By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
May 13, 2018
Isaiah 49: 13-15
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
I am a part of a number of Methodist and/or clergy groups on Facebook. And this time of year, the same passionate debate always arises: how does or should your church observe Mother’s Day? There are essentially four camps. Camp One is very simple: yes, we celebrate Mother’s Day. We give flowers to all the moms, and we ask them to stand and we applaud them in worship, and it is great. Camp 2 is something like this: Mother’s Day is not a religious holiday, and it really shouldn’t be in our worship service – except maybe I’ll mention it during prayer time. That’s about it.
Camp 3 is like, “oh heck no, Mother’s Day is risky business. Some people experience a lot of hurt around mothering, so we are not going to even mention it.” I am in Camp 4, which agrees with Camp 3 that Mother’s Day is risky business, and people do experience hurt around mothering. But Camp 4 says this is exactly why we should talk about it in church. We talk about meaningful things here, even when it’s hard.
So…motherhood. It’s risky business. For so many reasons. In our opening prayer , I tried to capture all the hurt people might experience around mothering. Maybe we are disappointed by or simply missing our own mothers. Maybe we are mothers who are disappointed by or missing our children – or mourning the child we could never have. Maybe we are just about buckling under all the expectations of being a perfect mother. Maybe we are struggling under the real physical demands of mothering. Whether we are “officially” a mother or any kind of caregiver, maybe we just feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day, and we can never give everything that our loved ones need.
Whenever we choose to love and nurture like a mother, it is risky business. Author Elizabeth Stone wrote these words: “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
I would expand this to say that whenever you’ve decided to love and be responsible for caring for and nurturing someone – whether that’s your child, a grandchild, a niece, a nephew, a sibling, a friend’s child, the students in your classroom, children in this church, whoever. When you choose to love like a mother, it’s like letting your heart go walking around outside your body.
Now that’s risky business.
As much as you want to be perfect and perfectly protect that child from everything bad that might happen in the world, you can’t. You are simply human. And the world is broken. No human mother can be perfect. There are too many challenges, too many stressors, too many competing priorities, too many things outside of our control. The world is simply too broken for any human mother to heal all its wounds.
In our scripture from Isaiah today, we hear the lament of a people whose world is broken, a people who feel like they have been forgotten. Zion, used here as a name for the people of Israel who have been conquered and sent into exile by the Babylonians…Zion says “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.”
And God responds by comparing Godself to a nursing mother. Even a nursing mother, who is normally fiercely protective, when faced with difficult, heartbreaking, impossible circumstances, might forget her child. But not God. God says, “Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”
Only God is a Perfect Mother. Only our divine Mother is an endless source of love, wisdom, and support. When humans fail, She persists: our compassionate Mother God.
Now I’m not sure how much this feminine language for God has been spoken here at Hanscom Park in the past, but if it’s like most churches, probably not much. So it might be surprising or even uncomfortable for you. It’s okay if you feel uncomfortable. You may never yourself pray to Mother God, and that’s just fine. But I’d like to share with you why I think embracing mothering language for God is so important to me and for others.
Images of God as mother show up quite often in the bible. Here in the Prophet Isaiah, besides God being like a nursing mother, we have God as a comforting Mother in Isaiah 66:13 when She says to Her people, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” We have God as a woman in labor in Isaiah 42:14. God says, “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor…”
But Isaiah is not the only place that God as Mother shows up. In the New Testament, in Matthew (23:37) and Luke (13:34), Jesus says to Jerusalem “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Here Jesus is imagining himself as a Mother Hen. Jesus also describes God in a feminine image in the “Parable of the Lost Coin” in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15: 8-10. It goes:
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Here in this parable, Jesus helps us imagine God our Mother who searches for us and seeks us out until we are found and celebrates with the angels when She find us.
Now, certainly Jesus talked about God as Father a lot. And that too is a good image. But Jesus also points us to these feminine images of God’s care, especially for those who are lost and endangered.
This Mother God is not just nurturing though. Sometimes people think that mothering images of God somehow reduce God’s power. Elsewhere in our scripture, we find out that a Mother God can be fierce. Deuteronomy 32:11-12 describes God as a mother eagle: “Like the eagle that stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young, God spreads wings to catch you, and carries you on pinions.” I’m not sure if you’ve been close to an eagle lately, but they are some fierce birds.
The Prophet Hosea imagines the full range of Mother God from nurturing to fierce. In chapter 11 (Hosea 11:3-4), Hosea reports these words from God who says, “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms… I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” And then only two chapters later (Hosea 13:8), Hosea shares these fearsome words of God described as a mother bear: “Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and tear them asunder…”
God’s mothering love for us is both tender and fierce. Imagining God as mother does not take away from Her power. It helps us to imagine a God who is many things: gentle and nurturing, and mighty to save.
But perhaps most importantly, to imagine God as the Perfect Mother frees us. It frees us from the need to be a perfect mother, and it frees us from the disappointment of realizing that our human mothers – no matter how great they might be – can never be perfect.
Only God is a Perfect Mother. And She is not just a Perfect Mother. She is Our Perfect Mother.
She is love and strength and wisdom for each one of us. She wipes our tears when we are missing or mourning our human mothers. And she holds and empowers the mothers and caregivers who are doing their best just to make it through each day.
We too – all of us – can rest in the unending compassion of our Mother God.
Like in the parable, She is seeking us. Like a mother hen, She longs to gather us under her wings. Like a mama bear, She will protect us. And like a nursing mother, She will never, never forget us.
So we give thanks for the nurturers who have shown us glimpses of Her fierce love.
And above all, thanks be to God.
A Mother’s Day Prayer
by Rev. Chris Jorgensen
God of Love, On this Mother’s Day,
We ask that your presence be made known
By all those who mother
Whether they are called by that title or not.
Envelop in your warm embrace
Each person who has nurtured us,
Each one who has provided for us,
Each one who has protected us
Who has cuddled us and cradled us
And kissed away our tears.
And surround those who long to mother:
Who await a child to call their own,
Who mourn a child they once held,
Or once carried,
Who sit by the phone waiting for a call
Or in the chair waiting for a visit.
Fill their sorrows with your presence.
And encourage the mothers who struggle:
The ones who haven’t slept
The ones who wait for healing
For themselves or their child
The ones with mental illness
The ones who fight addiction
The ones who can’t find
affordable housing or childcare
The ones stretched thin between caring
For their children and their parents
The ones who carry the burden of nurturing alone.
And bind up the wounds we carry from our childhoods:
Those of us who are disappointed.
Those of us who are estranged.
Those of us who experienced abuse.
Heal all of us.
Through the mothering love of your Holy Spirit
And the hands and hearts you send
to nurture us now and who journey with us in this community.
In your holy name, we pray.