Mothers Day 2010
By Charles Rush
May 9, 2010
Hosea 11: 1-4
(mp3, 6.5Mb) ]
would like to wish all of you a happy Mother's Day, particularly those amongst us who are in that blessed phase of life where we have small children who have attempted to give you unreserved devotion on this day, usually with a great display of breakfast. It is very endearing. Our neighbors in graduate school were from England. One day the Mother in the family was ill with the flu, so her four year old daughter wanted to do something to cheer her up in the English way, so she made her tea on a tray and brought it to Mummy. Mum was a little surprised at this gift, so she said "Honey I didn't know you could make tea". Her daughter said, "I took the leaves and poured them through the strainer just like you Mummy but I couldn't find the strainer… so I used the fly swatter." There you go… Get your caffeine and your protein at the same time- insect legs floating around.
It is a great calling as I’m
appreciating more deeply, watching my daughter with that frazzled look on her
face as she runs around while one baby naps to get a few things done, the other
two in tow.
Kids do love
their Mom’s with something deeper than mere emotion. I’m always startled at my
grandson Charlie. He is tough as nails and daring beyond reason. But when he
gets really hurt, there is only one woman that will do in a real emergency- Not
Nana or Grammy, not Dad or Uncle Ian- only Mom can calm him down. We want to
say thanks for that, somehow, someway- however ridiculous our expressions can
Our National Poet Laurete, Billy
Collins wrote about this winsomely in his poem “The Lanyard”. I share it with
you now. He is trying to overcome writer’s block in the morning and this is
what he writes:
The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter
to piano, from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor, when I found myself
in the L section of the dictionary where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more
past where I sat at a workbench at a camp by a deep Adirondack lake learning
how to braid long thin plastic strips into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if thats what you did with
them, but that did not keep me from crossing strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her
breasts, and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a
Here is a breathing body and a beating
heart, strong legs, bones and teeth, and two clear eyes to read the world, she
whispered, and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift
not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she
took the two-tone lanyard from my hand, I was as sure as a boy could be that
this useless, worthless thing I wove out of boredom would be enough to make us
It is incredibly pathetic, not just retrospectively, as we
can never repay them for bringing us into life and taking care of us all those
years, but also prospectively as we know- deep in our being, even though we
don’t like to think about it- that we have this potential still to break their
hearts like nothing else in their world.
Parenting is profound for men and women, but it is
bio-chemical for Mother’s… as every
young boy finds out watching his girlfriend morph into pregnancy and
natal-Motherhood. I remember calling my son-in-law on the phone asking him if
he was ready for the baby to be born. There was a long silence on the phone. He
said “Yes… as soon as I finish applying the second coat of the 3rd
color on the nursery…” I took that as a big yes to the question, ‘is she
And every young father has one night, when one child is
nursing, the other has a fever… Both of them are in bed with Mom and you are
out on the couch realizing that frankly, in the great pecking order of stuff
that really counts, your personal stock is tanking.
Mother’s have this built-in bio-chemical connection that
changes them so much that most of the time even they are surprised at who they
have become. And that never really goes away exactly does it? I remember being
at an athletic event when a serious injury happened… the boys must have been
13-14. All of us Dad’s all jumped up and
started walking or jogging to the scene, especially the Doctor’s. Right through the middle of us- boom- one of
those prim and proper ladies, the mother of one of the boys. Heels went flying
off, beating a dead heat across that field like Superwoman. Us men were all
looking at each other like ‘Well, maybe
we should pick up the pace a little here’. Mother’s just have that connection
for better and worse.
And that bio-chemical connection also has spiritual
implications doesn’t it? I love that line in the beginning of the gospels about
Mary. She has had her baby. The Angels come, the wise men come—all this
activity and bustle. The gospel says, “she pondered all these things in her
heart, wondering what they might mean.”
Jesus grows up, becomes wildly popular. He is arrested at
the height of his fame. Suddenly, everyone he knows deserts him. He dies alone and who is the only person there at
the end? His mother and a couple of her friends. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
And this is the piece that you probably won’t find on any
Hallmark card today because it isn’t superficial enough. But the spiritual
profundity of Motherhood lies somewhere in this matrix. Michelangelo captured
that image so well in the Pieta. Slide 1
It is permanently on display at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome in the first
prayer alcove right as you enter the church on your right.
Michelangelo does a slight of hand. In the first place,
Mary’s lap is the size of huge, but you don’t really notice it because of the
flowing character of her skirts. In the second place, Mary is the same age as
Jesus. I think both are exactly right.
She has this huge lap to symbolize her expansive compassion.
She actually holds Jesus, curiously, in a way that she could hold her baby… in
a way that she could hold her husband… in a way that she could hold her grown
son. And isn’t that the point? There is something expansively humane in her
compassion that is moving to behold, particularly so since Michelangelo was so
adept at transforming the stone into a life-like medium. At the end of the day,
isn’t the profundity of her grief not because she is holding the Son of God but
because she is holding her own son? And
isn’t there this deeper dimension that it is not that Jesus is special so much
as all children are special?
She is the same age as Jesus and I think that is right as
well? When Mother’s lose a child, no matter what the actual age that they are
when that child dies, isn’t there this dimension to that loss that harkens back
to when they were young Mother’s cradling their babies? Mother’s cannot help
but touch their children (young or grown) and hold them in this way? It is such
an awful thing to contemplate for all of us, the death of children, but the
pathos is so great because the spiritual and physical connection is so profound
and grounding between Mother and child. We all have this identification. There
is something about it that gets right to the heart of the human condition.
Earlier this year, I was standing in an exhibit about World
War 2. I wrote my dissertation on this time period and so I’ve read so many
thousands of pages on the political mileu that led up to it from World War 1;
I’ve read so many thousands of pages on the intellectual currents that gave
rise to Naziism and the final solution, the use of ideology in communism and
the Gulag; I’m standing in the exhibit thinking that there is nothing I have
left hardly to learn of substance. But I was moved by one image slide 2. It is a simple photograph of a
young boy. On his head is a protective hat that he was given by the adults. In
his pack, he is carrying a gas mask. He is in England and he is about to board
a train, leaving one of the major cities that was being bombed by the Germans,
and heading to relative safety in the countryside. Over 3 million children in
Britain alone had to be evacuated.
Of all of the things that I have read and analyzed, at the
end of the day, what sticks with me now, is this humane image of what that
experience must have been like for those young mothers that went through it. Slide 3 Just think about the logistical
issues with all that gear, all the stuff to think about. And the hurry of it
all at the prospect of being bombed. Slide
4 And for so many of them, they had to make rather difficult decisions in a
short amount of time, having to leave their children with distant relatives or
in the care of the Civil Defense teams. And this was war, so we had the grim
task of making protection from horror child’s play. Slide 5
The thing that really
strikes me from that era was that this migration of women and children was very
nearly world-wide in the developed countries. Slide 6 These are Slavic women and children fleeing to Macedonia in
advance of the German armies assault. Slide
7 These are Chinese women and children trying to get out of Nanjing in
advance of the Japanese army invading their area in what would become a horror
of human rights abuses. Slide 8 These are girls in an orphanage
in the Ukraine because one or both parents were caught up in the war. Slide 9 These boys are from an
orphanage in Spain. Slide 10 These
are kids in Palestine right at the end of the war whose parents couldn’t be
located. It is a long table. Slide 11
These are boys in France who have been fleeing south of Paris when the Nazi’s
invaded early in the war. Slide 12 These
are Jewish kids being escorted out of school in Berlin also near the beginning
of the war. Slide 13 This picture if
from the Ghetto in Warsaw at the end of the Ghetto. Slide 14 This picture is from California. It is Japanese families
that are being sent to War camps. Slide
15 And this is a completely independent event, the partition of India. And
these are some of the millions of people that fled to Pakistan at the end of
the British occupation right around 1947.
As you know, we have seen these same images continually in
the developing world in the past decade alone. Slide 16 These are mothers and children fleeing conflict in the
Congo, Rwanda, or the Sudan I can’t honestly remember. Slide 17 These are children at school in Sederot, Israel who had
endured some 800 rockets fired on them from Gaza. Slide 18 This is a mother and children in a Palestinian refugee
camp in Lebanon. Slide 19 This is
from Kiryat Shemona, in Israel near the border with Lebanon, after a day of
Katusha rocket fire in the last invasion. Slide
20 These are women and children in
Indonesia recovering from the Tsunami that devastated that area. Slide 21 And this photo was taken a
couple days ago of a Mother and daughter
in Burma- I can’t call it Myanmar and give the Military Dictators even
accidental legitimacy- a Mother and daughter in Burma whose communities have
probably been completely flattened and won’t be helped because of the political
miasma of their country.
Once again, I would suggest that what makes this image so
moving is not the uniqueness of this child but there is something about
Mother’s and children that speak to every child. It gets right to the heart of
the human condition.
It has spiritual gravitas and therefore it contains within
it moral authority. You may know that Julia Ward Howe, who wrote the ‘Battle
Hymn of the Republic’ called for Mother’s Day to claim this authority back in
1870. She had lived through the Civil War, up close and personal, attending to
the wounded. And she was intimately acquainted with the horrors of the
Franco-Prussian War. She issued a proclamation that read.
"Arise, then, women
of this day! Arise all women who
shall not be taken from us to
unlearn all that we have been able to teach them
of charity, mercy, and patience.
of one country will be too tender towards those of another country to allow our
sons to be trained to injure theirs." …
As men have
often forsaken the plow 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…
then solemnly take counsel with each
other as the means whereby the great
can live in peace,
may be a tad idealistic but the call to unity out of shared suffering seems to
me the beginning of wisdom. The epic narrative which looks at the wider drama
of our history from the view point of ordinary children and women has yet to be
written. Likewise, the world-wide women’s movement still seeks leadership and
funding. I don’t think you have to be Thomas Jefferson to see that on the
whole, the social order can only become more humane and stable if we had
mother’s adding their input in a serious manner. That is simply true for almost
every country you can imagine.
Those words by Julia Howe are spoken
with an authority that only people who have lived through the horrors of war
and experienced the very unromantic
reality of its aftermath can speak.
The point is not to quibble with one line or another, but to note the overall moral courage and fortitude that the original
leaders of the Mother’s Day movement had before the Floral industry and the
Greeting card business dumbed it
down and fluffed out the holiday until it had no moral
fiber in it.
We need Motherly Mentor's with moral backbone, Motherly Mentor's who are confident
about what they bring to the table that is missing
if they are not present. No, the Motherly Mentor's list that carries the subtitle
"Courageous Moral Force" is not yet fully subscribed…
So Happy Mother's Day to all of you
Motherly Mentor's. Yours is a high and holy calling, from
changing diapers, to hugging your Godson at his graduation, to walking in a
March on Washington. We need your wings of refuge, support, and compassion. And may
God grant you a vision of what you should be about in this next chapter of your
life and who else you can include in your influence. May God grant you joy and
spiritual gravitas at the same time.
For better and worse, nobody else is going to do this, nobody else can do this,
but you. Amen.
A version of this sermon was preached by Rev. Rush on May 11, 2008
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