Every second Sunday in May in the United States there is the celebration of Mother’s Day. Like every other celebration in the country, this too has been over-commercialized. Stores try to take advantage of the day and sell everything they can; from postcards to clothes to fancy dinners and even cars! “Your mom is so special”, they seem to say, “that you ought to spend all your money on her.”
Of course, the problem with the previous statement is that not all mothers are “special” and not everyone has or had a mother. In fact, Mother’s Day can be a very painful day for many of us. Single mothers have to find ways to provide for their children, seldom with any outside help. Single fathers are not recognized for their maternal instincts. Women who have no kids feel excluded. For other people, their mother was – or is – absent or an abuser. And still others have a difficult relationship with their mothers, like in my case. For these and many other reasons, Mother’s Day can be a painful day.
As Mother’s Day approached this year, I read, once again, the many reasons why some of my colleagues in ministry were not going to observe the day in church. Others expressed their discomfort with the day and how churches should not recognize mothers in any form on this day, and rather call for some other way of recognizing womanhood. Yet others expressed their pain and their dissatisfaction at their own experiences and how much hurt the day brings.
Four years ago, my own mother cut all communications with me, and even before that, after my coming out as queer, my relationship with my mother was difficult. As my sister became more and more conservative in her religious beliefs and as she started to influence my parents’ opinions more and more, our relationship as a family has deteriorated to a point that we are now estranged. I do not know if things will mend in the future; I only know the present. This is why Mother’s Day is also a very painful day for me. It reminds me that there is a void in my life; a void that was previously filled by the nurturing love of the woman who gave birth to me. Yet, as a pastor and now as a minister with no parish but still active in the life of the church, observing Mother’s Day is important to me.
Certainly, going to church on the second Sunday of May is difficult. But there is something more important than the pain I have for having lost my mother to Christian fundamentalism: the importance of celebrating motherhood in all of its fierceness, in all of its variations, in all of its strength, and doing it in a community of faith. Being part of a church means that there will be times when we do not fit in. There are also times when we can’t connect with what is being said from the pulpit or with the theme for the day. There are times when we attend church and come out without having felt any transformation whatsoever – which is supposed to be the point of having gone to worship, after all. Yet, we continue attending (or we complain, whine and find another church of our liking or, as it is more common nowadays, start our own.) If we do continue going to church, is not because every single Sunday there will be something for “me”, but because we are committed to life in community.
Life in community means that at times I have to sacrifice my own personal comfort in order to uplift those who are around me. It means that I am committed to live as part of something that is bigger than I am. It means that I trust that the Spirit works in mysterious ways and that I have no control over what the person next to me needs to hear that day.
This is the main reason I gladly attend worship on Mother’s Day. I especially enjoy the fact that I have, for some time now, belonged to congregations that understand the many facets of motherhood: single mothers, single fathers, people who have been like mothers to others, mothers who have lost children, single people who have given of themselves to others as any mother would have done, first-time mothers who anxiously awaited the arrival of their children – whether by birth or by adoption – and whose first celebration of the day reminds them of their struggle, gay men who have given up on the idea of being parents, gay men who are parents, transgender mothers whose children still address them as “dad” because their love for their children is so big that they are willing to sacrifice their own identity in order to make them feel comfortable… All these are examples of motherhood that I have had the blessing of experiencing in my own ministry.
As pastors, it is a challenge to find a “middle-ground” in which all the people in worship can feel included. The truth is that, at some point or another, someone is going to be left out. What is important to remember is that these celebrations are not about “me”, but about “us.” I believe that the best way to address our own pain of not having a mother with us on Mother’s Day is to firmly and honestly share with our spiritual leader our pain. She or he will hopefully understand (if they don’t, perhaps they are not the most qualified person to shepherd us). Perhaps it is best for us to stay away from worship that day, and honor our own pain by some other means (remember, there is no sin in skipping worship!) Perhaps it is best for us to find a mother figure in our midst and share with them the joy of motherhood in whichever way she or he celebrates it.
This past Sunday when my church celebrated Mother’s Day, I rejoiced in celebrating the many people who have been like mothers to me. I also celebrated the priest’s courage to say that he, too, feels like he has been called to be a mother hen to his parishioners; he too feels the power of motherhood as a parent and as a priest. These words were powerful for me, for it was the first time I had ever heard a heterosexual man acknowledging his motherly instincts. This past Sunday, I also celebrated the other mothers who were present worshiping in the same sacred space I was: the mother whose children run around and smile at us and hug us during the passing of the peace and who make a joyful noise every time we sing; I celebrated the mother whose face and hands are filled with wrinkles after so many years of motherhood, who has stood by the side of her gay son and her divorced daughter; I celebrated the mother whose daughter is the music she creates for us and with us and who has given her life to fight for equality and justice for all of her children… I celebrated with all the mothers, some women, some men, who brought all of whom they are to church that day and who held me in prayer as I shared with them my hurt.
Finally, I also celebrated the fact that I can count on Mother Mary of Nazareth, who has loved me even when I ignored her for so many years. Singing that final hymn to Mary made me realized how important her figure is in the history of my faith tradition. It also made me realized how much we depend on her; she is our Mother and our Guardian, she is our Companion and our Protector, she is the Guide and the Advocate, she is Madre María, who has never left us… who has suffered the pain of motherhood in all of its manifestation, and yet, continues granting us the strength to go on. Perhaps I Christian fundamentalism took my mother away, but the ancient Christian community to which I now belong, has given me another reason to celebrate Mother’s Day.