In Christian churches in this country (perhaps worship gatherings of other religions as well) it is not uncommon to make a deal about Mother’s Day.
I once attended a parish where the tradition was women came to worship that Sunday morning wearing carnations – red if their mothers were still alive and white if they had died. In another tiny church where I was a member the flowers were roses. (They could afford them since there weren’t that many women.) The roses, however, were given to everyone who was a mother.
The point is, Mother’s Day has somehow made its way into our churches as though it belongs….as though it has something to do with the Christian Faith. I suppose one could make the argument that “Honor your father and your mother” would be sufficient reason to baptize what is a clearly secular holiday…one of those money makers for the flower, greeting card, and candy industries.
But there actually is a grounding in the teachings of Christ that underlies Mother’s Day. You will hear it in the Mother’s Day Proclamation made by Julia Ward How in 1870. Having come through the Civil War, she wrote these words as a preface to her call for a general congress of women to “promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace”:
“Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.’
We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says “Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Mother’s Day is tied to Jesus’ teachings about loving our neighbor and how we are to do that. In Matthew 5: 42-45 Jesus speaks particularly about how we are to love our neighbor with whom we are in conflict: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.’” Julia Ward Howe understood this teaching.
Here in the Four Corners it is easy for us to look out at all the violence in the world and shake our heads helplessly in judgment. And yet each of us benefits from systems that position too many others so that they are demeaned, marginalized, forgotten, or out and out harmed. We unwittingly participate in systems that are far from the love of which Jesus spoke.
We can bewail the state of race relations in our cities and towns, while ignoring the racism in our own backyard. We can cluck our tongues at the religious intolerance in Africa and the Middle East, and the violence it engenders, while at the same time turning a blind eye to the harm done in the name of Jesus to our LGBT teens. We can point fingers at big, bad corporations that pollute our air and water and soil, while we mindlessly live the American Dream – driving our cars when we don’t have to; using electricity and water when we don’t have to, and consuming, consuming, consuming when we don’t have to.
Violence is violence – whether it’s perpetrated against a person’s body or spirit; against our fellow creatures with whom we share the planet; or against the planet itself. If we want to live in peace, it must be a peace that is grounded in justice – justice for all of Creation.
As we go forward from this Mother’s Day, listen carefully. You may hear Julia’s voice calling to us down the decades: “Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,” and then gather up your courage, follow the teachings of the Christ, and act.
Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or firstname.lastname@example.org.