Many people have been incredibly kind to me today. I mean, really, really kind. As in, looking at me long and hard to make sure that I was doing alright. I understand why. It was Mother's Day, and this is the first Mother's Day without my mother. And for so many people out there, the non-stop Hallmark happy images and demand for chocolates, flowers, Sunday brunches, and cards that seem tied to this second Sunday in May is what today is all about. And, if you have no one to share that with, then it can be a huge bummer.
But today, in the Episcopal Church lectionary, it was Good Shepherd Sunday. All the readings pointed to and led up to the Gospel lesson from John where Jesus gives his talk about being the Good Shepherd (although the diviners of the lectionary put most of the emphasis today on the parts where he is the gate and the gatekeeper.) What in the world can anyone say about shepherds, gates and mothers? Thanks for the challenge because I can see a connection between my mom and this Gospel.
I was thinking about how a few weeks ago, at Easter, I felt very lonely, and I cried and cried and cried all day. Not exactly the response I would hope to have at Easter. But I was hit with empty space in my life that used to be filled by my mother's faithful phone call, gleefully announcing, "He is Risen!" With that gone, and the stark reality that it is now gone forever, I was devasted and almost inconsoluable. Almost. The thing that I realized, many tears and tissues later, was that my mom had also risen, and that she now was in a position of knowing better than ever the reality of Christ, the resurrected One. This thought helped to ease my own pain and give me some level of comfort that her life goes on in a way that I won't understand until my mortal life ends. Her faith in God and in God as Christ was very strong, and she could comprehend that the resurrection is our signal that life will not end; it only changes. So, in death, we are brought into a new round of life. And since she believed that, why wouldn't she still be proclaiming, "He is Risen!"?
And this is how I tie my mom into this idea of the shepherd. In many ways, my own faith was herded along by my mother's shepherding me in the Episcopal Church, and our rituals and traditions. She made sure that I knew as a child that while we celebrated Christmas and enjoyed those things that Santa would bring, I never lost sight of why we lit the candles on the Advent wreath, and went to church on Christmas Eve. Easter eggs were fun, but we'd have to get them done before the Easter Vigil, and we certainly weren't going to go looking for them until we had gone to church to hear how Mary looked into an empty tomb. Even during the years that I was in exile from the Episcopal Church, I was always quietly keeping the remembrance of the solemnity that comes with the Triduum. I would play J.S. Bach's "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" in my car on Good Friday. What better way for the "unchurched" to remain in touch with her tradition than to hear: "Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn/für unsere Sund gestorben" on Good Friday? Had the Christ Church choir, and my mother, never sung this piece, I would never have known to play it for myself. Had my mother not instilled in me a love of the church seasons, I probably wouldn't have given a damn about any of it. Her shepherding which, at times, did feel a little like getting poked with a rod to keep me moving along really did make a difference in my spiritual development. A fact that I have only come to realize in her death. Sad that I wasn't able to comprehend her contributuion sooner.
The relationship I had with my mother wasn't grounded in the secular traditions of Mother's Day. It's roots were in the Christian holidays. Mother's Day meant that we might get her something special, or find a funny card with dogs, but it wasn't a really big deal. Neither was Father's Day for my dad. I think, when you're lucky enough to have parents who are always with you and never divorced or separated, you find that your Mother's Days and Father's Days don't get defined by a greeting card company. They are strengthened by relationship, and the honor and respect doesn't get limited to one day of the year.
I've been OK, folks. Thanks for the concern.