Trigger warning- this is in a public place and anyone can read it so I have no way of knowing the background of all possible readers. I have very positive (though at times also ambivalent) ideas around “motherhood” and I have drawn on them in this reflection. But I realise that some people have major trauma and disappointment around the lack or inadequacy of mothering in their own life. Sometimes we inadvertantly invalidate them or make them invisible by using motherhood as a metaphor. I don’t want to lose the richness of what I get out of this experience and what some readers might get, however if you are someone who finds positive discussions of motherhood triggering in any way please accept my apologies and don’t read this week’s reflection.
Rejoicing and an extended, lusciously female-bodied mothering metaphor are up first this week, probably making some people move uncomfortably in the pews (if they are listening) because yes, even breasts are mentioned! Abundant ones! Coming up to an election, I wonder if we will be feeling this ideal of being mothered and comforted and spead over by a prosperity that belongs to the mother and therefore is shared with us? “The wealth of the nations” oh we do have to have that discordant colonialising note don’t we…to remind us that these are actually the words of religion, not literally the Word of God. Even in this beautiful, loving, familial image there is the human preoccupation with “the economy” in the narrow sense of wanting to have more than people in “other” countries.
But I am all for being carried and fondled and having every need met by a secure and prosperous mother. I particularly love that toward the end of the metaphor the “she” pretence slips and God takes responsibility “as a mother comforts her child so I will comfort you” (my bolding). Whose “abundant breasts” were we really talking about? Then there is the switch back to “Jerusalem” but the shift has done its work and destabilised patriarchy, because God has been seen for a split second (which is the only way we ever see God) as a doting mother filled with unquenchable love and the instinct to nurture. My heart sings with Miriam Therese Winter this song.
Yes, exactly as the reading says:
“When you see this, your heart shall rejoice
and your bodies flourish like the grass;” of course elsewhere in the bible (Psalm 90: 5-6) the idea of grass is used to signify impermanence and quick mortality. So this “flourishing” may be short-lived. But I do flourish when even the old texts of tradition give me permission to see God in this way, even for the moment. And I could leave it there, but I suppose I better remember there are more readings.
The psalm continues the theme of rejoicing that is exactly where my heart is with the first reading, except that if we read this psalm from the perspective of the earth (and it is hard not to) then the earth is forced to “bow down” and the sea is “turned to dry land” so that “the Lord” is somewhat of an ecological disaster. But it is just a metaphor! I want to cry, but there is that in Christianity unfortunately, the tendency to see the earth as unimportant, something that we are master-stewards over to exploit, not as part of God’s beloved creation to be lovingly in relationship with. The parts of the psalm that are left out as usual give some context too. God is once more on the side of those whose heads are being ridden over (e.g. the refugees and the poor). Mind you the idea that God allows it to happen for some time or for some purpose may be problematic.
In the second reading Paul reminds us that the purpose of being Christian is to be transformed, to be constantly the “new creation”. It is not about denominations, creeds, traditions, circumcision, uncircumcision or stopping marriage equality and abortion. We honour the suffering (survived hopefully), the flawed humanity and God’s grace in ourselves and others. We show peace and mercy and we don’t engage in silly attacks against each other. This is a timely reminder for a Sunday when we will all be dealing with the results of an election (and the end of a very mean-minded and desperate campaign).
In the gospel Jesus is sending his apostles out two by two (with a giggle I think this is a little like the door-knocking canvassers pre-election). But what do these door-knockers bring to the house? Stern warnings about sexual immorality and fear-mongering about Islam or other religions? No. One-off acts of patronising charity that pay no attention to the real source of the inequality? Again no. Cliches about “letting go and letting God” or “everything happens for a reason” or mindless and extended “Praise, praise, praise the Lord!!!!” choruses? Not that either! Sorry modern Christians we are going to have to look again at what the mission is.
The apostles are to offer the household peace. They are to accept hospitality if it is offered. They are to cure the sick and proclaim the “kingdom of God”. How do we do this? How do we bring peace and acceptance, healing and good news to the “real world” that we live in? This is something I believe each of us needs to meditate on and nut out, I don’t have the obvious answers and clearly the exact manifestation would change depending on time and place. But significantly this is not just up to the individual either. Jesus commissions the followers all from one place, and sends them out in pairs. Community is the source of our ministry and collaboration is the order of the day. Despite what we are sometimes told “the priest” is not some sort of Christ super-figure. Christ sends out priests in teams (not just as individuals) from the community. Christ is the whole part of that process and reality, not just the one individual within it that claims to be “called”. I need to remember this both as one called and as one who accepts (or critiques) the ministry available in the church.
And then as the end, if we have been called to preach to the household that is the church out deep God-given knowledge that feminism and its insights are also crucial to bringing about an inclusive, meaningful and slightly more achievable “Kingdom of God” and they want nothing of it what then? I did leave. I did wipe the dust off my sandals but I do not accept that God wants to punish the ignorant (even the privileged and therefore wilfully ignorant) and the slow to listen. I’m a teacher after all, I don’t give up on the apparently unteachable, I try to work toward miracles every time.
And so I am back in the church, back in the teams of preachers that like me want to call the church and society to account (in terms of social justice not in terms of narrow conceptions of “morality”). And there is something motherly and nurturing about those patches of church that genuinely wish to transform (as opposed to control) the world. And I rejoice for and with that “mother place” that “Jerusalem” that I can find within church, due to those people who focus on our shared humanity and the need to be “new creation” instead of hairsplitting matters of tradition.
And I know God rejoices in the church that behaves that way. God who also wishes to comfort “like a mother”. God knows, life has taught me a lot about the patience and trust of mothers.