I’m looking forward to ‘Messy Rheged’ which will be held as part as part of the Moving Mountains Mission. I’ll be on the welcome team. As I observe Sarah Hume and the Reach team in the midst of their preparations I realise how much planning that ‘messiness’ has required to bring to birth this dynamic, creative event.
It seems to me that Messy Mother’s Day (as I’ve begun to refer to it) is apt. Mother’s Day is Messy.
There are people who yearn for motherhood but yet feel denied that; those who never wanted motherhood and feel both isolated and exhausted by it; those whose mother failed to keep them safe; those who miss their mother and long to return to her or for her to be returned to them. All of these people might feel that ‘Mother’s Day’ is better ignored.
The last time I was at Rheged it was to see a live-stream from the Young Vic: a Simon Stone adaptation of a Lorca play, ‘Yerma’. It is the story of a young woman’s desire to have a child – a desire which eventually consumes here and destroys her marriage. The desperate Yerma calls upon the Virgin Mary (echoing the medieval cult of Mary) to assist her in her infertility. It was a shattering drama, and it reminded me of how complicated (and often desperate) the issue of child-less-ness may become. How could we imagine that ‘Yerma’ (and women like her) would want to celebrate ‘Mother’s Day’ in any form?
But the festival the church celebrates on this day is quite different to that ‘Hallmark’ ‘Mother’s Day’, and is, in fact, ‘Mothering Sunday’. The day when we celebrate the ‘mothering’ of the Church.
‘You cannot have God as your father unless you have the church as your mother’ said Cyprian of Carthage. We might want to challenge some of the assumptions this statement makes but it does point toward the nurturing encouraging qualities of the church as a community in which we might grow and, even, flourish. It is in our belonging to the church that we understand our belonging to God.
Luther wrote about ‘Mother-Church’: ‘It is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God. It in is in the church that we are nourished though word, sacrament and community.’
Mothering Sunday, then, is more about community than the private nuclear family. But it is hard to resist the lure of the adverts which want us to privatise the festival and so it remains ‘Messy’.
I think it is our task as thinking, learning Christians to ask what we really want to celebrate on Mothering Sunday and who we might be excluding by easy sentiment. God does bless some women with children who are themselves a blessing. But this begs the question – for whom? God is not a kind of benevolent Santa Claus figure handing out blessings in isolation. Blessing is always rooted in relationship: with God, with one another. God blesses the disappointed, the grieving, the yearning. Do we?
On March 11th this year for the first time I’ll be spending Mothering Sunday without my mother (gone to greater glory) or my children (growing up and getting on with ‘stuff’). Instead I’ll be in the midst of the biggest Messy Church in Cumbria, thanking God for my mother the Church.
Author: Revd Dr Allison Fenton, CCL IME Vice-Principal
Allison is currently engaged in academic and pastoral work on theological issues around childlessness and blessing, and will be very happy to engage with anyone who wants to agree, disagree or explore any of the issues addressed or skipped over here.