Saturday, 5 March 2016

Returning Home to "Mother"

“Mother’s Day” and or “Mothering Sunday” has a long history. It dates back to the time of ancient Greece and Rome. It is not merely, as some would suggest, a creation of the greeting cards company to make money out of us. The celebrations of mother and motherhood has been with us for many centuries. In Britain Mothering Sunday was about returning home either to family and or the Mother Church.

These days Mothering Sunday in the UK has become known as Mother’s Day, following the American tradition that is celebrated in May, and not the middle Sunday of Lent as it is in Britain. Interestingly though this Mother’s Day was as much about returning and bringing healing and wholeness as Mothering Sunday. The original Mother's Day was organized 1868 as a way to bring families together who had been torn apart by the “American Civil War”. Four years later Julia Ward Howe, an important Unitarian activist and author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, attempted to set June 2nd aside as a day when mothers would "especially pray that war may not come to slay any mother's son." The idea did not take hold though and slipped away. Then in May of 1907, the daughter of Anna Reeves Jarvis, also named Anna, began the Mother's Day which is celebrated in the USA today. Her intention was that it be "religious and personal", a day when Americans would attend church and wear a red carnation if their mother were alive, and a white flower if deceased. President Woodrow Wilson added a patriotic flavour to it in 1914 when he signed a Congressional resolution establishing the second Sunday of May "for displaying the American Flag as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country."

Mothering Sunday, Mother’s Day, whatever its actual true origins is enshrined in this image of returning home, and this sense of belonging to something more than ourselves. Whether that is actually of children returning to the family home having been working away or of people returning to the mother church. Either way it’s about returning home to a place of safety; it is about returning home to a place of renewal, of re-birth, not only for ourselves but for others too; it is about returning.

So there was always a sense of a celebration of something more than just our own mother’s in “Mother’s Day” whether that be the “Mother Church” or the “Mother Land”, there was always a sense of belonging to something greater than our individuals selves and even our biological families in “Mothers Day”, returning to a place of love and total acceptance of who we are, exactly as we, no matter what we have done or where we have been, we are accepted with open loving arms.

This always brings to mind those beautiful words by Rumi that I often sing in the “Singing Meditations” I lead. Although interestingly perhaps the most important words are often missed out.

“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn't matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again , come , come.”

By Rumi

In many ways the key is in the words we don’t sing “It doesn’t matter…even if you have broken your vows a thousand times”

When we return home to the loving arms of our idealised mothers we are a returning to a place of total acceptance. It doesn’t matter where we have been or what we have done. The love is there, the total acceptance is there. Now for me this is the ideal of religious community and I suspect it is also what the “Kin-dom of God” would look like, what the “Commonwealth of Love” is meant to be like. It is the prodigal son or daughter returning to the loving arms of the “Mother Community” totally accepted as they are and ready to begin again in love.

This brings to mind some beautiful words of prayer, a redemptive prayer, I first heard many years ago.

"We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love."

For remaining silent when a single voice would have made a difference

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For each time that our fears have made us rigid and inaccessible

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For each time that we have struck out in anger without just cause

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For each time that our greed has blinded us to the needs of others

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For the selfishness which sets us apart and alone

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For falling short of the admonitions of the spirit

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For losing sight of our unity

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For these and for so many acts both evident and subtle which have fuelled the illusion of separateness

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love

When I think of Motherhood and or the Mother Church I think of returning to a place of sustenance of nurture where one feels that they can recharge and renew in safety. A place where you are accepted wholly as you are. From here you can begin again in love, you can if you like be born again, be given birth to once again.

Columbian author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, wrote in, “Love in the Time of Cholera”, “…human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but…life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

Our lives often take different directions at times. We turn down a new path way, again and again and again. Often we will go down blind alleys, again and again and again. Often we repeat the same mistakes again and again and again. We do not always learn from our mistakes. This is so very human and even if we have made those mistakes a thousand times, we can always begin again in love, we can always return home to a place of acceptance.

This brings to my mind the wonderful poem “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson

1. I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

2. I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I’m in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

3. I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

4. I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

5. I walk down another street.

We can begin again a thousand times if we need to. We can turn down a new path, or we can return home to the very beginning. It is ok. 

It is a curious phrase to turn, or to turn again or even to return. Did you know that to turn or to re-turn was the original meaning of the religious word “conversion”; “conversion” is rooted in the Latin word “convertere”, which meant to turn around to transform.

Now for a long time I use to think that if a person had been converted that this was the end of a process. Thankfully I no longer live under this delusion. Today when I think of conversion I think of it as the beginning of something of the start of a journey. Today I see conversion as an ongoing process, not a once or perhaps twice in life time experience. We can begin again even if we have broken our vows and made same mistakes a thousand times. We can begin again in love. We can turn again, we can return to a place of re-birth.

Herein, I believe, lays the association with Mothering Sunday and this idea of returning to the Mother Church. I believe that is the purpose of communities such as ours to be a place that welcomes the traveller home, to the loving arms of mother. A place of total acceptance, wherever they have been. Not merely tolerance, as I don’t think that that is enough, no a place of acceptance, where you can come as you are, exactly as you are in this moment. A place of loving nurture where you can either continue or if need to begin again in love, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.

I believe that the purpose, of free religious community, such as the Unitarian congregations I serve is to nurture one another’s spirit. Our purpose is to nurture that love that is present deep within the souls of every one of us. To nurture and develop these qualities in each other is not just the responsibility of our mother’s, we all have nurturing qualities and we can all help to bring out the best in one another.

We can all offer one another unconditional love. We say that all our welcome here. This though must be an active quality, rather than merely words. To love each other unconditionally is to love as a mother loves her only child. This of course is easier said than done. For those of us who have been hurt by those who were supposed to love us to offer love unconditionally is not easy. Therefore before we can offer that love to others we must first of all become reconciled with our own pain and our own suffering. This is one of the purposes of a church that calls itself free, to offer a safe secure space where one can come to terms with themselves and their lives. Security and protection are both nurturing qualities of motherhood. They are also qualities which a free religious community needs to help develop in those who come, so that they will feel safe enough to develop their souls. To be who they are and to become who they are, not just to come as they are. It is the purpose of the beloved communities I serve, to create an environment that is secure enough to enable each who come to explore in a safe and secure environment.

A free religious community exists to nourish and feed all. This requires those who come to give and not just take from what they find here. For each soul to be fed each needs to give and receive wholeheartedly. This requires the development of both sensitivity and understanding towards one another and the openness that allows all to learn from the wisdom of each other, from those who have walked many and varied paths.

Perhaps the greatest quality though needs to develop is humour, one the most wonderful qualities of motherhood. Humour helps us to deal with life’s trials and tribulations. It also helps us to explore those most difficult and testing issues that as a spiritually vibrant community needs to explore. Humour is something that is present within the communities I serve.

So on this day set aside to honour Mother’s let’s remember those who have offered us the unconditional and wholly accepting love of the mother ideal. Those who have offered their unquestioning love to us, even when we have broken our vows a thousand times, those who have offered their nurturing heart and encouraged us to begin again in love. Let us also though commit to living this way ourselves to offer this love to all that we meet. To not just tolerate the people we meet as they are, but to love them and accept them, even if they have broken their vows a thousand times. Let’s offer to them the nurturing hand of love and to do so with real humour. Let us all begin again in love.

Prayer for All Who Mother

We reflect in thanksgiving this day for all those whose lives have nurtured ours.

The life-giving ones
Who heal with their presence
Who listen in sympathy
Who give wise advice ... but only when asked for it.
We are grateful for all those who have mothered us
Who have held us gently in times of sorrow
Who celebrated with us our triumphs -- no matter how small
Who noticed when we changed and grew,
who praised us for taking risks
who took genuine pride in our success,
and who expressed genuine compassion when we did not succeed.
On this day that honours Mothers
let us honour all mothers
men and women alike
who from somewhere in their being
have freely and wholeheartedly given life, and sustenance, and vision to us.
Dear God, Mother-Father of us all,
grant us life-giving ways
strength for birthing,
and a nurturing spirit
that we may take attentive care of our world,
our communities, and those precious beings
entrusted to us by biology, or by destiny, or by friendship, fellowship or fate.
Give us the heart of a mother today.


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