Saturday, May 19, 2018

To Be a Mother

To be a Mother is to suffer;
To travail in the dark,
stretched and torn,
exposed in half-naked humiliation,
subjected to indignities
for the sake of new life.

To be a Mother is to say,
“This is my body, broken for you,”
And, in the next instant, in response to the created’s primal hunger,
“This is my body, take and eat.”

To be a Mother is to self-empty,
To neither slumber nor sleep,
so attuned You are to cries in the night—
Offering the comfort of Yourself,
and assurances of “I’m here.”

To be a Mother is to weep
over the fighting and exclusions and wounds
your children inflict on one another;
To long for reconciliation and brotherly love
and—when all is said and done—
To gather all parties, the offender and the offended,
into the folds of your embrace
and to whisper in their ears
that they are Beloved.

To be a mother is to be vulnerable—
To be misunderstood,
Railed against,
For the heartaches of the bewildered children
who don’t know where else to cast
the angst they feel
over their own existence
in this perplexing universe

To be a mother is to hoist onto your hips those on whom your image is imprinted,
bearing the burden of their weight,
rejoicing in their returned affection,
delighting in their wonder,
bleeding in the presence of their pain.

To be a mother is to be accused of sentimentality one moment,
And injustice the next.
To be the Receiver of endless demands,
Absorber of perpetual complaints,
Reckoner of bottomless needs.

To be a mother is to be an artist;
A keeper of memories past,
Weaver of stories untold,
Visionary of lives looming ahead.

To be a mother is to be the first voice listened to,
And the first disregarded;
To be a Mender of broken creations,
And Comforter of the distraught children
whose hands wrought them.

To be a mother is to be a Touchstone
and the Source,
Bestower of names,
Influencer of identities;
Life giver,
Life shaper,
Original Love.

-Allison Woodard, 9.28.17
Written for The Liturgists podcast episode "God Our Mother," recorded live in Cambridge, MA on October 6, 2017

Sunday, May 13, 2018

On Mother's Day: Mom

Five years ago my sister posted this photo on Facebook for Mother's Day. I think this was taken when we were stationed in Upper Michigan, K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base, near Marquette. I believe it was while we were living at the address 250 Salmon Court. Being in an Air Force family means your memory timeline is based on where you lived.

It's a great photo, right? Mom with all 4 of us kids all bundled up for snowy weather. My brother Dan with an old classic camera around his neck, and those black frame glasses he wore.

I've seen this picture many times over the years. Today I was struck by my Mom. Look how earnestly  she's holding my sister Jan to make sure the camera would capture Jan's face. I think she was so concerned about that she forgot to smile herself. Her look is serious, making sure everything is right for the photo. She's probably also worrying about whether my dad is taking the picture correctly.

I don't think I romanticize my mom. She wasn't perfect. Of course not, none of us are. Mom used to drive me crazy so often, with too much unsought advice, with remarks guaranteed to rub the wrong way, with backseat driving. As a kid, I always knew she loved me and all our family, and as an adult I knew it even more. When I was planning for a visit I would vow that I would not let anything she said bug me, because I knew it was all out of love. Yet, within 10 minutes of her arrival I'd feel that familiar stress of annoyance.

Still my memories are full of wonderful things. When Mom stayed with us and I was working, she would have a pot of tea waiting for me when I got home from work. Do you know what heaven that was? Can you imagine? She knew I loved tea and she'd have the house all clean and calm, a pretty teacup out for me on the table.

When she stayed with us for each new baby, she would clean the house, make meals enough so there'd be a freezer-full when she left, bake her famous banana bread, and do everything she could to help. She told me, "I'm here to take care of other things so you can take care of the baby."

I just sat here for 15 minutes, memories flooding my mind. My previous blog today was about Paracletes - people who answer the cries of those in need of care. My mom did that, and I am grateful to God for her.

On Mother's Day: Paraklete

My brother wrote this reflection for Ascension Day. The second paragraph seems appropriate to me for Mother's Day. When I read it, I thought, I wish someone would preach a sermon on Mother's Day about this!

Dear Friend,

Happy Ascension Day! Jesus’ ascension into heaven translates into his saving presence for everyone who looks to him for help. That’s what Jesus teaches in his farewell discourse when he says, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Paraklete [the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)

Let’s start with the Paraklete (also spelled “paraclete”). In John 14-16, Jesus refers repeatedly to the Holy Spirit with the title “Paraklete.” A paraklete is someone who answers a call for help, so the Holy Spirit as Paraklete is the third Person in God answering our call for help by coming alongside us in order to give us exactly the grace we need. In his inspired book Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John; Jean Vanier celebrates the Paraklete by observing: “What a beautiful name! God is the one who answers the cry of the weak and those in need. A mother is a “paraklete” for her child when she answers the cry of her little one, holds and loves him or her. Every time we look after a person in need and answer their cry, we become paracletes. Jesus was a paraclete for his disciples.” (p. 260)

Jesus continues as Paraklete for us by sending the Holy Spirit. The book of Acts portrays the risen Jesus as appearing to his disciples over a period of forty days in order to show himself alive and to teach them about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3) Before being taken up into heaven, Jesus instructs his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit. Ten days later, on the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes to the disciples with astonishing signs and great power. (Acts 2)

Sometimes, we associate the Holy Spirit primarily with spectacular deeds and wonders. In John 14-16, Jesus teaches us to experience the Holy Spirit also as One coming alongside us to take “away the anguish of loneliness [and to bring] presence, security, peace, and communion.” (Vanier, p. 260) On the great but largely neglected holiday of the Ascension, you can call on Jesus for both enthusiasm to do great deeds and also consolation in times of anguish. Every day, our Lord waits eagerly to come alongside you as the Paraklete in order to give you just the help you need.

Joel Kok

In the Bible there are images of God, comparing him to earthly beings. It gives us a better understanding of God's traits when we imagine him as our loving father, or like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings (Luke 13:34), or a comforting mother (Isaiah 66:13), even a bear (Hosea 13:8), a lamb, a shepherd, and others. Since we are images of God, we share those characteristics, too. We share those names.

This reflection is on Paraklete -- "what a beautiful name!" as Jean Vanier wrote. It's a name for mothers, and not just mothers, all of us who "look after a person in need and answer their cry." It's a name for God, the Holy Spirit, the third person of God. Praise God for the Parakletes of this world -- the Holy Spirit he sent us, who walks alongside us, giving us "just the help we need"; the mothers many of us were blessed with and tried to be, who heard the the cries of their children and held and loved them; and the many others in this world, who look after their fellow persons in need, answering their cries.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

All the feels. All the wishes.

Last night, thanks to a friend who linked to it, I read a "Letter to my Brothers" by Beth Moore. This morning I've been reading the many comments in Twitter in response to it. What Beth wrote resonates with me for many reasons, and the people responding are doing a good job articulating the thoughts and feelings I have. If you haven't read the letter, please take a few minutes to do so.

One response that resonated with my soul was by a blogger named Stephanie. She tweeted:
The reality is that there just needs to be change. There needs to be wrestling. I still wish men would stop feeling threatened by strong women and I still wish people could come to more fully understand the context and the Greek languages used in 1 Timothy 2.
But I also wish, from the very depths of my soul, that men would just treat us fairly. Like Jesus did. Like God sees us. I wish our voices weren’t being silenced and our experiences discounted because they involve emotion.
I wish I could stand behind a pulpit and not experience doubt because I know there are people sitting right in front of me that don’t want me there. I wish I could experience being a leader the way a man does: with a built-in sense of confidence simply because of my gender.
 All the feels. All the wishes.

"I wish our voices weren’t being silenced and our experiences discounted because they involve emotion." As someone who cries very easily, I have wished this for many years. When I care a lot about something, I cry. I have tricks that sometimes help -- drinking water to swallow the lump, deep breaths, focus on something else, practice what I want to say so it becomes muscle memory -- but often there's nothing I can do. I care; I cry. When I want to say something important to me, close to my heart, my voice gets all shaky and tears start to flow. Then I get angry with myself for crying and -- guess what -- anger makes me cry!

Image: Disney. "Inside Out"
It reminds me of Tom Hanks' line in "A League of Their Own": "No crying in baseball!" A friend once talked about his experience coaching girls' sports and said something, too, about the difficulties dealing with crying girls. I can often see the fear in men's eyes when I start to cry -- they physically back away and try to end the conversation immediately. And even women tell other women that if they want to be taken seriously, they have to speak without crying. I wish men -- and all people -- could somehow repress the fear or whatever feeling they have when a woman cries, and instead listen and respond to what she is saying. I've told others, just because we're crying doesn't mean we're stupid, it doesn't mean what we have to say should be disregarded. On the other hand, I empathize with it -- I'm "a sucker for tears," too. When someone I love cries, I want to do anything to make them feel better.

I could also relate to Beth's sentence, "I wore flats instead of heels when I knew I’d be serving alongside a man of shorter stature so I wouldn’t be taller than he." Ha! I do wear flats -- all the time -- because I'm 6 feet tall. I can't do anything about the fact that I tower over most men, over most of the population, it feels. I'm truly thankful for my height; I just know that it affects others in various ways, usually a feeling that they are being intimidated or threatened in some way.

Many of the responses to Beth's letter spoke of their dashed hope that when the unkind (or worse) acts that Christian men did to women, seemingly without realizing its effect, became known and open, well then of course those Christian men would repent of such un-Christ-like activity and resolve to do better. Afraid not. Some certainly have, some never did act in that un-Christ-like way in the first place, and I hope and trust more will be sensitive to the effect of their actions.

Thinking about this reminds me of the many -- many, many, many -- times I was told, "It's not personal." This was followed by the reason their own action or actions of others was because they were acting on their belief that they were following God's will as laid out in the Bible. Or in more secular settings, like in "You've Got Mail" when Meg Ryan's character is told, "It's not personal; it's business." I call bull*!#*.

When people come out of the woodwork -- obviously having been personally contacted as a part of  a plan -- to vote "No" for me as a Christian School Board member even when there was no other candidate, that's personal. And when the denominational Synod says women can be ministers and officers in the church, but leaves it up to individual churches, and my own church does not vote in a single woman elder for the nearly 40 years I was a member there, personal it is. That's me you're voting against, planning -- I hesitate to call it plotting -- against, not a belief or a principle.

As you can tell, it's easy for me to get passionate about this history -- even bitter. But I repress those feelings and constantly work to replace them with the love I truly, honestly feel toward my Christian brothers and sisters. I know they love me. They've shown up and been there for me and my family time after time. Their actions speak louder than their words (or votes). I know the image of God is in them, and I hope and trust they see the image of God in me.