Worship Leader: Pete Toot
Prelude: “Iona” Earth Prayers-Bill Douglas
Call to Worship:
Lighting of Candles
We light the first candle to honor the good and truth to be found in all spiritual traditions, including our own which is an enlightened Christianity based on the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.
We light the second candle to honor the earth and all of life as the creation of the Divine—the one Lord and God of us all.
We light the third candle to honor and support the variety of individual paths which, together, make our one spiritual community.
And finally we light the fourth candle to honor and provide an open and safe place for all who seek greater understanding and a life of deepening spirituality
Opening Hymn: “The Lullabye Song” words on back
Good and Gentle God, we pray in gratitude for our mothers and for all the women who have joined with you in the wonder of bringing forth new life. You, who became human through a woman, grant to all mothers the courage they need to face the uncertain future that life with children always brings.
Give them the strength to live and to be loved in return, not perfectly, but humanly. Give them the faithful support of husband, family and friends as they care for the physical and spiritual growth of their children. Give them joy and delight in their children to sustain them through the trials of motherhood. Most of all, give them the wisdom to turn to you for help when they need it most. Amen.
God you are our strength and our refuge. You are near to all who call upon you. Hear us now as we speak aloud or in silent prayer, feelings of gratitude or concern for ourselves, for friends and neighbors in illness or distress or for those whose lives span across the global community.
Genesis 1:26-27, 3:20
True Christian Religion 305-307 (Excerpts)
Message: “Mother of All Days”
Musical Interlude: “I Love You Lord” David Bauer
Closing Prayer: (In Unison)
May the Lord bless us with all good and keep us from all evil; may He gives light to our heart with loving wisdom, and be gracious to us with eternal knowledge; may he lift up his loving countenance upon us for eternal peace.
Closing: “Song of Peace”
Postlude: “Kyrie” Mr. Mister
Kýrie eléison: Lord Have Mercy
Music & Lyrics: Chris Williamson
© 1977, Bird Ankles Music All Rights Reserved
Like a ship in the harbor
Like a mother and child
Like a light in the darkness
I’ll hold you awhile
We’ll rock on the water
I’ll cradle you deep
And I’ll hold you while angels
Sing you to sleep.
We’ll rock on the water
I’ll cradle you deep
And I’ll hold you while angels
Sing you to sleep.
The Mother of All Days
A Mother’s Day Service
New Church of Montgomery
Sunday, May 9, 2010
The Mother of All Days
Good morning – and welcome to a Mothers’ Day service, maybe not a traditional one, but then, we’re not a very traditional group. I struggled with this one – thought it would be pretty easy – but there are a lot of things to say about mothers, and mothering, and Swedenborg has a unique perspective on gender anyway, so we’ll see how it turns out. The message title, “Mother of all Days” does not have the same kind of meaning as the “Mother of all Storms”, or the “Mother of all Excuses”, so it’s not like the biggest ever day you’ve ever seen. It’s more literal than that. But we’ll get to that in a little while.
We’re going to talk about several aspects of Mothers’ Day this morning, starting with the observation that if there’s one thing we have in common, we wouldn’t be here today without mothers. But there’s a dark side to Mothers’ Day as well. For some, motherhood is an accident; after all, it’s easier to become a mother than to be a good one. It is not always welcome. For some, though, it is not possible to become a mother. Many of us have lost our mothers, sometimes we have bad memories of our mothers or they really weren’t that nice. And while some mothers deserve and can accept gratitude for what they’ve done, others have found it tough work, are bitter, and are happy to have it behind them. So what’s the point of celebrating if it’s got so many negative possibilities?
For many of us mother was not perfect, or, speaking for you women if I may, we’re not perfect mothers either. Nor perfect fathers. What can be celebrated by all of us is the ideal of motherhood, which in our natural world of human relationships is a beautiful opportunity to provide caring and love to those who need it, a career of nurturing, and very much a part of the plan of creation.
Rev. Lee Woofenden, a Swedenborgian minister from the New England area, had this discovery –I’ll paraphrase what he says: “In the Hebrew language of the Old Testament the word [which in English is] ‘compassion’ comes from the root word, ‘womb’. The picture is of a birthing. Something new is being born. If I apply this in a human experience, it means that my compassionate acts always give the other person another chance. I do not hold past failures against them. I offer a “fresh start.” I want this for myself from others. Am I willing to give it to the other person? Such compassion will dramatically change the way we relate to each other.” He has identified a linguistic connection between the ultimate physical act of motherhood, giving birth, to nurturing not just their children, but anyone. Everyone who we build a relationship with. And compassionate behavior is not just an act by women, but by anyone. We can celebrate the women we have known who have given us care and guidance in our own development, whether our birth mothers, adoptive and adopted mothers, aunts, grandmothers, teachers, whoever has been there for us, but we should not leave out the mothers disguised as men, those sometimes hard to identify male creatures who actually go beyond their masculinity to provide, as well as they can, the love and nurture we couldn’t or didn’t get from anyone else.
But Mother’s Day can be even bigger than a celebration of the mothering people in our lives, it can open up a different perspective for us about just how vital motherhood is to us in a spiritual way. In the first reading from Genesis, there are two phrases that stand out for me, that if they weren’t so familiar would be startling: One is where it says “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” Who is this “Us”? It is not God and his buddies in the garage – it is God in the plural. The other phrase is where it says, one verse later, “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” It is hard to come to any conclusion about this statement other than God is male and female. At least this is about as satisfactory a concept as we humans can form, because God is not a male and a female, but One person, and not One person dually equipped, so to speak, but male and female together, or as we learned a week ago in our study group, the expression distinguishably one. In God maleness and femaleness cannot be separated. When it comes to people, it is debatable how well separated maleness and femaleness is as well.
Clearly we are each one or the other, though that is, medically and psychologically speaking, the general rule and we know there are ranges of masculinity and femininity in men and women, even if that does not fit a nice neat view of mankind. So are we each created in the whole image of God? What is the deal here? Why is God One and we are one or the other? Swedenborg has a lot to say about it, but I’m not well enough versed in the theology to go into much detail. But I can shed some light on this, enough for today’s purposes. The teachings say that God is Divine Love and Divine Wisdom. They speak of this as a marriage, and that marriage is the divine version of what we attempt to form in our marriages in this world. In effect, Swedenborg is saying that we as individuals are not whole persons, but need to be in relationship to approach wholeness. God the Creator is very high level model, if you’ll excuse the parallel, of a human couple, the procreator. It takes both man and woman to have motherhood, even if the woman gets to do all the work when it comes to childbirth. And if you try to pin Swedenborg down on which goes with which, that is male=wisdom, female=love, he says it is not that simple, for indeed each of us has both, but just as our bodies are arranged differently, men and women have different arrangements of love and wisdom in their spiritual structure.
What does this mean? For one thing, while men and women can do almost anything the other can, don’t expect it to be done in the same way. We shouldn’t expect the subtleties of behavior or motivation to be identical when the spiritual foundations that make us physically different are not the same. It is not a matter of upbringing, though that can be important, but more a fundamental characteristic that makes men and women complementary – we are designed to fit together. Swedenborg reported that at a distance, a married angel couple appears to be one person. But I’m not going to get into a gender discussion here, we can do that later.
So why talk about gender here at all? Because the essential human survival activity of women is childbirth, and from that comes an intimacy with the child that starts the nurturing, loving, guiding process we call motherhood. In the best case, it is a natural process, and men do not have the advantage of 9 months of exquisitely intimate pre-natal bonding reserved for women. Nor should they.
In the reading from True Christian Religion, which is a section explaining the Ten Commandments, we heard about the deeper meaning of the Fourth Commandment, to honor your father and your mother. In Secrets of Heaven, there is a similar discussion where he explains why this is the fourth commandment. The first two are about the worship of the Lord, and are the primary or greatest commandments. The third is about the Sabbath, and in a deeper sense the Sabbath “…signifies the union of the Divine Itself with the Divine Human in the Lord. After this follows the commandment concerning honoring parents, because by this is signified the love of the Lord and the consequent love of good and truth which are from the Lord. … [By] ‘father’ is meant the Lord, and by ‘mother’ is meant His kingdom. “ Swedenborg points out that in the Word ‘mother’ is used to mean the church, or the kingdom on earth, which is sometimes also called the ‘wife’ or the ‘bride’ of the Lord.
That brings us full circle to the earlier observations about motherhood and compassion. We can talk about the esoteric structure of heaven and how male and female correspondences are essential to it and, through the continuous act of creation these same attributes flow into us natural human beings, but to bring it back to our everyday environment here, our piece of the church, our congregation, our extended community centered here, is a center for compassionate action. We have here a community which is designed – designed not by us, but by God through the inherent inner meaning of church – designed so within it we can practice our compassion, and accept compassion. Where we can reach outside ourselves to make those “fresh starts” Lee Woofenden spoke of, to birth and care for new relationships, and to make old relationships new.
The Creator is the greatest mother (and father) of all. From God is made all of time and space, the kindergarten we call the universe. God is the architect of the universe (or perhaps universes), and in that sense is the mother of all things, of all places, of all seasons, of all days. We are cradled in this finite little place called Earth that sustains our bodies, giving us nourishment; bathed in the light and heat of the sun. We wake up, act out a day of life, and rest. Over and over. We do this because each day is an opportunity to love one another wisely, to make all the things we touch new, to exercise motherhood through compassionate acts. So, in the spirit of honoring that motherhood: To God, to the Earth, to our church community, and to all of you, have a happy and full Mothers’ Day. May we all strive well to meet the demands for care and love that motherhood calls us to. Today, and tomorrow, and the next day. Amen.