This week I spent some time with my spiritual director. We discussed the importance of spending time with people who provide us with a sense of security and stability. People who can minister to us and, in a very real sense, ‘mother us.’ We both felt that in choppy, unpredictable and, difficult times this is necessary for the good of our own souls. We all need to be affirmed, nurtured and at times gently challenged. We all need to be mothered.
Mothering Sunday – as distinct from the American Mother’s Day – reminds us of all that is good and necessary about the concept of mothering. It also reminds us that we need to allow ourselves to be mothered, and this implies accepting our own fragility, vulnerability and need to be both loved and nurtured. There is nothing wrong with this; in fact I think owning, and offering, our own vulnerability and fragility is the essence of that highly spiritual quality we hear about in the Sermon on the Mount, and in today’s epistle: meekness.
Mothering Sunday is so called because it was the day, mid way through Lent, when domestic staff and servants were given the day off so they could do two things: return to their mother church and, spend time with their family; the underlying, subliminal, message being that it is vitally important for own sense of well-being that we spend time in places, and with people, who give us that all important sense of stability and who feed and nourish us. Mothering is, at heart, about doing this. Mothering’s concern is in saying whatever else is going on in your life, however much the ground beneath your feet seems to be shifting, I am here for you. I am here to cherish you, affirm you, strengthen you, and stand in solidarity with you.
Today’s readings paint an attractive picture of mothering. Just listen again to the virtues St. Paul lists in his letter to the Colossians: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness and love. St. Paul insists that when these virtues are offered and accepted everything is bound together ‘in perfect harmony.’
We all need to find people and places where compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness and love are the guiding and animating virtues, for only then can we be truly mothered. But, we need to go further and commit ourselves to becoming active agents of these virtues, both individually and corporately, for only then can we be good neighbours and, only then, can we truly become Mother-Church. Our Mothering Sunday challenge is simply this: to become an authentic Christ-like, Mother-church. To do so we need to open ourselves up, in prayer, to the work of the Holy Spirit, asking that the Fruit of the Spirit ripens within us.
Over the last few years the Church of England, or at least some churches within the Church of England, have begun to re-appraise their attitude towards Mary. I think this is an entirely good thing. Mary is the icon of all that is good in the concept of ‘mothering.’ The gospel reading makes this clear. Mary is to be found at the foot of the cross, watching her son being crucified. It is an horrific image. Mary, no doubt, is utterly confused and bewildered. She doesn’t as yet know that she will see her son, our Lord, again. And yet, she is just there for her son. A rock of stability. She is the only permanent in his life and she is there, for him, at the hour of his need. She is just there: permanent, stable, faithful and always loving. If I had to use a word to describe the values that Mary embodies it would be holiness, which is, of course, one of three benefice aspirations.
We need, this Mothering Sunday, to let Mary’s story inspire us and challenge us. Are we faithful and stable to our friends, family and neighbours when, especially when, the very ground beneath their feet seems to be shifting? Is the Church always faithful, stable and loving, even and especially when, all around us seems uncertain and when our best efforts seem to go unrewarded? These are the hard mothering questions and, they are ours to answer.
This Mothers day let us be grateful to all who have mothered us, and let us re-commit to becoming a truly all loving, perfect, and harmonious Mother-Church.
We need to do so both for own sakes and, for the sake of the world around us, Amen.