Today: Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Mothering Sunday    (3/2/2008 1)

Mothering Sunday and Mother's Day—what's the difference? And why does the Christian church seem to set aside a day a year to honour mothers, yet not fathers?

In fact, Mothering Sunday and Mother's Day have very different roots, with the church celebrating the former and popular Western culture celebrating the latter (and Father's Day).

Centuries ago, Mothering Sunday didn't have anything to do with female parents! It was the one day when, instead of going to their local parish (or ‘daughter') church, people went ‘mothering'—visiting the principal church, or ‘mother' church, in the area. Often, this was a cathedral. In later times, people in domestic service were given this day off from work in order to go home and visit the family; a concept similar to ‘going mothering'.

Nowadays neither of those meanings retains relevance, and the Christian and cultural celebrations appear to have merged. But they've merged in a way that makes sense.

Sunday 2 March is both Mothering Sunday and Mother's Day in the United Kingdom. People will be travelling, cooking, giving gifts and celebrating their mothers, and either going ‘home' to see their mothers or inviting their mothers to them. Either way, isn't that—essentially—‘going mothering'? Going back to where both heart and history lie. Celebrating a deep and unconditional love.

Of all the things we think of on Mothering Sunday, however, we should not forget those for whom the day is painful. Those who have lost pregnancies or children, and those who are unable to conceive. Those whose mothers have died, or who have never known their mother, or who are estranged from their mothers. Those who have known nothing but suffering or abuse from their mothers. Those whose mothers are sick or dying. Those who are pregnant, and wish they weren't—and those who have terminated pregnancies in the past.

Bringing such pain before God is like ‘going mothering': going back to the One who made us, and who loves us the most; going back to the One who loves us unconditionally, and forgives; going back to our eternal parent.

In the Bible God is presented as Father, rather than mother. But it's worth knowing that in Hebrew, the word for the Holy Spirit is ‘ruach'—a feminine word. So in the Trinity of God, we essentially have Father, Son, and a ‘comforter' (in Jesus' words) who, while not female per se, certainly has feminine attributes.

Since the persons of God within the Holy Trinity include masculinity and femininity (after all, both genders were created in his image), as well as parent and child, God understands our joy and pain around being a human child and/or a human parent. So much of who God is becomes clearer to us when we understand that the relationship is, indeed, one of parent and child.

So for those of us who are blessed enough to be able to celebrate Mothering Sunday with our mothers, let's give thanks for her to God.

And for all of us - including those of us who cannot celebrate - let's ‘go mothering'; let's turn back to God for comfort and a uniquely unconditional, perfect parental love. The children of God can never be entirely either fatherless or motherless.

Pray: Lord God, thank you for our mothers, and our families, and all those who love and support us. We pray for all those people for whom Mothering Sunday is a difficult time. Help us all to recognise and appreciate you as Father, and your gracious and eternal love.

Think about: Read the whole of Psalm 139, which says, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb." You were a twinkle in the Father's eye before he formed you.

Challenge: If God is your loving Father, consider how he feels about you. Can you accept that unconditional love? And if he's your Father, that makes you his child. What does that mean? What rights, obligations, challenges and benefits do you think come packaged up with that childhood?

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