I am because we are. No where is that more apparent than in the relationship of a parent and a child. I am, because, we are. No where is that more true than in our relationship with God. We are relational creatures, formed out of relationship for relationship and no relationship changes us, forms us quite as much as that of a mother and child. We all need mothering and sometimes we have to look outside the bonds of family in order to find that mothering but it is part of who we are that we are all capable of mothering and, on some level, we all seek out and benefit from mothering. While the awareness of the mothering God has diminished in our tradition the prophets were fond of referring to God as the mother of Israel, how can a mother forget her own child? they asked, implying that God’s love is just like that of a mother. Jesus compared himself to a mother hen when he looked down on Jerusalem and said, how I have wanted to gather you to me like a mother hen gathers her chicks. Created in the image of God does not imply that God walks on two legs, or is gendered, or has to come the tangles out of her hair in the morning, but that our hearts and souls are created to be in these holy, sacred, nuturing relationships with one another.
We abide in the shelter of one another. Created in the image of God we are created to be in relationship. We are created in the image of the perichoretic God and how I really want all of you to know that word! Perichoresis is about a dance, it’s about a dance with God, it’s about God dancing with the whole of creation, drawing everything to her as she dances this incredible dance of creation, of new life, of resurrection, of a love that surpasses all understanding, of deep and abiding relationship! We have this incredibly beautiful image of God as the one who dances within God’s very self, the three aspects of the trinity, Mother, Child, Spirit, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, dancing together, this image of God as the one who draws all of us into the dance with divine mystery, all of creation trailing along as she dips and swirls bringing life and joy and love in her wake.
We abide in the dance of the perichoretic God, a God who is not one but three, a God who delights in us and in the whole of his creation! We abide in the shelter of one another as we learn to engage in the dance. We abide in the shelter of one another as we celebrate the good fruits, the laughter, the joy, the love, the creativity, the mystery of one another. We abide in community as we struggle with our expectations, our shoulds and should nots. We abide in love for one another as we encourage and contend honestly with one another. As we learn to dance with one another keeping that appropriate space between us, not stepping on toes, learning to follow a lead. We were never meant to be alone! Created in the image of a God who is, in and of God’s very self, relational we were created for relationship.
We are most ourselves when we are true to the vine that we grow from, when we are true to the seed from which we sprang. It is so tempting when things become difficult to swear off relationship. I’ll just go it alone, I don’t need that person or this person, but we were never meant to be alone. We were created to abide in the shelter, the love, the relationship of one another.
Last week we spoke about how right and true and good it is to let our hearts break in compassion for those who suffer around us. This abiding in the shelter of one another is so very, very good and it brings us face to face with our own shortcoming and difficulties. Such very good and very hard work. We abide with one another when we stay present in the difficult and painful times, refusing to take the easy way out, saying, “well, that’s not my problem,” but instead remain present.
We learn how to stay present when others are able to stay present with us. For some of us this happens when we are children and our parents mother us and nurture us and care for us. For others of us we learn this as adults when friends and family-by-choice mother us and nuture us and care for us. And it is often only in hindsight that we can see how this abiding love has changed us, has formed us that we might be better people ourselves.
In the beginning we want to grow up to be just like our parents, as teenagers we hope we don’t and then as adults we miss them and see the strength and courage in them and we can only wonder how we missed it when we were younger.
We carry aspects and characteristics of those who have raised us even when we don’t want to. We look in the mirror one day and realize that we have become our parents in so many ways. We hear our words as if spoken by another voice and realize that we have adopted language patterns and habits from those who have cared for us. We hunger so much for this parenting, this mothering that our need is often expressed in unhealthy and dysfunctional ways. It can become a cry of pain and disappointment.
There were so many times growing up when I was angry with my mother, angry with that livid, furious anger that only a child can hold. In so many ways she failed to live up to my expectations.. She didn’t love us as much as we needed. But then who could have? The child in me still wants someone to come and make everything all right again even as the adult in me knows that I must face the world as it is. As a child I was so often furious with my mother for not being the be-all and end-all of my life, for not being the supermom I was sure I needed and should have had. Truth is, no one is able to be the mother we all so desparately want.
There were many times as an adult that I would be angry with someone who had offered a nurturing hand only to withdraw it later. A pastor who offered a kind word but didn’t want an extended conversation, a friend who would listen in depth and at length to the pain of my divorce but wanted that conversation to end before I was ready. No one is able to be the mother, the parent, we all long for and if we are not careful of our expectations, if we really expect these people to fill this need we may end up with the anger of a frustrated child. We are created to abide in relationship with one another but we are also created with a deep need of God’s healing and it is this relationship our hearts most long for.
It takes a long time to grow up. It was only after my divorce and my growing up that I began to look back at my childhood expectations of my mother and my friends and see how out of line they were. Truth is, no one could have loved me as much as I wanted. Life hurts. It is rough and tumble. It is hard knocks, for everyone. Everyone has their own story of grief, loss, and pain. There is no one who does not have a story. We learn to be gentle with one another because we all bear wounds, often unseen. We learn to be gentle with one another because these wounds continue to cry out for healing and sometimes those cries are angry, hurt ones, but we understand the loss and pain and so we are gentle anyway.
Somehow as a child I had expected to be sheltered from the pain of life. I had expected strong arms around me, mothering me, caring for me, loving me even when I wasn’t very loveable. When those arms were not so strong or when they were absent, the pain of that was all the greater because I expected it to be otherwise. My expectations of my mother were so high and perhaps they were higher even because she was so amazing. But no one could have lived up to those expectations. It takes a long time to grow up! It takes time to let go of our expectations of one another so that we an appreciate the people we have in our lives as they are, rather than resent them for not being what we feel they “should” be.
It took a long time to appreciate the gift of her vitality, her strength, her joy, her laughter, the gracious home we lived in, the bountiful meals we shared. It took a long time because I was so focused on the things I wasn’t getting. It took a long time to be grateful for the kind word my pastor offered instead of being resentful that I couldn’t have more. It took a long time to learn that my friends need to move away from my pain and loss were not rejection but rather an invitation for me to honor them, to care for them.
Today as we gather together I invite you to remember the gifts you have been given, perhaps by your mother, perhaps by someone who mothered you. I invite you to remember the gifts of a safe place to be, the gifts of laughter, the gifts of guidance, the gifts of abiding presence, the gifts of joy and love. Today in response to our scripture which tells us we ought to abide in the love of one another as Jesus abides in the love of the Creator, I invite you to come forward and name those who have mothered you, those who have nurtured and sustained you and light a candle for them as we call the roll of those past and present who have mothered us.