Mothers of God

Theotokos or “Mother of God,” is an expletive to some and a name for Mary for others. To most of us it is a vaguely familiar expression that we somehow recall as being “Catholic.” Sadly Protestants are often a little leery of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, especially in the veneration of Mary. But, on this Mother’s Day, can’t we agree that “Ave Maria” is just as appropriate in a Protestant church as much as in a Roman Catholic one?

If it weren’t for Mary’s humble willingness to endure the ire of Joseph and surely that of the rest of Nazareth’s townspeople, we would be without a Jesus born both of God and of humanity. Jesus had to be human to satisfy justice, and he had to be divine for his death to save the whole world. I dare say one reason for Jesus to have a human mother is to claim that the very best representatives of humanity are women. Too often more is made of the political incorrectness of God as father when we miss the greater affirmation of women found in the person of Mary.

Meister Eckhart, famous theologian and mystic of the fourteenth century, described our affinity to Mary this way: “We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: when the Son of God is begotten in us.” Like Mary, we should all birth the Christ!

Of course, women are ahead of the game in this regard, whether they have had a child or not. For instance, I am reminded of a somewhat obscure passage of Scripture found in Paul’s lengthy greeting at the end of Romans. In this list he greets a host of people that have meant something to him. One such greeting includes a special word to every woman who has been a spiritual and emotional mother but maybe not a biological one. In Romans 16:13, Paul states, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.

Haven’t we all had women in our lives like Rufus’ mother, someone who has nurtured us, taught us, cared for us? A lot of my mothers were actually my real mother’s helpers. Aunts and school teachers come quickly to mind. Included would be the wise women of my first parish that taught a young inexperienced minister the way to care. My mother-in-law certainly was a mother to me, and with deepest sincerity I humbly admit that my wife has been like a mother to this her “fourth child” more often than she should have.

Mothering isn’t about biology. Like Mary and Rufus’ nameless mother, we can all fill in the blank of those women who have mothered us. We are grateful! This day is for every one of you. Our prayer, like Meister Eckhart’s, is that your grand unfathomable love might be born anew in us, that we might become Theotoki, bearers of the Christ child, as well as you. This is our tribute to you who have borne Him so well. This is our prayer of dedication. No greater compliment can we pay, no greater Mother’s Day gift can we purchase save the desire to be like you in birthing Christ in the world.

Mary and Child

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My Mother’s Train

I stopped Sunday afternoon at a Hallmark store to purchase a Mother’s Day card for Cindy. There was plenty of time to peruse them because I was between preaching, visiting a clergyperson in the hospital, and the last event of the day which was our District Pre-Annual Conference Orientation. After selecting an appropriate card I found myself looking at other items that might be an appropriate Mother’s Day gift for her.

Before it dawned on me that whatever I bought would just be another thing to pack for our upcoming move I noticed some rather odd items. The most unique and troubling gift was a mug with this phrase emblazoned on it: “If I were a Mormon fundamentalist I would want you as my sister wife.” I know that official Mormons have done away with the practice of having multiple wives, but I’ve seen too many ads for weird television shows about guys and their plural marriages to think that the phenomenon has disappeared.

It’s interesting that none of these shows are about women with multiple husbands, but that’s for sociologists to figure out. There’s a lot that I don’t know, but one thing for sure is that a mug with this “sister wife” stuff on it would NOT be a good idea for a Mother’s Day gift. As the saying goes, “My Mamma didn’t raise no fool!” and Cindy has been doing a pretty good job of shaping me ever since!

My mother was a great person. She taught me right from wrong, how to value every person no matter their faults, how to be accepting, and exhibit unconditional love. She wasn’t perfect. Who is? She came close, though. She was a spit-fire who didn’t mince words. She was fun and had the best laugh. She had wounds that she mostly kept hidden. She loved her family immensely. Her integrity was impeccable. What you saw is what you got and I am grateful for her constant and consistent example of being a Christ-follower.

Integrity is a powerful word and is sorely needed in our mixed up world. “Integrity” comes from French for “in touch,” literally meaning that a person with integrity has a solid core around which their entire lives revolve. They’re not two-faced. You can take what they say to the bank. They may have many spokes on the wheel of their life but there is a hub that is unshakeable.

Wow, am I thankful for a Mother with integrity! In this wishy-washy world of jello-like values, we need more people who know right from wrong and do what’s right. There’s part of the rub and takes me back to the weird mug at Hallmark. It’s hard to figure out what’s right and wrong nowadays. I think I would be better able to fend off the temptation to loosen my values if I asked whether my Mom would approve or not. I’m thinking that “W.W.J.D.?” and “W.W.M.D.?” (Jesus and Mother) are pretty synonymous for me.

I try to use the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to help me discern right from wrong as well: Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason. The Bible is God’s inspired Word and definitely primary. Tradition is what the church has taught over the centuries. Experience is both personal and corporate in nature. Reason is self-explanatory though most of us have seen so-called logic used to prop up the irrational. Frankly, Scripture and Tradition are most reliable for me personally, and if making life choices was analogous to a train then the engine would be the Bible followed by Tradition with Experience and Reason following next. As a matter of fact, it seems to me that Experience ought to be the caboose and come dead last.

Elevating Experience over Scripture is an awful hermeneutic! Our culture puts Experience first. God help us if the Church does the same. When I use Experience as the highest bar of what’s acceptable and right it usually results in self-centered failure. Our culture’s promotion of Experience as the rule of behavior is like the excesses of the Roman Empire, and we know what happened to it. When I promote Experience over the other three of the Quadrilateral I know that I am not doing what my Mother would do.

So, this Mother’s Day I am grateful for a Mother with integrity whose values were on solid footing. Her train had the cars in order. The Bible was first. Christian Tradition was second through a good church and family. Reason was honed in the milieu of a good Methodist school. Experience was put in rightful perspective as the last arbiter of right from wrong. As we anticipate Mother’s Day let’s answer very carefully, “What Would Mother Do?”

Mother is Forever!

I miss my mother. There’s no simpler statement and there’s none more fraught with emotion. My brothers and I were blessed to have a wonderful mother. She was a tomboy at heart and didn’t mind getting dirty. Mother had the best laugh and she was terrific at crafts. She put together the most imaginative things! She didn’t take herself so seriously. She loved other people. She was a spitfire at times. She worked hard whether it was in the garden, at my grandfather’s country store, or in the house. She was a lady, too. I remember her many hats that she decorated. She wasn’t plain, but she certainly wasn’t showy. She was a sublime mixture of outgoing charm and quiet dignity.

Yes, we miss her. The odd thing that I’ve been remembering lately is the graceful subtle way she always said, “Certainly,” whenever someone had the occasion of saying, “Excuse me.” In the sweet humility of her alto voice, her simple use of “Certainly” as a response to one of her children’s or anyone else’s faux pas was pure grace. She was so forgiving and understanding. Memories of mother flood my mind and I feel like Forrest Gump all awash in matriarchal adulation. If you remember the movie, you have to remember Forrest’s mother.
 
We all have stories to tell about either our mothers or those who mothered us. One day isn’t enough thanks either. In our festival-oriented society egg salad gets a whole week, as do pickled peppers, split pea soup, clowns, carpenter ants, and aardvarks. Peanut butter (March), chickens (September), and oatmeal (January) each rate a whole month. How can we do less for mothers? Impossible!
 
So let’s dedicate ourselves to the highest ideals of motherhood for longer than a day and more than National Family Week. Let’s solemnly promise to put our faith to the test in a way that even the motto WWJD can’t touch. Asking, “What would Jesus do?” is great to be sure. But, right now I think that it would help my Christianity more if I simply asked, “What would Mother do? What would Mother say? What would Mother think?” I don’t think Jesus would mind a bit. He’s been using mothers as His best allies ever since ever since.
 
So let’s give our mothers and the world the best present that we can this Mother’s Day. Let’s actually try to think and act like mothers. Let’s never forget to value our mothers because they are irreplaceable. On behalf of my brothers, Carlee and Ralph, we salute our Mother, Sadie Emma Jackson McClendon, our beloved mother, 1917-1993, until eternity.