“Mothers and Magic”
In a world so divided and violent, does any space remain for the unconditional love that Mother’s Day honors? Can it still make a difference? That’s up to us.
Speaker: Rev. Melanie Eyre
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To the Moms Who Are
To the Moms who are struggling, to those filled with incandescent joy.
To the Moms who are remembering children who have died, and pregnancies that miscarried.
To the Moms who decided other parents were the best choice for their babies, to the Moms who adopted those kids and loved them fierce.
To those experiencing frustration or desperation in infertility.
To those who knew they never wanted kids, and the ways they have contributed to our shared world.
To those who mothered colleagues, mentees, neighborhood kids, and anyone who needed it.
To those remembering Moms no longer with us.
To those moving forward from Moms who did not show love, or hurt those they should have cared for.
Today is a day to honor the unyielding love and care for others we call ‘Motherhood,’ wherever we have found it, and in whatever ways we have found to cultivate it within ourselves.
And so it is.
~ Pastor Hannah Kardon, Elston Avenue United Methodist Church
“Mothers and Magic“
Welcome to this beautiful spring Mother’s Day! Happy Mother’s day to all.
Today we celebrate mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, and all of us – women and men – who have shared with others that mothering energy of unconditional love.
As I was thinking about this topic, I thought back to our old One World choir. Some of you may remember it – it was way fun. Our own Debbie Schrodt led it, and did a fabulous job.
So, you ask, what does our former choir have to do with Mother’s Day? Well, I’ll tell you.
When I was in the choir, back when our former minister was still here, I was an alto. This means that I didn’t get to sing the melody, but usually sang the harmony. This was a problem, because I can’t read music and I couldn’t hear the harmony. Just couldn’t hear it.
So I stood next to Kathy Freese, whom you may know – a wonderful singer and very musically talented. She would look at me and say: just listen for it. It’s there. I tried, but I couldn’t get past the melody to track the harmonic notes.
In later years, I have learned to hear the harmony – the counterpoint to the main melody. It’s the subtle notes we have to work to hear to make the entire piece whole.
It struck me that motherhood can be like that. When raising kids, of whatever age, who make so much noise that can overwhelm, who can cause such stress that the rest of the world is more than ready to tell them to take a hike, mothers are still able to see the aspects of their kids the rest of us can’t see – the kindness, the humor, the gentleness, those moments that just can break your heart. Mothers see the whole picture, and, with unconditional love, they are able to look past the stuff others focus on. They see what is priceless, what is human and fragile, what is beloved. They continue to love, regardless, even when it’s not easy.
Then I considered the history of this holiday, and I realized it was not meant to celebrate what is easy.
Mother’s day honors the sloggers, the determined, those who don’t give up. This was a day created by strong women to honor the ability of all of us to keep going and make a difference.
Let me tell you what I mean.
The first mention of any day commemorating mothers in the United States was in 1858 at the instigation of Ann Jarvis, someone we would today call a social activist. Ann Jarvis was from Culpeper, Virginia, a small town in the Appalachian region. She looked around and realized the huge health problems brought about by poor sanitation and infection, especially with regard to young children. She herself had 11 children, only four of whom lived to adulthood. That was how it was.
She sought to create a Mother’s Work Day as a day in which mothers could work for better sanitation and disease prevention in an effort to prevent the high rate of mortality among young children.
After the Civil War started, she also worked to improve sanitary conditions in both Union and Confederate camps. The conditions were such that in that war more men died from disease and infection than from wounds in battle.
After the war, Ann Jarvis saw another need for healing and shifted her focus to work for reconciliation between former Confederate and Union soldiers. Despite significant personal risk, she staged a Women’s Friendship Day in 1868 at the local courthouse for soldiers of both sides and their families. Some of the women wore blue and some gray, just to show that the two formerly warring sides could come together.
Her goal was to remind them that they looked toward a shared future and it was time for these rivalries to end. Imagine if we all could take a break from the division and remember that we, all of us, look toward a shared future.
Ann Jarvis greatly influenced the 19th century prominent American abolitionist, social activist, and poet Julia Ward Howe (May 27, 1819 – October 17, 1910). You may know her as the author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, written in 1861.
Julia Ward Howe was also greatly affected by the carnage of both the Civil War and the Franco-Prussian war. Using the example of Ann Jarvis, she determined to call upon the strengths of motherhood to find an end to the carnage, an end to war itself.
While she no doubt had a sentimental view of motherhood, Howe saw mothers as change agents, perhaps the group in society with the greatest investment in protecting our sons, our daughters, and our posterity. Mothers have a stake. She believed in and called upon the steely backbone of mothers – women powered by love and will who stop at nothing to keep their families safe. She believed that same energy could be writ large, to make our communities, and indeed our world, safer and more peaceful.
In 1870, Julia Ward Howe wrote her Mother’s Day Proclamation, a call to action asking all mothers to leave their homes for one day a year to work for peace and reconciliation. She wrote:
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts,
whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!
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.’
Howe went on to ask for a congress of women to meet,
. . . to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.
The day she envisioned was to be called Mother’s Day for Peace, to be held on a Sunday in June. Indeed, this day was celebrated in certain communities for the next 30 years.
It is the efforts of these two women that reflect the true beginnings of Mother’s Day – as you can see, it was not a holiday for the fainthearted and it wasn’t just a day we all passed out roses. Ann Jarvis and later Julia Ward Howe saw this day as a call to communicate, to connect and raise a consciousness of peace and healing, even in a world overflowing with division and pain.
The vision was of mothers worldwide who would work for peace, for health, for human dignity, for reconciliation, who would bring this energy to solve the distressing problems of the world around them. They invited all of us to see past what first catches our attention, and look to our shared humanity.
That is the strength I celebrate, and it’s shared by change agents of both genders. We all have that energy, to preserve, to make safe, to heal, to protect, whether we are actual mothers or not, whether we have a good relationship with our mothers or with our children. These relationships are complex, and sometimes it is not all roses.
However, if we turn our focus to the power of healing love in action – that is available to all of us. We control that.
So what are some of the attributes I admire about these women?
First, I see that they didn’t wait to formulate multipage policy agendas or ten step plans. They didn’t make it complex, and they didn’t stop because they didn’t attract a big crowd. They stepped out and sought to apply the basic principles we all know to be true – love, forgiveness, compassion, connection.
They also recognized the healing power of relationship. They brought people together, and they recognized the power that is present when we join together.
We are not beings who do well when left alone. We are made to connect, to gain strength and support from each other. Ideally the first person we do that with is a parent, and it’s there we learn that we can love and are lovable.
That lesson may get shaken over time, but hopefully we maintain the capacity to seek out relationship, knowing it only strengthens us. We make our world a better place by taking that energy of connection we learned early on and share it with others as we move beyond our families into the larger community.
Now more than ever our families, our communities need us to be brave, reaching out to each other whether in our tribe or not. How much do we see our social fabric fraying, and how much do we experience the impact of that stress on us individually and collectively.
Our challenges are not limited to this country, as we know. As our world becomes more interdependent, more global, we confront new challenges that call for solutions only humanity acting together can solve. Climate change, allocation of food and water, poverty and migration, the growing gap between rich and poor, armed conflicts. We need a consciousness of community that extends beyond our towns, our cities, our national borders. We need the connection and caring our mothers taught us in a circle even wider than we ever could have imagined.
Sr. Joan Chittister writes,
Only love puts the human community back together again after our humanity has torn it apart.
It is our humanity that has created the challenges facing us, and it is only our shared humanity that can restore us to health.
And we need to establish and maintain these connections in a new and different world, where community no longer means people from the same background, religion, culture or nationality. We are part of the human community, and in many instances political, social, or geographic boundaries are becoming increasingly irrelevant.
How do we grow this new consciousness of community, for this new world? We begin by simply reaching out, person to person, in genuine caring and dialogue. We honor each other by listening and learning, opening to new experiences without judgment. We try to see each other clearly and remain open anyway. That’s not easy.
United Church of Christ minister Adam Erickson tells the story of when he was in seminary and he had a very early morning class.
The class would start and invariably one guy would always come in 15 minutes late.
Erickson would look at him, and in his mind what did he do? He made up reasons for why this guy was late. He was lazy, he hadn’t done the work, he had been out partying, he didn’t care about being disruptive. The reasons were always negative.
Erickson went home and told his wife about this lazy do-nothing. She looked him in the eye and said, “you have no idea why he arrives late.”
She was right – he had been making it up entirely, to make the other guy the bad guy, and to make himself better.
Instead of being in relationship with this other guy, he created a divide, created resentment, separated them.
He realized there was no basis for this and, even if there was, it did nothing but create separation. It prevented him from simply loving this other person, and in his words poisoned his own soul.
What he was learning was the freedom, and clarity, that comes with unconditional love. This love is not based on your accomplishments, your income, or who you are. It’s totally unearned. Even better, there is nothing you can do to earn more of it or lose what you have. The other word that many use for unconditional love is grace. It’s a gift, not a transaction. Our love of each other truly mirrors the unconditional love that is always given to us.
When we give that same love back, difficult as it is, we are truly being the light we came here to be. That I think is why we honor motherhood – it’s the closest human manifestation of this unconditional love.
Karen Armstrong put it this way:
. . . a mother’s concern for her child pervades all her activities. Whether she feels like it or not, she has to get up to her crying infant night after night, watch him at every moment of the day, and learn to control her own exhaustion, impatience, anger, and frustration. She is tied to her child long after he has reached adult hood; indeed, on both sides, the relationship is usually terminated only at death. Maternal love can be heartbreaking as well as fulfilling; it requires stamina, fortitude, and a strong degree of selflessness.
Or, as John Fiebig said,
The hand that rocks the cradle usually is attached to someone who isn’t getting enough sleep.”
So does this surpassing, patient love mean putting up with destructive or violent behavior? Does it mean being a doormat, or excusing behavior that hurts others? Not at all – that’s not love.
We don’t love someone by letting bad behavior pass – that doesn’t serve them or us. We love them by knowing that the truth of who they are will at some point shine through and even if it doesn’t that it’s still there. We recognize and reject the poison of hate. The energy of hate can only destroy – it doesn’t build up anything worth having. The level of hate now circulating has accomplished nothing but generate more hate and fear.
We continue to work for justice, equity, peace. All of us can – and I’m sure do – look around and say that our society is a mess. Do we say forget it and walk away? Maybe. Or, do we take Dr. King’s approach and say: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
It’s our effort, our heart, that is going to help it get there, even when we swear all our effort, all our heart, doesn’t seem to make a difference. It does. It’s our energy that bends the arc.
So, in the spirit of the original Mother’s Day for peace, we dedicate ourselves to continue to work for that better world, for ourselves certainly but also for our kids – all of them, and there are millions. We continue to work for a world of peace, and justice, and compassion. We work for a world that would make our mothers proud.
About Rev. Melanie
Rev. Melanie Eyre is an ordained Interspiritual Minister and long-time student of the world’s many diverse faith traditions. She has served as One World’s Spiritual Director since 2015 and is the founder of the North Fulton Interfaith Alliance here in Georgia. Outside of One World, Rev. Melanie has a beautiful family and enjoys officiating traditional and non-traditional rituals and other special ceremonies that mark important life transitions – weddings, baby blessings, and celebrations of life.
For more about Rev. Melanie and her practice, visit her website: Memorable Services with Heart.
As we have been blessed, so we bless one another to be a blessing. Breathe in, breathe out, this breath we share with all that breathes. Feel the love of the universe flowing through this community, into you, and out into the universe again. Let the love of all the universe—your love—flow outward, to its height, its depth, its broad extent. You are more than you know, and more beloved than you know. Take up what power is yours to create safe haven, to make of earth a heaven. Give hope to those you encounter, that they may know safety from inner and outer harm, be happy and at peace, healthy and strong, caring and joyful. Be the blessing you already are. That is enough. Blessed Be. Amen.
~ Adapted from the Karaniya Metta Sutta (Sunna Nipata 1.8) of the Pali Canon
This talk aired on May 8, 2022