Sunday, March 11, 2018

For Mothering Sunday at Coventry Cathedral

Love can break your heart
That might seem to be the message of today's gospel – and indeed, the message of a week in which I have spent some time with the parents of Corey and Casper, those little boys who were so tragically killed just over a fortnight ago as they headed off for an afternoon in the park. On Wednesday I was privileged to listen for almost an hour as they shared story after story about their precious little boys – about their passion for football, and ice-cream, their go-get-it approach to life, their beautiful manners out and about, and their very ordinary small boy mischief at home. All this plus smiles that lit up the room and won them friends both near and far.
There was so much laughter and delight in their rememberings that day that it was possible for a moment to forget that as they shared their stories of love we stood together very much in the shadow of the cross.
And we stand there in good company – with the mothers from Parkland and Sandy Hook, from Ghoota and a score of other places where children have died before their time, leaving mothers bereft

I can’t bear to imagine how hard today will be for Louise, though she has two more little boys to hug and to hold. I once had a miscarriage on Mothering Sunday – which made me sad or ambivalent for several years – but while I may have a faint inkling of how she might feel, I think it takes Mary to understand the pain.

And there can be so much pain, where love is deep and true. While it may not always be so obvious, we all find ourselves at the foot of the cross from time to time.
So I’m glad that while the shops are full of saccharine invitations to spoil your dear old mum, there's not a whiff of hallmark sentimentality about today’s gospel.
That’s good – because I’m sure I’m not the only mother to feel deeply uncomfortable, even guilty, as the paeon of praise for an utterly unrealistic vision of domestic bliss is presented amid the media hype of the season.
I don’t recognise myself in smiling guardians of a perfect home.
My children are my greatest joy and delight – but because I love them so much, they are also my greatest vulnerability.
And it was so, too, for Our Lady.
A sword shall pierce your soul” predicted Simeon – and as Passiontide approaches we begin to remember once again how hard it was to be the Mother of watch your precious son court disaster by his lifestyle, his choice of friends, his choice of words...even before you find yourself standing at the foot of the cross as he dies in agony.

That kind of desperate anxiety about another is part of the business of loving however and whoever we are , I think – part of investing so much of ourselves IN the other that when they hurt, we hurt too. 
A situation that's so very familiar to mothers – but equally to fathers, brothers, sisters, friends...and to the vulnerable God who loves the world so much that he gave his only Son...

You see, mothering,and all that it entails, has never been exclusive to those women who have given birth.
At its best, motherhood can be a wonderful reflection of God's nurturing love
At its worst it can be neglectful, manipulative and a whole host of other things besides – and I know that many people struggle with today, and some regular worshippers will stay away from church because their own experience as either parent or child has left them bruised and anxious.
Then there are those who have longed to be parents – but it just hasn't happened...another group who feel that today is not for them...
Those whose children have flown the nest and are just too far away.
And of course, there are those who will spend today missing their mothers – or, like Louise, their children.
Holding onto the love but knowing the pain as well.
Love can break your heart and Mothers' day as it is celebrated by secular society can be extraordinarily hard for many many people who fall outside the vision of 2.4 children and a labrador.

So – why keep on celebrating it at all – when there is so much potential for causing distress for which not all the daffodils in the world will ever begin to compensate?
Because, of course, Mothering Sunday – unlike the secular celebrations of “Mothers' Day” has never been all about mothers...
On Mothering Sunday we celebrate all those who have mothered us – women and men and children too...
Yes, of course we give thanks for those who laboured that we might have life, who physically brought us into this world – whatever their impact on us afterwards.
And we give thanks for those who have nurtured us along the way.
We remember, that we are called into community – the family of the church that was created as Jesus gave his mother into the care of his friend, at that moment of terrible pain which looked like the end of all hope,everywhere.
Woman - here is your son. Son, here is your mother.
And we remember that we have inherited that calling to care for one another, to provide loving arms to hold and to hug at the hard show one another the kind of care that might be at least a partial reflection of the amazing love that God offers us all – even when we break HIS heart with our failure to love in return.

So Mothering Sunday is an invitation to us all – to take on that role of loving nurture and be there for one another in sorrow and in live as a family at its best can live.

And we come to our mother church – the place that has nurtured us in our faith, that feeds us week by week with God's Word and his very life, offered to us in Bread and Wine. This Cathedral Church of St Michael, Coventry, of course, has a particular role for the whole diocese.
So here we rejoice to say “Welcome home” when brothers and sisters from the parishes join us for worship, or simply to visit.
We try to serve spiritual, intellectual, cultural food so that together we can flourish and grow.
We know that not all members of the family will have the same tastes but we try very hard to make sure that there’s something for everyone – and we offer our best hospitality with a smile, come what may – because generous hospitality is always part of the deal.
But we'll not be perfect at this either. Broken people in a broken Church - trusting in God's grace to provide the golden seam that is used in Japanese pottery to repair damaged work, til it is more beautiful than ever before.

And maybe we remember that though Love can break your heart- beyond the pain and heartbreak that Mary experienced at the foot of the cross, the dawn of Resurrection is already shining – and so we try to live as signs of that new hope, and the world in which God's mothering love is known and shared by all....

Mothering Sunday - not just for mothers

When I was a child, Mothering Sunday was not much of a "thing". If we went to the 10.30, rather than my father's preferred 8.00, there would be tiny bunches of violets blessed, to take home to our mothers - and perhaps we would stop at Mr Day's, the tobacconist, to buy her a bar of the Suchard's chocolate she enjoyed, as a special treat. Beyond that, - no fuss, no hype...if you didn't go to church, you probably wouldn't have registered Mothering Sunday at all.

Mummy died when I was 18...and my next brush with the day came 8 years later, when I had my first miscarriage on the eve of Mothering Sunday. I was only a few weeks pregnant that time, so though I was deeply sad at the loss, there was no question of my not keeping a commitment to return to SJDK, the church that had been so important to me before my marriage, to sing Evensong. Wesley, "Ascribe unto the Lord" - with its reminder "You are the blessed of the Lord, you and your children"
In my emotionally charged state, those words felt like a promise - one I clung to through the series of miscarriages that followed, the times when it felt as if while one child might be possible, children were a dream too far.

Turns out I was blessed...3 children, loved and loving, who've now flown the nest but return bringing joy with them, which has spilled over into a new generation. And yes, as I delight in all that Eleanor Grace has brought to our lives, on the special magnetism of a baby who draws us all together in more love than I'd have believed possible, I do feel sad that I was never able to share my own children with my parents - but that sadness is no more acute today than on any other. It ebbs and flows, just as the wistful wondering about those lost babies of mine also ebbs and flows through the seasons. 

And I think that, actually, I'm OK. 
This is not a sad story. 
And this is because I've always been given love, care, support from so many many different directions...from friends, from children (my own and other peoples), from my church family, - and (waiting quietly in the background til I was ready to recognise her) from God too.

Here's my personal list:
Mummy and Daddy, Eirene, Jilly, Uncle Truffle, Lucy B, JW, Fr Nigel and Fr Neil,  Beth and Alastair, Libby and Anne, Stan, Peggy, Carolyn, Camilla, Ann, John & Marcia, Marilyn, Don and Ellen...
I thank my God on every remembrance of you, and of many many others who've showed me how to pass on the gift of mothering.

I wouldn't buy a "Happy You Day" card, as Waitrose has suggested - because somehow that buys into the world of L'Oreal "Because you're worth it"....but a card that said  
"Today and every day, thank you for your love and care" - now that could be a real best seller in my world.
And I might thrown in some chocolate too.