Our Many Mothers – 27/03/22
Opening Music: ‘The Mother’ performed by Marilisa Valtazanou
Opening Words: ‘In Praise and Thanksgiving on Mother’s Day’ by Mary J. Harrington (adapted)
We come together today in praise and thanksgiving for the gift of life itself.
Someone gave birth to us and some of us have given birth.
All of us have been mothered in our time, and all of us have mothered:
cared for, held, and nurtured others; offered guidance and support.
Let our time together today be one of recognition –
That we are on diverse journeys and arrive from so many places:
joy and delight, wistfulness and longing and worry,
unmet needs and unfulfilled dreams,
loss and sorrow, loss and emptiness, loss and regret.
All that life is made of, mothers are made of too.
Today, on Mothering Sunday, we sing the songs of so many:
mothers who are single parents, foster parents,
mothers who relinquished their young out of necessity,
mothers who found their heart in adoption,
mothers who left their children in a thousand ways,
mothers who rejoice and mothers who mourn.
We sing the songs of the grandmother, the auntie,
the classroom teacher, the Sunday School teacher,
the babysitter, the neighbour with endless treats and time.
There is a kind of love we cannot live without.
It is never too late, no matter our age or situation.
We sing a song of gratitude for all the moments
of being known, being cherished, being found.
This morning, let us celebrate all the ways in which we have been so nurtured. (pause)
These opening words by Mary J. Harrington welcome all those who are gathered on Zoom this morning to take part in our Mothering Sunday service. Welcome to regular members of the congregation, to friends and visitors with us today, and also those who might be listening to our podcast, or watching on YouTube, at a later date. For those who don’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall, and I’m Ministry Coordinator with Kensington Unitarians.
If you are here for the first time today – we’re especially glad to you have you with us – welcome! I hope you find something of what you need in our gathering this morning. Please do hang around afterwards for a chat or drop us an email to say hello and introduce yourself if you’d like. Or you might try coming to one of our various small-group gatherings to get to know us better. If you’re a regular here – thank you for all that you do to welcome all who come each Sunday. Even on Zoom, we have a part to play in co-creating this sacred space, this sense of community.
As we always say, feel free to do what you need to do to be comfortable this hour – it’s always lovely to see your faces in the gallery and get a sense of our togetherness as a congregation – but we know for some it will feel more comfortable to keep your camera mostly-off and that’s fine. Similarly there’ll be opportunities to join in as we go along but there’s no compulsion to do so.
This morning we’ll be marking Mothering Sunday with this service titled ‘Our Many Mothers’. Mother’s Day is not an easy day for everybody, many of us will have complicated feelings around mothers and motherhood, so be assured that we’ll be acknowledging that complexity today. This is a congregational service which will be featuring reflections from Marianne Harvey and Emily Ford and our meditation will be led by Jeannene Powell. And towards the end of the service there will be an opportunity, for anyone who wants to, to name and honour a mother-figure in your life. If you’d like to hold up a photo or memento of them, and you’ve got one to hand, that’d be lovely.
Chalice Lighting: ‘For Mothers and Foremothers’ by Selena Fox (adapted)
Before we go any further though, I’ll light our chalice, as we always do whenever we gather. This simple ritual connects us with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists the world over, and reminds us of the proudly progressive religious tradition of which this gathering is part.
We kindle this flame with love for mothers
and foremothers past, present, and future.
We kindle this flame in celebration of community
as it is expressed and nurtured across the generations.
We kindle this flame with respect and reverence
for the greater circle of life of which we are all part.
Candles of Joy and Concern:
Each week when we gather together, whether it’s in person at the church in Kensington or here as an online congregation, we share a simple ritual of candles of joy and concern, an opportunity to light a candle and share something that is in our heart with the community. So we’ve got a good few minutes now, for anyone who would like to do so, to light a candle (real or imaginary) and say a few words about what it represents.
When you’re ready to speak, unmute your microphone so we can all hear you, and then re-mute yourself once you’ve finished. If you are going to speak, please be aware of how long you’re speaking for, so that there’s time for others to say something too. Let’s leave a pause between one candle and the next, so we can honour what’s been shared. And don’t worry too much if two people end up speaking at the same time, or there’s a technical hitch of some sort – these things happen on Zoom – please do persevere! At this point it’d be nice, if you can, to switch to gallery view so we can all see everybody.
(candles – thank each person)
I’ve got one more candle here and – as we often do – I’m going to light that to represent all those joys and concerns that we might be holding silently in our heart today, those stories which we don’t feel able to share out loud this morning. Let’s take a moment now to think of all those joys and concerns we have heard expressed… all those little windows into our shared human condition and the life of the world we share… and let’s hold them – and each other – in a spirit of loving-kindness for a moment or two.
And let’s take those joys and concerns into an extended time of prayer now.
Prayer: based on words by Victoria Weinstein
You might first want to adjust your position for comfort, close your eyes, or soften your gaze. There might be a posture that helps you feel more prayerful. Whatever works for you.
Do whatever you need to do to get into the right state of body and mind for us to pray together – to be fully present here and now, in this sacred time and space – with ourselves, with each other, and with that which is both within us and beyond us. (pause)
Spirit of Life, God of All Love, in whom we live and move and have our being.
As we turn our attention to the depths of this life –
the cosmic mystery and wisdom that abides in All-That-Is –
we tune in to your Holy presence, the light within and without.
Be with us now as we allow ourselves to drop into the silence
and stillness at the centre of our being. (pause)
We reflect in thanksgiving this day for all those
whose lives have nurtured ours.
The life-giving ones
who heal with their presence,
who listen in sympathy,
who give wise advice…
but only when asked for it.
We are grateful for all those who have mothered us:
who have held us gently in times of sorrow
who celebrated with us our triumphs, no matter how small.
who noticed when we changed and grew,
who praised us for taking risks
who took genuine pride in our success,
and who expressed genuine compassion when we did not succeed.
On this day that honours mothers, let us honour all those
– women, men, and people of every gender –
souls who from somewhere in their being
have freely and wholeheartedly given life,
and sustenance, and vision to us.
Mother-Father of us all, grant us life-giving ways;
strength for birthing, and a nurturing spirit,
that we may take attentive care of our world,
our communities, and those precious beings entrusted to us
by biology, or by destiny, or by friendship, fellowship or fate. (pause)
And in a few moments of shared stillness now, let us extend that nurturing spirit outward,
in concentric circles of concern, as we hold in our heart all those people and situations
that weigh heavy on our heart this day, whether in distant lands or close to home. (pause)
And let us take a moment to direct that nurturing spirit inward too. Each of us carries our own burdens. So let us hold ourselves in self-compassion as we ask for what we need this day. (pause)
And let us remember all there is to be grateful for in this world, in our lives, despite everything.
Let us give thanks for those blessings, large and small, that lift us up and gladden our hearts. (pause)
Spirit of Life – God of all Love – as this time of prayer comes to a close,
we offer up our joys and concerns, our hopes and fears,
our beauty and brokenness, and call on you for insight, healing, and renewal.
As we look forward now to the coming week,
help us to live well each day and be our best selves;
using our unique gifts in the service of love, justice and peace. Amen
Hymn: ‘Here We Have Gathered’ performed by the Unitarian Music Society
Time to sing now: ‘Here we have Gathered’, an old favourite. The words will be on screen so you can sing along – or just listen – we’ll do our best to make sure you’re all kept muted.
Here we have gathered, gathered side by side;
circle of kinship, come and step inside!
May all who seek here find a kindly word;
may all who speak here feel they have been heard.
Sing now together this, our hearts’ own song.
Here we have gathered, called to celebrate
days of our lifetime, matters small and great:
we of all ages, women, children, men,
infants and sages, sharing what we can.
Sing now together this, our hearts’ own song.
Life has its battles, sorrows, and regret:
but in the shadows, let us not forget:
we who now gather know each other’s pain;
kindness can heal us: as we give, we gain.
Sing now in friendship this, our hearts’ own song.
Reading: ‘My Many Mothers’ by Vanessa Rush Southern
I have many mothers. There is the mother who gave birth to me and who calls me twice a week to see how I am doing. This mother stands six feet tall with auburn hair. Her rounded hips carried me through this world when my own legs were too short to keep up. Looking at this woman is like seeing my own body telescoped through time. There is no ambiguity about what I will look like in thirty years’ time. Her body gracefully leads the way. The older I get, the more like her I am. Gestures of hers become mine almost without her permission. It is scary and funny at the same time. She and I are connected in ways that I only partly understand.
I have another mother. She is the aunt who welcomed me every summer from the time I was eight onward. At first, I came for only a few weeks to her house in the country. However, by high school I would arrive the day after school ended and leave the day before it started up again. Later, her home was where I landed when my heart was broken and I needed a safe place to mend. She taught me that graciousness makes life a little easier and more beautiful, and that life’s simpler pleasures can be sublime. Though I don’t have her body or her gestures, she was (and is) no less a mother to me.
Another mother is the aunt who took me in for six months when my family was in transition. In this aunt’s world, life was a show, and we were living on centre stage. In her company I learned that each day can be quite grand, with a little effort, and a dose of wild abandon. In the sense that she has loved me and shaped me, I am her child too.
There were others still. There was the woman who made my ordination stole for me. She embroidered it with a chalice (though she isn’t a Unitarian) and butterflies (as a symbol of the Holy Spirit) and sewed a secret pocket in the back for my lipstick and tissues. This woman is an Episcopalian priest. She waited a long time for her denomination to recognise her right, as a woman, to be ordained. She reminds me of many things, not the least of which is the privilege of ministry. She too has been a mother to me.
At times, growing up, I used to wonder how my mother could share her “birthed right” so easily, sending me willingly to this woman or that. “You can never have too many mothers,” my mother used to say. I am beginning to see the wisdom of her words. In the reflected light of the women to whom she sent me, I was allowed to mould the vision of myself. Indeed, for all of us, it is in the company of such women that we find our sense of who we are as women (and who we might become). There can, therefore, never be too many of such women in our lives.
Meditation: ‘The Complexity of Motherhood’ by Leah Ongiri (led by Jeannene)
We’ve now come to a time of meditation. I’m going to offer just a few words for reflection, by Leah Ongiri. This will be followed by a few minutes of shared stillness during which we’ll have our virtual chalice on screen. The silence will end with a song from Marilisa. So let’s each do what we need to do to get comfortable – adjust your position if you need to – perhaps put your feet flat on the floor to ground and steady yourself – you might like to close your eyes. As we always say, these words, images, and music are just an offering, feel free to meditate in your own way.
This Mother’s Day, let us acknowledge
how beautiful and complex it can be
to mother and be mothered:
To those who have mothered, we thank you.
To those who rejoice in the work, the role,
the presence of mothering and
mothers, we celebrate with you.
To those who are in the thick of parenting
children of any age, we appreciate you.
To those who experience loss through
infertility, abortion, miscarriage, adoption
running away, or estrangement, we mourn with you.
To those who have lost their mothers, or never knew their mothers, we grieve with you.
To those who have endured abuse
at the hands of their mothers, we see you.
To those who experience pain at the marking of this day, we witness you.
To those who are single mums, grandmas, step-mums, foster mums,
adoptive mums, mentor-mothers and spiritual mothers, we need you.
And to those who are pregnant with new life this day,
both expected and surprising, we anticipate with you.
As we move now into a time of silence, may we reflect with gratitude
on all those – of any gender – who nurture and care. Let us honour the
wide spectrum of mothering that happens in our lives and in our communities.
Silence: 3 minutes silence accompanied by chalice video
Musical Interlude: ‘Two Mothers’ performed by Marilisa Valtazanou
Reflection: ‘Too Short a Life – Maman’ by Marianne
My mother was in her early twenties when Germany invaded Belgium. She lived with her mother and sister, having been abandoned by her father. They were hungry and poor and survived by sewing clothes for well to do people. Like today’s Ukrainians they had to flee from the invaders who were bombing their country.
I sometimes imagine her bent over her sewing machine, from dawn to dusk in the shadow of her dreams, or fleeing on a horse drawn cart, peering at the menacing sky. After a long dangerous journey, they reached the Pyrenees where they were welcomed with open arms by the inhabitants. I found an old black and white photo of her taken by my father in her thirties, and this prompted me to write a poem in her honour.
‘Too Short a Life’ by Marianne Harvey-Bertrand
On our garden bench,
she sits slim legs crossed,
dreams neatly folded
in her tired hands.
The sun cajoles her beehive hair,
she looks straight at him,
unaware of her beauty.
In her the scars of abandonment,
War, horror, malnutrition
sewing trench coats for the rich
for a pound of butter.
Beneath the quiet posture,
the long dangerous flight south
under the silent V2 rockets
still haunts her life, her dreams.
Four children later,
clouds have come and gone;
he is her silver lining,
her dreamt-of love story
A story I can only see
In black and white
I know those eyes,
I know that long neck,
I know those hands,
Lately my ears have grown,
a casualty of old age they say;
hers remained dainty:
she died aged 53.
Reflection: ‘On Estrangement’ by Emily
Today marks the first year in the whole of my adult life that I have not sent a Mother’s Day Card.
And those who know me well, I’m sure would say that the decision not to send a card would not be one I’ve taken lightly, especially given how much enjoyment I receive from carefully selecting and sending cards for all occasions.
You see I have in the last year become estranged from my own biological Mother, which was something I feared would happen, when I decided to slip the ropes to my narrowboat, to fulfil a long-awaited dream.
Upon me leaving, despite me making regular contact, my Mother contacted me less and less and then she… just… stopped… contacting me.
There was no huge row or show down, although as I reflect with honesty upon my childhood and adult years, this has probably been a long time coming, following a relationship that I would describe at its best being unhealthy, and at worst abusive.
It’s fair to say that over many years there have been a succession of self-created dramas in my Mother’s life, which more often than not have sadly included the mistreatment of others.
Being a dumping ground for another’s baggage is both tiresome and boring. And despite me trying to put healthy boundaries in place, one never wins with someone who does not have the ability to look and take responsibility for their own behaviour.
As the day and weeks passed by, I was presented with a choice, either to re-establish contact or do nothing, the latter which would probably mean the end of the relationship. I decided upon the latter, as to be perfectly honest with you, I had run out of steam for any more drama and game playing.
Whilst this is a sad set of circumstances, which comes with it a fair amount of stigma, taboo and fear of judgement by the other, for me it was the healthier of the two options. As I stopped being the enabler and chose to put my own mental health and emotional well-being above that of my Mother’s.
According to the charity Standalone who support people who are estranged from key members of their family, from a survey conducted in 2015, estrangement from one’s mother is far more common than what many think, with over half of those taking part, sharing that they were in some way estranged from their own biological mother.
Author and psychologist Bethany Webster speaks about the often-difficult mother/daughter relationship in her book ‘Discovering the Inner Mother: A Guide to Healing the Mother Wound and Claiming Your Personal Power’. She says,
“In a world where women are predominantly expected to stay silent, to cater to the needs of others, and where the darker side of mothers is not acknowledged, the experience of estrangement can be an initiation into a new level of awareness that many people never get the opportunity to experience.
Estranged daughters are finding each other, creating a new mother line; a connection of authenticity, realness, and truth in each other that supports the arising consciousness in all”.
As I continue my own journey towards healing the mother wound within, I am learning through self-compassion and kindness to become my own mother, whilst attending to my own emotional, mental and spiritual needs.
In the last ten months, I’ve taken a great deal of comfort from the following words by the mystic poet Chelan Harkin in her poem titled ‘Mother’. For those of you here this morning who, for whatever reason and in whatever way, have or are struggling with the relationship with your own mother, may you too draw hope, comfort and strength from the following words.
‘Mother’ by Chelan Harkin
Expand the word, “Mother”.
Let it encompass the hills,
that which feeds you.
Mother is much too big a word
for one person alone to hold.
Take it off her shoulders.
Hand it to community,
anything that soothes and restores.
Healing is learning to know
where to find The Mother
in her myriad forms
whenever you need her.
And so it is.
A Time for Honouring those who have Mothered Us:
Thanks so much Emily and Marianne for sharing your reflections today. And as we’re coming towards the end of our service on ‘Our Many Mothers’ we have a little time now, about 5 minutes or so, for a simple ritual to honour some of those people who have mothered us. The invitation is to simply name them, perhaps hold up an image or memento for us to see, and say a single sentence to honour them in a way that feels right to you. Just one sentence per mother if you can – I know that might be hard – we can always continue the conversation after the service. If there are a lot of us who want to share, I’ll let the service run a little over time, because I don’t want to prevent anyone joining in, but let’s try to keep each contribution to one carefully chosen sentence. And if you want to honour more than one mother that’s OK.
As you know, the service is being recorded, so this will be in the recording unless you contact me directly after the service to let me know you want it to be edited out. If you want to speak, I’m going to ask you to put your hand up, and then I’ll spotlight you and call on you to unmute. This is so we can see you full-screen and get a good look at any photos or mementos you show.
I’ll get us started with two of my many mothers: Mary, who supported and encouraged and accompanied me in so many ways; and Patricia, one of my church mothers, who was pivotal in getting me more deeply into to Unitarianism, and without whom I wouldn’t be doing this today.
(call on people to share)
Thank you all for sharing and honouring your mothers. I have just one more short reading to close – some words by Maureen Killoran – and it’s called ‘Let Us Tell Stories of Mothers’:
Reading: ‘Let Us Tell Stories of Mothers’ by Maureen Killoran (adapted)
Let us tell the stories of mothers… stories that could be true.
Let us tell of warm mothers, soft and round,
likely to be found with flour on their nose, and always ready
to pour you a glass of milk to go with the biscuits on your plate.
These mothers are increasingly rare.
Let us tell of mothers who are like bubbles of champagne:
they surprise your senses, leave you giggly, but when
you least expect it they erupt with an unexpected ‘pop.’
Stories that could be true.
Then there are grouchy mothers, stressed mothers,
exhausted mothers, faces lined with worry and spirits tired and grey.
Other mothers are wise and reliable; not prone to many words
or to a lot of noise — but you know that when you need them, they’ll be there.
Let us tell of fierce mothers, the ones who’ll love you even when you’re wrong.
Let us tell also of absent mothers, whose memory shimmers at the edges of your heart.
Let us tell of distant mothers… cruel mothers… loving mothers… giving mothers.
There are walk-away mothers… save-the-world mothers… too-busy mothers…
mothers you cry because you lost them, and mothers who make you cry because you can’t…
Stories that could be true.
May we hold in our hearts the mothers we have known;
those who loved us—and those who tried.
May we forgive the mothers who didn’t get it right, if we can,
and try to release the knots of disappointment, anger, grief, and pain.
And may we hold in our hearts the truth that mothering
—nurturing—is a task that belongs to us all. Amen.
Hymn: ‘Let Us Give Thanks and Praise’ by the Unitarian Music Society
Time for one more hymn now, and again it’s sung by the Unitarian Music Society, ‘Let Us Give Thanks and Praise’. I encourage you to sing along with the uplifting words at home if you can.
Let us give thanks and praise for the gifts which we share,
for our food and our friendship, for water and air,
for the earth and the sky and the stars and the sea,
and the trust we all have in God’s love flowing free.
Give a shout of amazement at what life can bring,
put your heart into raising the song all can sing.
What a world we could build with our minds and our hands
where the people live freely and God understands.
Let us give of our best with the tools we shall need,
use our eyes, hands and brains so that we may succeed.
Inspire us to cultivate what we have sown
so that nature and nurture make a world we may own.
We adore you, great Mother, O help us to live
with a love for each other that each one can give
let the pain of our brothers and sisters be faced
and the healing of all souls on earth be embraced.
Just a few announcements: Thanks to Marianne and Emily for their reflections, Jeannene for our meditation, Marilisa for our lovely music. We’ll have virtual coffee-time after the service as usual so you can stay and chat if you’d like. If that’s not your thing, as I said at the start of the service, do get in touch via email if you’d like to say hello, or come to some of our other events during the week. If you can bear to hang around we like to take a group photo after the closing music.
Our online programme continues: we have coffee morning as usual at 10.30am this Tuesday, and there are still a few spaces left for our Heart and Soul spiritual gatherings (Sunday and Friday at 7) on ‘Spring’ – even if you’ve not been before it’s never too late to start. The congregation very much has a life beyond Sunday mornings; we encourage you to keep in touch and look out for each other. We’ll be back on Zoom next week at 10.30am; our next in-person gathering will be Easter Sunday.
We’ve just got our closing words and music now. So I invite you to select gallery view at this point, if you can, so we can all see each other and get a sense of our gathered community as we close.
Benediction: based on words by Cynthia Landrum
We leave this gathered community,
But we don’t leave our connection,
Our concerns, our care for each other.
Our service to each other, to the world,
and to the promptings of our faith, continues.
So until we are together again, friends,
Be strong, be well, be true, be loving,
and nurture Goodness wherever you go.
May it be so, for the greater good of all. Amen.
Closing Music: ‘Mamma’ performed by Marilisa Valtazanou
Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall
27th March 2022