Hear the prayer of the mothers

A Mother’s Day reflection

Ken Sehested

Invocation. “Holy Mother, where are you? / Tonight I feel broken in two. / I’ve seen the stars fall from the sky. / Holy mother, can’t keep from crying. / Oh I need your help this time, / Get me through this lonely night. / Tell me please which way to turn / To find myself again.” —Eric Claption, Luciano Pavarotti, and the East London Gospel Choir “Holy Mother

Call to worship. Bread-baking, kitchen-dwelling, breast-feeding God / We return to your lap and to your table because we are hungry and thirsty. / Fill us again with the bread that satisfies, with milk that nourishes. / Drench parched throats with wet wonder; / feed us ‘til we want no more. —continue reading “Bread baking God

§  §  §

It seems such an incomparable coincidence: A spate of horrific killings of kids; then the singularly sentimental observance of Mother’s Day.

Just in the past 10 days: A young kid rings the doorbell on the wrong door and is shot. A young woman drives into the wrong driveway and is shot. A cheerleader accidentally gets in the wrong car in a parking lot and is pursued and shot, along with her friend. A basketball rolls into a man’s yard, and a neighboring 6-year-old girl and her father are shot. A young girl playing hide and seek with friends in her neighborhood is shot. All these episodes occurred within recent days

In popular culture, Mother’s Day is about bouquets, chocolate, cooing Hallmark cards, and all manner of sugary sentiment (which, like actual sugar, generates a short-lived burst of emotion followed by lethargy).

It’s as if we can make up a year’s worth of taking motherly care for granted with a day of platitudes. Kind of like the opposite of national handwringing over the latest mass shooting followed by public policy inertia.

Thoughts and prayers, shots and tears: an emotional catharsis which only further dulls the conscience. It all happens so frequently that we forget which tragedy we’re now mourning.

The US is now averaging one and a half mass shootings per day. Guns are the leading cause of death among children in our nation. Compared to other wealthy countries, the US accounts for 97% of such deaths, though our share of the population of such nations is 46%.

As has been said, if more guns made us safer, ours would be the safest country in the world.

§  §  §

“We are all meant to be mothers of God.” —Meister Eckhart, 13th century mystic

§  §  §

Several individuals’ names get mentioned in the history of Mother’s Day founding. (See “A brief history of Mother’s Day.”) But the earliest call for such an observance came from Julia Ward Howe who, after witnessing the carnage of the US Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War in Europe, called for a 2 June 1872 Mother’s Day festival which “should be devoted to the advocacy of peace doctrines.”

In her “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” she wrote “As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home. For a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace….”

In some ways, there’s no better occasion to address the cascade of deadly violence than on Mother’s Day.

§  §  §

“For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant” (Isaiah 42:14).

§  §  §

In the early years of our congregation’s life, we pastoral leaders put special effort in planning Mother’s (and Father’s) Day—though without the sentimental trappings—to highlight and honor the pivotal work of parenting. In place of a sermon, we asked selected members to speak of their own mother’s/father’s enduring influence on their lives.

We heard some extraordinary stories of steadfast strength, and encouragement, and tenderness, and gratitude in those testimonies. But afterwards, to our surprise, we got more than a little pushback. We eventually stopped marking these days in any focused way. (For more see “Pastoral dilemmas with observing Mother’s Day.”)

For some, such parental recollections trigger painful memories. My friend Courtney Marsh, a steadfast mom and a midwife, wrote about this recently:

“As we head into this weekend: I am thinking of all of you who are not mothers but want to be, all of you who decided not to be mothers but feel society’s pressure, all of you who navigate the realities of being a stepmother, all of you who have lost a child, all of you whose mothers have left this Earth, all of you whose mothers weren’t/aren’t who you needed them to be. This weekend may be tough for you. Please remember that you are loved and you are not alone.”

Matchless wisdom. Parenting stories are complex.

§  §  §

“Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.” —Julian of Norwich, 14th century mystic

§  §  §

I gathered pages of facts and figures for this article about the toxic scourge of guns in our culture. The numbers can be numbing. But note this one: Already in 2015—eight years ago—more citizens in the US had been killed by guns since 1968 than members of the military in all battlefields of all the wars in US history.

Surely there is a malady deeper than the powdered discharge of lead from calibrated, machined steel. There is a hideous spirit that’s been loosed in our culture—incarnated in the National Rifle Association more than any other entity, shielded by a spurious history of court rulings and legislative roadblocks—that shields and protects gun purveyors from anything resembling accountability.

It is one sign (among several) of the poisoned well of our democracy that a large majority of citizens support a variety of common sense gun restrictions, yet state and national legislators refuse to budge. The consent of the governed is being expressly rebuffed.

You don’t need to be a grammarian to comprehend that “the right to bear arms” is explicitly tied to the provision for “a well-regulated militia” in the second amendment to the US Constitution.

It’s been nearly six years since former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said that mass shooting events are “the price of freedom.” He was commenting about the gunman who, firing from the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel, killed 59 and wounded 520 attendees at an outdoor concert.

Just last week a bill in the Texas legislature was introduced stipulating students as young as eight could be instructed on how to stanch blood loss suffered by a classmate’s gunshot wound.

Also last week, Alex Coker, a former police officer, responded to a Fox News commentator’s question on how to be prepared for a mass shooter: “Be polite and professional, but plan to kill everyone you meet.”

§  §  §

My ship of faith has many sails. But being both a reared and a convicted deep-water (small “b”) baptist meant I was nursed and nurtured on the language of freedom. The first Baptist congregation in the Western Hemisphere was founded by Roger Williams, who fled for his life from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for championing religious freedom for all. Our nation’s founding aspiration (distinctive at the time)—denying the divine right of kings—was freedom, though severely restricted to white, property-owning men. Just as colonial demand for religious freedom meant freedom for “my” religion.

Nowadays, freedom has come to mean something altogether different.

Economically, freedom language reifies the “free” market, providing justification for cannibalizing capitalism to penetrate and control the economies of other nations, and rationalizing extreme wealth inequality. “Foreign policy” means resource extraction.

Politically, freedom was stamped by the Supreme Court’s 2010 “Citizens United” decision, opening the floodgates of corporate-funded electoral politics, and, ironically, the rejection of social contracts designed for the common good.

Militarily, freedom reflects the strategy of preemptive war, embedded in Congress’ 2001 “authorization for use of military force” (which allows the president almost unlimited use of military force by simply saying “terrorism.”) “Freedom” is the stated rationale for having some 750 US military bases outside the US. (China has two. Russia, 10, all but one of which are in former Soviet republics.)

And in the church, “freedom” has come to mean, “don’t ask me to make commitments,” or take risks, or subject material assets to Gospel imperatives, or be otherwise inconvenienced.

§  §  §

The wombishness of God. “In the biblical Hebrew language, the word for ‘mercy’ (רחם; racham) shares the exact same three-letter root as the word for ‘womb’ (רחם; rechem).”

§  §  §

This weekend our congregation joins a coalition of other faith-based organizations to host a gun-buy-back event in our city. Once dismembered, the weapons will be donated to a company for reforging the metal into garden tools.

To be clear: we cannot buy-back our way out of this public health emergency. But congregations and individuals need to get started, even with incremental steps, on the longer, arduous journey needed for recovery from our national gun addiction.

§  §  §

¶ Not to be outdone. Fathers, be like these dads who:

Helps with stage fright

Helps with hula hooping

Benediction. “From the north to the south / from the west to the east / hear the prayer of the mothers / bring them peace / bring them peace.” —Yael Deckelbaum & Prayer of the Mothers, “This Land” (English translation of Hebrew and Egyptian Arabic lyrics), a 14-member ensemble of Jewish, Arab and Christian women