under no illusions about the pain that everyone in that house is be feeling today...and next year will be the first of a string of heartbreaking anniversaries.

Maybe we just ought to abolish the celebration entirely.

But no.

The act of mothering is important. We all need, support, nurture, affirmation - and it's good to have this annual reminder that it's something we can all give as well as receive.

But I do want to say, very loudly, that to insist that today is MOTHERING SUNDAY is not, in this case, one more example of the church standing against the tide of modern life for no good reason. 
It is, rather, a reminder that we celebrate so much more than the perfect family...not that such a thing exists...
and a reminder that the Church exists to carry on mothering the whole world - the one that God loves so much. 

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