Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

May 11, 2008: “Mother’s Day”

Mother, May I?
Mothers Day
May 11,2008
Rev. Arthur G. Severance
Son of EvaMae Johnson Severance,
Grandson of Eva Christina Johnson and Elizabeth Ann Severance (Heath )
Husband of Cathie  Lenore Harvie Severance
Father of Cristina Mae, Katie Anne, and Elizabeth Jane Severance

Feminist Prayer

Our mother, who art in heaven
Sister shall be thy name.
Our washins done, our kitchens clean
On earth and it isn’t heaven.
Give us this day equality and forgive our shortcomings
As we try to forgive those who have short-changed us.
And lead us not into Home Economics,
but deliver us into politics
For there is the power, and the glory and the money
forever… A-woman – Meg Bowman

Two women were discussing their grown children. One of them said what a prince her daughter had married. He insisted she sleep late in the morning, would go down and cook breakfast and serve her in her bed. He insisted that they hire a maid so she wouldn’t have to clean, showered her with expensive jewelry, and treated her like a goddess. Her son, on the other hand had married a real witch, who was so lazy that she couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, made her son wait on her hand and foot, had the nerve to insist on breakfast in bed, wouldn’t do any housecleaning so they had to hire a maid, and was wasting all her son’s money by buying fancy jewelry.

It all depends on which side you’re on!

Not every woman wants to be a mother. Katherine Hepburn, for instance, never wanted to, once said: “Being a housewife and a mother is the biggest job in the world, but if it doesn’t interest you, don’t do it. It didn’t interest me, so I didn’t do it. Anyway, I would have made a terrible parent. The first time my child didn’t do what I wanted, I’d kill him” (On Mothers Day)

The late Texas Congressman, Maury Maverick enjoyed a jocular, teasing relationship with his indulgent and devoted mother. They were freethinkers, and his sister was a member of the San Antonio Church. The very word Maverick came from this old Texas family who did not brand their cattle. Perhaps they were early animal rights activists, but there may have seen a practical side too. When ranchers would find an unbranded cow, they would know it was a Maverick co. Shortly after he was elected to congress, he sent her a visitor’s pass to the gallery of the House of Representatives with this mock-formal letter:

Dear Mrs. Maverick:

I hope you will visit Washington sometime and hear me speak …try to remember this: it is harder to be a congressman than a mother. You only have 11 children and 65 grandchildren. I have a quarter of a million.
          Maury Maverick
          (Your Congressman)

Mrs. Maverick replied back in kind inviting the “Most hon. Congressman” to visit her at her ranch in Texas. “But,” she concluded, “please don’t bring your quarter of million children.”

And, of course, I know that we well-educated people are familiar with Sigmund Freud and his views. Do you think he had trouble finding am appropriate card for his mother? There are many stories, as you can well imagine, and I’d like to share some.

A woman who had recently become engaged called her mother in tears. “Oh mother,” she cried, I think the marriage may be off. You know that Martin had been seeing a psychiatrist. Well the psychiatrist says that Martin has a very serious Oedipus complex.”

Her mother tried to calm her, “Don’t listen to that fancy head-shrinker talk. I’ve watched Martin and I tell you he’s fine. Look at how he loves mother.”

When the son leaves home to start his freshman year in college, his doting mother gives him two expensive cashmere sweaters as going away presents. Wanting to show his appreciation, when he comes home for Thanksgiving he wears one of the sweaters. The mother greets him at the door. She takes a long, anxious look, and finally says: What’s the matter? The other sweater you didn’t like?

“The hand that rocks the cradle usually is attached to someone who isn’t getting enough sleep.”- John Fiebig

“I’d like to be the ideal mother, but I’m too busy raising my kids.”- Unknown

The mother of three notoriously unruly youngsters was asked whether or not she’d have children if she had it to do over again. “Yes,” she replied. “But not the same ones.”- David Finkelstein

A little boy forgot his lines in a Sunday school presentation. His mother was in the front row to prompt him. She gestured and formed the words silently with her lips, but it did not help. Her son’s memory was blank. Finally, she leaned forward and whispered the cue, “I am the light of the world.” The child beamed and with great feeling and a loud clear voice said, “My mother is the light of the world.” – Bits and Pieces, 198

I was blessed with the best mother in the world and a warm, loving happy childhood in small town New Hampshire; everything was fine until I became a teenager; then suddenly my mother changed and she was never quite the same afterward. Sound familiar? Yes, of course, it was that teenage thing that changed me as well as her. Yet now that she’s gone, I ache to have her to talk to again, even if I didn’t often agree with her advice; it was the love of the mother who gave me birth which was a special and even religious dimension and relationship, balanced with her sometimes driving me crazy and I, I would guarantee, doing the same to her.

The Death of Mom

To lose ones mother
    a singular sorrow
        like no other.
Is it not like
        all at once –
Kisser of Wounds,
    Listener of Woes,
        Santa Claus,
            Easter Bunny,
                Tooth Fairy
Even the childhood
    God herself?    -A. Severance

Many children and teachers are counting down the days left before summer vacation starts, or in some case, before they graduates! It doesn’t seem possible. I’m starting to understand what my mother felt like when I decided to go to college 500 miles away. We try to give our children roots-both in the family and in our church, as well as wings to fly-perhaps far away from us.

The “roots” part is easy; the “wings” part is often  heart-breaking. Mothers are mysterious life-givers; some are little prepared for the awesome responsibility, yet miraculously, it seems, generation after generation  are reared. I believe in a life instinct, that just as animals know instinctively how to birth and raise their young, how to find food, how to hunt in well organized packs, we humans have an instinct to live, even in unbearable circumstances of abuse or illness. I believe as well that there is a religious instinct, an inherent desire to find the answers of those age old answers- why life? why death? What is the meaning of our lives? Does the universe have a connection to us? Is there a divine presence which we must find a way to connect with? Why do we fall in love?

For many of us, it is our mothers who is the first divinity for us; for she is literally our life-giver, our nurturer- who, if we are fortunate, nurtures our belly as well as our head and heart.

In her wonderful book about women’s mid-life changes titled, Crossing to Avalon by the wonderful writer and Jungian psychiatrist, Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D., writes: We usually imagine the Grail as a chalice, most often as the chalice filled with wine that Jesus held aloft at the Last Supper, saying to his disciples as he did so, This is my blood . . . His words and motions became ritualized in the Christian communion.

When we consider that as a rounded container a chalice is a feminine symbol, the idea of a vessel filled with blood becomes an image-metaphor for a woman’s womb, and the Grail then takes on the possibility of another meaning–that of a numinous or mysterious feminine symbol, something transformative and healing, with a sacred or divine dimension of the feminine. In the most famous of the Grail Legends, there is a wounded king whose kingdom is a wasteland. His wound can only be healed by the Grail, and until his wound is healed, his kingdom remains devastated. Substituting patriarchy for kingdom, this myth has considerable relevance today. Deforestation, famine, and armed hostilities, bad as they are, pale in comparison to the ultimate fate of an earth facing potential nuclear or ecological disasters that could turn the entire earth into a wasteland.

In the resurgence of the popularity of mythology, Joseph Campbell’s name comes to the forefront. In one his many books which we have used as our Adult Ed Transformations of Myth Through Time, where he says right at the start: “The woman with her baby is the basic image of mythology. The first experience of anybody is the mother’s body. The earth and the whole universe, as our mother, carries this experience into the larger sphere of adult experience. When one  can feel oneself in relation to the universe in the same complete and natural way as that of the child with the mother, one is in complete harmony with the universe. Getting into harmony and tune with the universe and staying there is the principal function of mythology.” And of religion, I would add. Not all of motherhood or all mothers, of course are saintly or even Godly; some are demonic or at least dysfunctional. Sometimes we must learn to forgive our mothers for their shortcomings or dysfunctions.

But our mothers are also, above all, human and subject to error, mistakes and even loving us too little or too much. That deep love we hold for them as children gets strained as we enter teen-hood and wanting to make our own, yes, usually wrong, decisions. We want to be independent. We often have to somehow leave home either literally or figuratively to do that. We have to shift our mother paradigm, if you will, our mother thinking to build a relationship that is adult to adult, even though we will always be the child, we must grow up and so must the relationship, and there’s the rub. Change. Growing up, growing old. Moving on. Letting go. Balancing roots and wings.

Its not easy, but every Mothers Day we have a new opportunity to try to get it right, even after our mothers are physically no longer with us.

I’m profoundly grateful to my mother as well as the mother of our children for helping to raise me and make me who I am today. Thanks, Mom. I miss you.

Amen, Peace, Shalom, Salaam, Thank You

Readings Are not my hands my own?   Adapted from a poem by Bonaro Overstreet

Are not my hands my own?
How is it then
that I stand here alone in my kitchen
intent upon the making of a pie
and suddenly, my mothers hands have slipped
inside of mine . . . and mine are only gloves
Made flexible by what she wills to do
with flour and salt and shortening.

I stare down
my hands proved mine by permanent signature.
And yet . . . their motions I have seen before.

Fingers that hold a pie in midair
Upon their tip that spread to balance it
And I have seen a hand that slid a blade
Around the pie plate, neatly shearing off
Unwanted crust that dangled to the board
to crumble there in a little heap.

This is familiar. But it was not I
who posed the plate or drew the cutting blade,
that was my mother.

And if this be
how do I know to the last small detail the feeling
that was intimately hers?

Just as she must have learned upon some day
(and felt her fingers halt with quick surprise)
The sense of having other hands slip in
To use her hands, their muscles and their joints
to work an older will with flour and salt.

This is the ancient comfort; the deep knowing
in heart and bone and sinew, that I stand/
never alone so long as I can share
Here in my kitchen, here in my little hour
the modes, the drama of humans, staying above;
A quiet drama played in small sounds
A spoon makes against a mixing bowl;
The little slap of dough upon a board.

So I stand alone within my kitchen
Flour on my hands and centuries at my elbow
As though I had come back to some beginning,
To take another look at chart and compass.

Opening Words

Why God Made Moms
Second-graders answer questions about the women in their lives.

Why did God make mothers?
1. She’s the only one who knows where the scotch tape is.
2. Mostly to clean the house.
3. To help us out of there when we were getting born.

What kind of little girl was your mom?
1. My mom has always been my mom and none of that other stuff.
2. I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but my guess would be pretty bossy.
3. They say she used to be nice.

What did mom need to know about dad before she married him?
1. His last name.
2. She had to know his background. Like is he a crook? Does he get drunk on
3. Does he make at least $800 a year? Did he say NO to drugs and YES to chores?

Why did your Mom marry your dad?
1. My dad makes the best spaghetti in the world. And my Mom eats a lot.
2. She got too old to do anything else with him.
3. My grandma says that Mom didn’t have her thinking cap on.

What’s the difference between moms and dads?
1. Moms work at work and work at home, & dads just go to work at work.
2. Moms know how to talk to teachers without scaring them.
3. Dads are taller & stronger, but moms have all the real power ’cause that’s
who you got to ask if you want to sleep over at your friend’s.
4. Moms have magic, they make you feel better without medicine.

What does your Mom do in her spare time?
1. Mothers don’t do spare time.
2. To hear her tell it, she pays bills all day long.

What would it take to make your Mom perfect?
1. On the inside she’s already perfect. Outside, I think some kind of plastic

If you could change one thing about your Mom, what would it be?
She has this weird thing about me keeping my room clean. I’d get rid of that.
I would like for her to get rid of those invisible eyes on her back of her head

Forrest Church     May 14, 2000

Three busloads of All Souls members left the church at 6:30 this morning headed for Washington and the Million Mom March.

If you want to protect a mother, you must first protect her children. One famous American liberal, Julia Howe, reminded us of this more than a century ago.

In 1870, five years after the cessation of hostilities between North and South, the Franco-Prussian War broke out in Europe. A senseless conflict, it galvanized the small but growing band of international peace activists. Director of the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, founder of the first American women ministers group, popular poet, and author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Howe, who was an abolitionist had strongly supported the Union cause, now figured prominently among the American crusaders for peace.

She wrote a manifesto against the Franco-Prussian War, had it translated into five languages (French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish), and then set out for Europe intending to deliver it at international peace conferences in London and Paris. But because she was a woman, the European organizers denied her a place on the program. Angry but undaunted, she hired her own hall, and posted broadsides inviting the public to hear her. Few people came. So she returned to the United States, not broken but inspired with a new idea. She called it Mother’s Day.

In Howe’s original conception, Mother’s Day was designed to draw attention to several basic liberal values. Her object was not to put mothers on a pedestal. She wanted to draw mothers out of their kitchens and parlors into the public square, to unite as many women as she could in a common cause: the protection of children from war. Or as she put it, “to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.” Significantly, she didn’t call her annual festival International Peace Day; she called it Mother’s Day, knowing no group that could more naturally or persuasively sponsor an annual festival of love and peace.

On June 2, 1870, Howe issued the first Mother’s Day proclamation. She called upon “all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears,” to 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.”

A Dandelion for my Mother  Ted Kooser

Hoe I loved those spiky suns,
rooted stubborn as childhood
in the grass, tough as the farmers
big-headed children – the mats
of yellow hair, the bowl-cut fringe.
How sturdy they were and how
slowly they turn themselves
into galaxies, domes of ghost stars
barely visible by day, pale
cerebrums clinging to life
on tough green stems. Like you.
Like you, in the end. If you were here,
Id pluck this trembling globe to show
how beautiful a thing can be
a breath will tear away.

Mother’s Day was declared a national holiday to be celebrated on the 2nd Sunday in May in 1914 by Woodrow Wilson, our 28th President, who interestingly enough, was a self-confirmed “Mama’s Boy.” In fact his first name was actually Thomas, but he changed it to Woodrow because that was his mother’s maiden name!

It may be important to note to that the plane which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima was named the Enola Gay, after the pilot’s mother.

Years ago there was a Mother’s Day card that on the cover read: Mom, I remember that little prayer you used to say for me every day. On the inside: God help you if you ever do that again.

“No matter how old a mother is she watches her middle-aged children for signs of improvement.” -Florida Scott-Maxwell

Every year before  my mother died in 1999,  I vividly remember going though the very Freudian exercise of trying to pick out a Mother’s Day card for my mother. If your mother is still alive, then I’m sure you sent her a card. Does everyone go through the process I do when trying, ever so carefully, to pick just the right card? Wondering, not what the card says, but what my mother will think it says or what it really means?

I confess I often like the humorous cards better than the syrupy sweet ones, and since my mother has a wonderful sense of humor, she 22often enjoyed the funny ones more than the others.  As I was looking, picking up each card and judging the humor, I found one that made me laugh out loud. I picked that one to send to Mom. On the front it read: “How many mothers does it take to change a light bulb?”

I opened it to find the answer: “Just one. She lectures it until it changes itself.”

But then worry set in. I liked it and thought it quite funny, but would my mother take offence. If this were the last Mother’s day card she received from me, would I want that to be the message? So I put it back and hunted further until I found one that thanked her for all she had done for me.

Peace, Shalom, Salaam, Abrazos a Todos (Hugs all around),