For the Celtic Service
Tonight we celebrate a marvelous concurrence – Mother’s Day and the feast Day of Julian of Norwich fall upon the same day.
Mother’s Day was not started by Hallmark as a sentimental celebration of maternal virtues. Mother’s Day was launched in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe as an act based in rage and grief. So many mothers had lost sons to the Civil War, that Howe was determined that mothers should meet to find new ways of moving forward as a country, so wars would become a thing of the past.
In her proclamation, she wrote,
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Let us meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let us then solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God!
Julia Ward Howe understood the deep suffering of mothers of soldiers and the power for change that can come from that suffering. Sadly, we still have too many opportunities for mothers to channel their grief for good. Just this week Sandra Bland’s mother testified before a Congressional panel. Last week the mothers of Michael Brown, Travon Martin and Eric Garner appeared in Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade. This year mothers Glennon Melton and Brene Brown and other members of the Compassion Collective have used Mother’s Day to raise money for families of suffering refugees and for American homeless youth. There is still so much suffering. There is still so much for work for all of us to do.
All that suffering and care taking takes its toll on us—men and women. What do we do with our grief? How to we keep our energy to do the work God calls us to do in the world?
Julian of Norwich was alive at a time of unimaginable suffering. The plague was killing people all around her. She was surrounded by death and poverty. She was an anchoress at an Abbey, and would have counseled those around her. In her writings she gives us a glimpse of the God who gave her comfort in such difficult times.
Julian experienced God both as father and mother. She uses language that feels very foreign since most of the expression of God we have are so masculine. She opens our imaginations to a different image and way of experiencing God.
I understand three ways of contemplating motherhood in God. First is the foundation of our nature’s creation; the second is his taking of our nature, where the motherhood of grace begins; the third is the motherhood at work . . . and it is all one love.
For Julian, each member of the Trinity had a motherly element, whether the motherly work of creation, the motherly work of embodiment and nurture, or the motherly work of the Spirit.
For her, the answer to human suffering was to turn to God as a child turns to its mother. When we feel helpless, we do not need to despair, we simply turn to a loving God, who longs to mother us, to comfort us.
When she thought about reflecting on our own sin, she wrote,
But even when our falling and our wretchedness are shown to us, we are so much afraid and so greatly ashamed of ourselves that we scarcely know where we can put ourselves. But then our courteous Mother does not wish us to flee away, for nothing would be less pleasing to him; but he then wants us to behave like a child. For when it is distressed and frightened, it runs quickly to its mother; and if it can do no more, it calls to the mother for help with all its might. So he wants us to act as a meek child, saying: My kind Mother, my gracious Mother, my beloved Mother, have mercy on me.
While we may have to function like adults most of the time in our lives, especially when helping those who suffer, or suffering ourselves, Julian invites us to remember that we are God’s children. When we are before God, whether we imagine God as a mother or a father, we can release the illusion of control. We can collapse before God and seek comfort and strength, like a child does from its mother or father. God will comfort us, and then give us the strength we need for whatever the next step is in our lives.
Whatever battles you are fighting, whatever grief you are feeling, may God our loving mother give you the comfort and strength you need to carry on. Amen.