Today we celebrate our mothers … powerful people who had a whole lot of influence on who we have become. And many of us are also celebrating the joy of being mothers. Our children are powerful people too … it's like Will Rogers said, "very few of us are mature enough to have kids before they arrive. The value of parenthood is not that adults produce kids; it's that kids produce adults". I can say, without a doubt, that that was true of me.
So … I'm guessing that you sometimes find yourself doing things a certain way for the sole reason that your Mother used to do them that way. I, for one, refuse to look at a pancake recipe or a vegetable soup recipe because there's only one right way to make them and it's the way I remember Mom making them.
Must be a common thing. I once listened to a radio program in which folks called in to share odd things their mothers had told them that had impacted their lives. My favorite was from a woman who said that her whole life she has eaten huge portions of green beans (even though she doesn't particularly care for them) because her mother told her that eating green beans would keep her from ever getting warts. She never questioned this for years until it came up in a conversation with her doctor who told her it was an "old wives tale" with no merit. She said she’s still a little mad about all those green beans she forced down.
Perhaps you can think of some unhelpful habits you inherited from your mother … like nagging … or yelling at the kids … or complaining … or criticizing. Kinda humbling when we find ourselves doing those very things.
Lots of times, mothers get a bad rap. Since they are such powerful influencers, it's pretty easy to blame them for things about ourselves we don't like. But you know, memory is selective. It’s really odd how the hurtful things our mother's said or did are etched in minds, while many of the positive, helpful things have been forgotten? It’s an important day when it dawns on us, that our parents were just ordinary people like us … a mixed bag of inherited programs … some of them completely wrong.
Perhaps we can never understand our mothers completely until we become mothers ourselves. Because only then do we “get it” that mothers are definitely NOT reasonable people when it comes to their kids. Mothers are not necessarily motivated by things of the mind, like intellect or fairness. Nor do they operate in a financial context. I still remember my father complaining about how much money Mom spent on our Easter outfits, Christmas gifts and school field trips. But then, she never asked for a salary either, Dad. What salary would be fair for raising 5 kids while holding down a job?
Since parenting is not an exact science, mothers do make plenty of mistakes. I know I did. Yet, I still think of myself as a good mother. By which I mean that …
I loved my children with a passionate devotion that at times brought me to the edge of unselfishness.
I didn’t waffle in my loving … no matter what my three boys, often dubbed the “wild things” after Maurice Sendak’s famous children’s story, no matter what they did or failed to do.
I gave my whole self to the job of parenting. I was a fierce protector … had high hopes and high standards … and kept my eye on the prize, which was to equip my kids to contribute something of value to the world.
And most of all, I was clear that raising those kids was the most important thing I’d ever do … and worthy of whatever it took.
Recently I heard an interview with Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson. The interviewer asked how she managed to rear such wonderful, accomplished people as Michelle and her brother Craig, especially on such a tight budget in a tiny apartment in South Side Chicago. Her answer really touched me. She said she never felt there was anything particularly special about her kids. And she only did what every other mother she knew did. Loved them, believed in them and didn’t take any stuff off of them. Yep, that’s about it!
A good mother’s heart is the most powerful force on the planet. Only unreasonable, outrageous mother love can build a life worth living and a world worth living in.
You’ve heard of MADD? Mothers Against Drunk Driving … a grass roots organization that has done more to lower the rate of alcohol and drug related highway deaths than any other movement or organization or legal system ever has.
How about a mother named Jenny McCarthy and her fight for more research into the possible link between infant inoculations and the rise in autism. She took on the AMA, for God’s sake.
Remember the CNA? The California Nurses Association? Thousands of caregivers with great big, fearless, mouthy mother’s hearts, who took on the health insurance industry and the governor of California in a fight for a patient’s right to quality care.
Did you see a film called For the Bible Tells Me So. It’s the story of four women who were truly transformed when they allowed their mother’s hearts to carry them beyond the disappointment and fear of learning their sons or daughters were gay – beyond the conditioning and beliefs planted by their religious faiths. Two of these women not only changed their hearts and minds, but became powerful advocates for gay rights.
I was especially touched by the black Baptist preacher who struggled until she found a way to embrace her daughter and her daughter’s partner AND stay true to her faith tradition. And then there was the conservative mid-Western Episcopalian housewife who watched in tears as her son become the first gay bishop in the Episcopal Church.
Only a fierce mother’s heart has the strength for spiritual journeys like these. It takes the passion of mother-love to accomplish great things … unreasonable … outrageous … un-apologetic … emotional … guileless … honest … uncompromising … unconditional … unshakeable … mother love.
Today … as we deal with one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime, I ask you all … men and women alike – to find that kind of love inside you. The kind that doesn’t take “no” for an answer … that doesn’t know the meaning of the word “impossible” … that doesn’t buy lies and lame excuses … that doesn’t stand for abuse in any form under any condition … that does not accept violence as a way to solve problems.
I love a story Sepp told me. In a way a gentle story and a fierce story. It happened a few years ago when he spent a summer working at a large nursery. He had been tasked with spraying weed killer on the flower beds. He was walking up and down the paths between the beds spraying his poison, when a mama bird began squawking like crazy and hopping around and flapping her wings. As soon as he approached her, she’d fly off and he’d go back to his spraying. But the minute he did so, there she was again, standing in the path ahead making her terrible racket. This happened several times until Sepp finally saw the reason. Right in his path – among the gravel between the paving stones – were several tiny, barely discernable gray bird’s eggs. That obnoxious, noisy, and highly creative mother was determined to get Sepp to change course – she wasn’t going to stop until he did. And she succeeded. That’s what I’m talkin about.
Regardless of what memories or feelings you have about your mother today, I want to suggest that, from a spiritual perspective, you had the perfect mother … and so do your kids. To illustrate why I say this, here’s a fascinating story from the Old Testament:
Once upon a time, Balak, King of the Moabites, looked with fear upon the tribes of Israelites camped near his land. The Israelites were foreigners known for miraculously winning battles against larger armies, and claiming that they did so because God was on their side. (Interesting … that’s still happening today.) Besides, the huge Israelite herds were consuming so much grass there might not be enough left to feed the Moabite cattle. (Hmmm, not enough to go around … that sounds familiar also.) But anyway, I digress.
And so Balak sent a message to the famous diviner, Balaam. The message said: “The Israelites have come out of Egypt in great numbers and have settled down next to my land. Come now and curse them for me. Perhaps then I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land. For I know that whomever you bless is blessed and whomever you curse is cursed.” That’s what diviners did.
So Balaam saddled his donkey and set out to go meet King Balak. They were going along fine until suddenly a mighty angel appeared on the road and scared the donkey so much it shied away and ran off into a field. Balaam, being unable to see the angel, could not understand this behavior and beat his donkey for straying off the path.
Before long, the angel again barred their way, this time on a narrow road between two high stone walls. Again, only the donkey saw the angel and was very afraid, and, cringing, squeezed up against a wall, crushing Balaam’s foot. Now Balaam, still clueless, became really angry and beat the donkey harder than before.
A little later, the angel appeared a third time, standing in the middle of a narrow path where there was no room to turn around or move right or left. The donkey was totally paralyzed with fear and lay down on the ground. Balaam, still unable to see the angel and totally out of patience, began to beat his donkey mercilessly.
Then God gave the poor animal the power of speech. “Why do you beat me like this?”, the donkey asked. “Haven’t I always been a faithful servant to you?” “I am beating you because you make a fool of me….with your disobedience!”, Balaam said. Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes so that he too could see the angel. And the angel said to him, “Three times I came to block your path and save you from difficulty. Your faithful donkey saw me there and tried to protect you by turning away … but each time you beat him half to death.”
Then Balaam said to the Angel, “I have made a mistake, for I did not see you standing in the road to stop me. I will return home at once.” But the angel said to Balaam, “No, since you have insisted, go ahead and finish the journey.
Soon Balaam met up with King Balak on the outskirts of Moab. Balak led him up the side of a mountain and showed him the hoards of Israelites camped all over the valley. “Curse them”, he told Balaam, “that they will be weakened and I might defeat them in battle and drive them from this land.”
But when Balaam opened his mouth to curse the Israelites, a blessing came out instead. And so they went to a higher place on the mountain and Balaam tried his curse again. Once again, only a blessing came out of his mouth. And so they climbed to the very top of the mountain and built an altar and sacrificed a goat and a lamb to please the Lord. Balaam looked out upon the great wide wilderness and saw the hoards of Israel spread across the land and reached out his arms, and once again, the Lord made a powerful blessing came out of his mouth.
This made King Balak very angry. “I called on you to curse my enemies; instead you bless them! I promised you great riches if you would obey me, but now you will get nothing from me!” And so Balaam returned to his home, no wealthier and nearly exhausted, but he was a totally changed man. His spiritual eyes had been opened and from then on he would always realize that obstacles can be angels.
What a strange story…yet, rich with valuable teaching. Meta-physically, Balaam represents the pivotal nature of the soul. Our soul is the part of us that stands between spirit and body. It holds the wisdom to correctly interpret inner guidance and understand the spiritual meaning of the things that happen to us. Intuition resides in the Soul.
When an obstacle appears on our path, like some wound from childhood that is troublesome, we usually view it as a bad thing … a problem to be fought and overcome. Unfortunately, this strategy blocks our access to a higher intelligence. All we can do is fight what we perceive to be an enemy or run away from it. Either way, we end up dealing with the symptoms over and over again and never healing the wound itself. It just sits there, waiting to be triggered again and again.
But, there is another choice. Our soul has the ability to see through eyes of spirit and understand that this wound was not placed on our path by accident.
Every single one of us has wounds from childhood, even if we had the most wonderful parents. What would it be like to pivot from the ego's limited vantage point to the larger picture? Might we see that our lives, our personalities … even the wounds we carry … are catalysts for transformation … perfect for helping us grow in love and equipping us to do the work we came here to do.
I know this from experience. The pain of my childhood wounds drove me to therapy as a young adult. If they had not, I would not have found Unity and become a Unity minister. Therapy sparked a deep understanding of the human condition. In Unity, I discovered the healing power of Spirit. This work allowed me to use the pain of my childhood to help other people.
Balaam was confused. He thought that since he was following God's guidance to go to Moab, the journey would be easy and the trip would be successful. He thought the point was to get to Moab. He never considered that the point was the journey to Moab. Therefore, he had no patience with a stubborn ass that slowed him down.
Now, haven’t you encountered a few stubborn asses in your time? And haven’t you ever tried to do what Balaam did? Overcome it – or him – or her. Out-maneuver it – overpower it – push past it -- beat it into submission?
Have you not, like me, had times in your life when you thought you were being led to do something, only to find the way very difficult or the outcome an apparent failure? This can be very confusing! And have you then redoubled your efforts in order to push through the problems and force the outcome? So exhausting! Where we get off track is in making the assumption that the point of the journey is the destination rather than the journey itself.
No wonder we do this. In our highly materialistic culture, the end justifies the means because failure to reach a goal is tantamount to failure as a human being.
But the spiritual Truth is 180 degrees opposite. What the Universe wants for each of us is spiritual, emotional and psychological growth … by which I mean an ever-expanding ability to love. Obstacles … adversity … even childhood wounds are perfect vehicles for this growth. They are like challenging homework in the classroom of life. They make us think … and feel … and seek help … and learn.
So this mother's day, what do you say we let go of all the complexity and ambivalence surrounding our mothers. If we should open our mouths to criticize her, let's ask God to make a blessing come out instead. Let's just give thanks, knowing our mother equipped us for maximum growth. And, as for our own mothering … you know, there's a statute of limitations on mistakes. Guilt doesn’t need to be a life sentence. You and I are the perfect parents for our kids too, whether they know it yet or not.
Sometimes the way forward seems full of obstacles. When things are tough, ego says, work harder, push through, do whatever it takes to reach your goal or get what you want. Spirit says, slow down, pay attention, feel your way … something important is happening here. Could it be that the Covid crisis has come as an invisible angel to bring us this very message?
The great Sufi poet Hafiz, in a few words filled with wisdom and humor, has described the perfect attitude to hold in times of difficulty. He writes:
Resist your temptation to lie
By speaking of separation from God.
Otherwise, we might have to medicate you.
In the ocean, a lot goes on that you can't see.
Listen, they have hospitals for the insane
Who persist is saying things like:
I am independent from the Sea.
Indeed, there is a lot going on that we can't see. So, let's just retire our judgments … let go of the struggle to understand why our mothers did the things they did. We all have a lot to learn about loving. Instead, let’s give thanks for the powerful, perfect, imperfect woman who launched us into this life. And, if we're blessed to be someone's mother, let's stop worrying about how the kids have turned out … and kick back and feel only one thing … what a blessing and a privilege the journey has been!
So, now, take a deep breath or two as we relax into a time of meditation. We imagine the divine heart beating our hearts … one heart, pumping love throughout our bodies. This love is the great healer … the very foundation of whole and complete life. It is through the power of this great love that our bodies, minds and spirits are kept whole.
This morning, I invite you to breathe into your heart and allow this beautiful prayer created by the great mother and beloved teacher, Eric Butterworth, to be our own, personal prayer. May it heal and strengthen each one of us.
Blessed is my heart. The pure love and life of God pulsate through it in perfect rhythm and order. My heart is cleansed of all misunderstanding, in-harmony, impurity and dis-ease. Through it, the cosmic energy of love circulates throughout my body. The creative, harmonious power of love establishes perfect respiration, perfect digestion and perfect elimination.
My heart responds to the command of divine love by beating in unison with the even, regular, firm and powerful pulse of life. It is not the source of love, but love is the energizer of my heart and of the life of my whole body. I am in tune with the one great heart that beats for all, and with the Infinite flow of Divine Love that sustains all. I am filled and thrilled with love. My heart is aglow with vitalizing life, and my entire being is established in the wholeness of love which I am. I am a wonderful, peaceful and love-filled child of the Most High.
And now, let’s sit for a moment in the silence and feel the healing power of this prayer. PAUSE.
This morning I send the enormous power of the mother love within me out into the world as the energy of life, vitality, health and wholeness. I am one with Divine Love, the one great heart. I am in love with life and life is in love with me.
Will you join me in this affirmation: I am in love with life and life is in love with me. Together. I am in love with life and life is in love with me.
And so it is.AMEN