A Mother’s Day for All of Us

Unitarian Universalists are great spin doctors.

What I mean is that Unitarian Universalists are very good at redeeming holidays and holy days.

On Christmas, religious educator Sophia Lyon Fahs reminds us that “each night a child is born is a holy night.”

Easter becomes not just a celebration of Christ’s resurrection, but of the resurrection of our own spirits and of the earth.

Hannukah’s miracle becomes a message of hope and light.

Trinity Sunday, a particular favorite among our mainline brethren, becomes a great opportunity to talk about the Unitarian controversy and celebrate our heretic nature.

Even secular holidays get redeemed:

Valentine’s Day is now the culmination of Standing on the Side of Love’s Thirty Days of Love campaign, where we celebrate the act of loving hate and oppression out of the world.

And on Independence Day, we put jingoism aside and celebrate the Unitarian spirit of our country’s forebearers, and we talk about religious freedom.

We are pretty good at redeeming these celebrations so that all feel included and our principles shine forth.

And then there’s Mother’s Day. It can be a delightful holiday, full of good wishes and breakfasts in bed, handmade cards, and sometimes awkward attempts at helping out. Motherhood isn’t just bearing children but rquires a lifetime of love and care that too often goes unnoticed.

But too many Sundays, we walk into church and get bombarded with greetings, flowers, prayers for mothers, invitations for mothers to stand up and get recognized, and some sort of patronizing “oh, but you mother in other ways” words for those who didn’t stand.

And then, by the time we get to father’s day, no one wants to do anything because we just did a big mother’s day thing.

And that’s just in church – for weeks prior there are advertisements telling us to send flowers, restaurants making pushes for reservations. On the day of, you can’t turn on the tv, radio, or a website without someone imploring you to call your mother. Hallmark, restaurants, and florists do a bang-up business on this day, and it’s an easy sell…. After all, everyone’s got a mother, right?

Or not.

What we know is that Mother’s day is frought… deeply frought.

Just in this room, and certainly in our communities, there are people who struggle with this day for many reasons, whether because of loss, or infertility, or broken relationships, or economics, or simply the unreasonable demands of commercialism.

Now this isn’t to say we shouldn’t celebrate motherhood – it is amazing, and for some of us, having been well mothered and the act of mothering is an amazing miracle. But, as blogger Amy Young writes, we should take a moment to acknowledge the wide spectrum. She offers a blessing that goes a long way toward the inclusivity we celebrate in our own faith tradition:

To those who gave birth this year—we celebrate with you.

To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you.

To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you.

To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you.

To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.

To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you.

To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you.

To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you.

To those who lost their mothers– we grieve with you.

To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience.

To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst.

To those who are single and long to be partnered and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be.

To those who step-parent, and those who are siblings, aunts and uncles, or grandparents who parent someone else’s children – we walk with you on these complex paths.

To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you.

To those who placed children up for adoption — we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart.

And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you.

This litany is wonderful… but what about the other mothers who are so often left off lists like these? So much of mother’s day is focused on privileged classes, sexualities, and races, that many feel excluded. Fortunately, the Unitarian Universalist Association is taking steps to correct this error with a celebration of Mama’s Day. As they write on their website,

“With “Mamas Day,” we hear a call to honor all those who mother, especially those who bear the brunt of hurtful policies or who are weighed down by stigma in our culture. We celebrate trans mamas, immigrant mamas, single mamas, lesbian mamas, young mamas, and others. It’s opportunity to take action to create the conditions so that all families can thrive.”

This is vitally important. We don’t see enough mamas of non-white, non-heteronormative identities and abilities in the Mother’s Day exhortations. We need this Mama’s Day celebration to check privilege and honor all kinds of mothers.

But even this celebration still leaves some people feeling like their inherent worth and dignity is slighted on this day.

What about men who have not just providing but nurturing roles with children? I noted with some amusement the struggles Reverend Michael Tino is facing around this day – he and his husband adopted a child last year, and on Friday, his daughter was sent home from daycare with a card addressed to “mom” – neither Michael nor his husband are mothers, but they nurture. Does their parenting have to be classified as “mothering” to be valid? Michael and other men like him struggle a bit with this day, finding a particular pressure to fit into the model of “mother” when they are most assuredly not mothers.

What about women, like me, who are intentionally child-free? I am not a mother. I have no children, either those I have born or those I have adopted or fostered. I don’t have any spiritual or emotional children either. There is no one in my life who calls me Mom for any reason. And that is by choice. But most people are willing and eager, in fact, to emphasize how I give birth to creative projects and mother in other ways. It’s as though we are incomplete as women if we don’t have some sort of children or at the very least some impulse for children. Women like me struggle a bit with this day, finding a particular pressure to fit into the model of “mother” when they are most assuredly not mothers.

So how do we all find our place on a day like today? How can we redeem Mother’s Day, and make it a day for all of us?

My solution is to turn to one of our pioneers, Julia Ward Howe.

Despite having penned “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” twelve years earlier, Howe had become so distraught by the death and carnage of the Civil War that she called on Mothers to come together and protest what she saw as the futility of their Sons killing the Sons of other Mothers.

In 1870, she called for an international mother’s day – to call for peace. Her proclamation reads as follows:

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 of 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! Blood does not wipe out dishonor Nor violence indicate possession. As men have of ten forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war.   Let women now leave all that may be left of home For a great and earnest day of counsel.   Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.   Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means Whereby the great human family can live in peace, Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, But of God.   In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask That a general congress of women without limit of nationality May be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient And at the earliest period consistent with its objects To promote the alliance of the different nationalities, The amicable settlement of international questions. The great and general interests of peace.

Some mother’s day for peace celebrations continued for a few years, on June 2nd, but it never really caught on. However, in 1908, a West Virginia woman named Anna Reeves Jarvis took up the call again, hoping that a “mother’s friendship day” would help reunite families that had been long torn apart by the Civil war.

Ultimately, Jarvis’s hope was for intimate, family celebrations – reuniting families and honoring the compelling nurturance of motherhood. Yet as quickly as the annual remembrance caught on, the commercialization crept in. Before long, Jarvis was engaged in legal battles to sever the name “Mother’s Day” from the commercial folderol, and she eventually distanced herself altogether.

But reuniting hearts and minds, calling for peace, praying that others mother’s sons would not be killed in senseless wars – this is the heart of Mother’s day.

Calling for peace.

Not surprisingly, one of our principles – the sixth – calls for peace too, namely “the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.”

Our faith calls us to work for peace. Many of our congregations have justice actions against war; some, like the UU Congregation of Glens Falls in upstate New York, are peace centers. Some of us have long fought against the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan and pray we avoid others. Some of us fight the wars at home – poverty, race, homelessness. And there are things we can do on Mother’s Day to work for peace; in Boston, The Louis D. Brown Institute for Peace runs a Mother’s Day Walk for Peace, remembering the original call of this day.

We are called to work for peace.

That’s how we redeem Mother’s Day.

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