It is Mother's Day and it is complicated.
Esther Cohen is an author and posted on Krista Tippet's website on Being here. She writes:
What unites us is that every single one of us — and I really mean every single one of us because it’s one of the few things we have in common no matter what in the world we believe or what we look like or where we come from — is that we all have mothers, complicated mothers who somehow or other got us here to Earth. Those mothers had mothers too.
This fact, this simple basic fact, an indisputable universal truth is still hard to imagine.The columnist Courtney Martin offers the paradox of motherhood in this article:
On the one hand, I’ve never felt so linked to the rest of humanity. When I birthed my baby girl ...I became a member of one of the largest, most powerful demographic groups on the planet: mothers. (This is not, of course, to suggest that only those who give birth to children are mothers, just that this was the “path in” for me.) While so much separates me from other mothers, there is this sacred something that we have in common, this awareness of the fragility and fierceness of humanity (another paradox), this knowing that everyone on earth is someone’s child... There’s an ineffable recognition there.It is Mother's Day and it is complicated.
I am the child of a mother, but I will never be a mother. There are still others who feel the pain of living without children. I am keenly aware that relationships between mothers and children are not all pleasant. Some have mothers we might not have chosen or children we might not have wished to have. (You can read Anne Lamott's negative take on Mother's Day here at Salon.) Sometimes our relationships with mothers are as messy as our relationship with God. And there are those who have lost their mothers - giving mother's day flowers and weeks later placing flowers on the coffin. Surely, we must understand the complexity of our relationships with mothers and the complexity motherhood brings.
Like all things there is a shadow side to mothering and motherhood as there is a shadow side in all things.
But let us not defend ourselves against this shadow by shaming others, by confronting, or withdrawing. For character and understanding is not found in these behaviors. Instead we know that by plumbing the depths of something I do not comprehend or pausing over experiences of others that I may not have had is important. It is, after all, in engaging this difference that character and wisdom is found.
There is something here for us as humans, regardless of our experience, something here for us all on mother's day.
Victor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor and Jewish psychiatrist in his famous 1946 book, Man's Search For Meaning, wrote:
It did not really matter what we expected from life but rather what life expected from us. We need to stop asking the meaning of life, and instead think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life, daily and hourly. (David Brooks, The Road To Character, 22) Frankl believed that life had given him an "assignment."What then is this task that life gives us and from where does it come?
Let us return to Courtney Martin again:
[In motherhood] the lines of my individuality blur. The scope of my vision expands and contracts, again and again, ad infinitum. I’ve heard the idea that having a child is like having your heart walk around, outside of your body. For me, this doesn’t quite capture it. It’s more circulatory than that — perhaps the blood is a better metaphor ...A pregnant woman’s plasma volume increases by an average of about 1250 ml, a little under 50% of the average non-pregnant volume. [There is a] sense that the very thing that pumps through your veins has been altered, expanded, complicated, well, that never really goes away.
You see, we are connected. Like a mother to child, we are intimately connected. Here is truth, as children we are linked through motherhood itself. We are connected intimately together. This matrilineality of life, this common blood line of interconnectedness yoked through motherhood, this is life, this is reality.
It reminds us that there is no us or them. There is no righteous or unrighteous, no saint and no sinner - there is one family of God.
Jesus himself tried to teach us this very fact in his words and in his actions. He tried to gather us as a family like a hen to chicks. Jesus himself, friend of sinners, sought to connect, reconnect us. He ate with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, religious leaders, the unclean, the leaperous and fishermen along with the pharisee and holy men of his time. This he said is love, to live as family, to be family together. This is what life asks of you. This is what God asks of you. This is what you are made for - to be family, brothers and sisters one to another.
This is the work of the love we call affection, the realization that we are connected beyond our friendship, passion, and our ability to give. We find that we are linked and in being linked - saint and sinner, sinner and saint - we understand our task.
Through the grace of Jesus who saves us all and who reconciles us to God and one another we understand not only our connectedness but what our connectedness is meant to accomplish. For her is the commandment of life, here is the commandment of love.
To love the one to whom you are bound. To love another spontaneously and without cause simply by our connection. To love and live with regardless and without the rule of merit. To love creatively outside the lines of connection. To build, grow, create real community with the good of the whole family at the heart of our common action.
This is something different than social justice where we call for change. This is life lived in mission to one another loving neighbor as self. This is a way of being made possible by our affection and connection. This is a way of being which transforms our actions.
Julia Ward Howe wrote in 1870 calling for a very different Mother's Day that radically called for the transformation of society.
...In this day of progress, in this century of light, the ambition of rulers has been allowed to barter the dear interests of domestic life for the bloody exchanges of the battle field. Thus men have done. Thus men will do. But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard, and answered to as never before.
Arise, then, Christian women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly : We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
...From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession. (read the whole poem here)In this matrilineality, in this connection of blood, we find that we are the brothers to our death row inmates. We are the sisters of the 337,000 who are incarcerated in this country. We are siblings to the 1.5 million who have been deported in the last four years. We are the nieces and nephews of the 412 people killed by police this year. We are the mothers and fathers of the 42 police killed by civilians this years. Those 31,000 people who die from gun violence each year are our kin. We are family to the men and women struggling with mental illness and addiction of all kinds. We are related to the 578,000 homeless men and women in this country. We are the cousins to the 48 million people who live on less than $10,000. This is our family, here is our legacy.
Here we discover the accurate understanding of life's assignment. Here is our understanding of our connectedness. Here our wisdom becomes knowledge and our knowledge becomes action - life's work. Here is our commandment to love more than sentiment, chocolate, and flowers.
"Here is our work to reject our individuality, our tendency towards selfishness, our tendency to believe the world revolves around me. Here is an accurate understanding of our place in the cosmos." says David Brooks of the New York Times (262).
We are invited by Jesus to love one another, to live as sons and daughters of one maker God - here is mother's day and it is complicated. We are to live lives as siblings connected for ever and to build a community that resembles more the family of God and less the kingdom of individuals who offer the culture of this world.