Sunday, June 12, 2022

Hurt People Hurt People

REFLECTION ON CHANGES IN ME

Rev. Kit Ketcham, PRIDE 2022

Pacific UU Fellowship, June 12, 2022


            Talking about sexual orientation and gender identity was a huge NoNo when I was a school counselor in Colorado back in the 80’s and 90’s.  I was so na├»ve that it took a long time for me to realize that there was something really wrong about that.

            The change in me began when my college friend Fern came out to me after a suicide attempt.  It began to grow when I attended an in-service put on by PFLAG, an in-service designed for counselors in our district, where I saw that the president of the local chapter was the mother of two of my students.

           It took another leap forward when a gutsy 9th grade girl sat defiantly in my office, perhaps thinking I was going to scold her, and said “Yes, I am a lesbian and I’m in a relationship with another girl.  So?”

            Leap after leap kept me changing my understandings and my attitudes toward a group of people that had been unfamiliar to me, except in terms of stereotypes.

       There were Brooke and Robert and Nikki, talking about their suicide thoughts.  There was Marilyn, our school psychologist, who trusted me enough to come out to me, at a time when she could be fired for being Out.  There was Harold who became Carol and who asked female friends to help her become more feminine.  There was 9th grader Don, whose birth name was Donna, and who kept his birth gender a secret from his girlfriend.

            In seminary, there were numerous fellow divinity students who were gay or lesbian or trans and had to stay in the closet because of church laws which forbade their ordination or even membership in the church body.

            Luckily, my own church, my denomination, Unitarian Universalism, has been open to so-called “sexual minorities” for several decades, and I found I had strong church support when I voiced my concerns about gays, lesbians, and trans folk who were being rejected by their own religious traditions.

          So I collaborated with my minister at that time, the Rev. Robert Latham, to bring a group of singers from the Denver mixed chorus “Harmony” to present songs from David Maddox’s “Boys and Girls With Stories”. 

This was the summer of 1994, when HIV/AIDS was decimating men in the gay community and fear and sorrow ran rampant in both gays and straights.

          We put the word out in the local newspaper and when I looked out at the congregation the morning of the service with Harmony, I realized that my life had truly changed dramatically. 

“Gayness” was no longer an abstract concept.  In the congregation that morning were friends who had dared to attend, despite the danger of outing themselves publicly by doing so, friends I had not known were gay.  I realized I could not ever ignore that pain again.

            Initially, it was students who needed to talk, colleagues who needed me to keep confidentiality, and then, when I thought hard about the fact that my dear friends Jan and Chris, who had been together for over 40 years did not have the human right to be married, another change began to burn in my heart.

            I am thrilled to have been part of the sea change that occurred in June of 2015---seven years ago---when the Supreme Court ruled that the marriages of same-sex couples must be recognized by the state. 

And I choked up when I heard the pastor of their Lutheran church utter these words to my friends Dave and Ervin:  “And now by the power invested in me by the State, I pronounce you husband and husband, partners for life”.

Now, when I marry two women or two men, I also say those thrilling words:  “and now by the power invested in me by the state of Oregon….” What a long time it has been, in coming.

My life has been changed radically by my growing understanding of the challenges of being gay or bi or trans or lesbian or questioning or intersex or non-binary.  Because I stepped into that stream of awareness---awareness of the pain and the joy and the need for justice---my life has been transformed and I am happier and ever more grateful for those experiences.

Nowadays, we need to look back with gratitude for the strength and courage of what I think of as the Stonewall Generation, the Elders in the Q community who survived the abuse, oppression, exclusion, and the HIV/AIDs crisis of earlier cultural times, and made it safer to come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, trans, intersex, non-binary, and questioning.

Those who now have the freedom to express their gender and sexual identities can thank those Elders for doing so much of the work to lay down the foundations of Pride.

It’s important for all of us to remember that “Hurt people hurt people”.  

We all have deep wounds, whether gay or straight and we need to teach ourselves to respond to others out of a loving heart and gratitude for the chance to be oneself.  It was not always so easy.



Sunday, June 05, 2022

Flowers for Our Fathers

 

 

FLOWERS FOR OUR FATHERS

Rev. Kit Ketcham, June 15, 2022


            On Fathers’ Day and Mothers’ Day, we honor the parents who gave us life, whether those parents are our kin by blood, by adoption, by marriage, by affinity, such as a favored teacher, or by preference for a beloved adult.

            When my son was a toddler, he received child care from a family in our church, Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colorado.  Bruce and Judy Douglass had a little boy about Mike’s age and a baby girl on the way, so Mike had a playmate in their son Scott and a baby on the horizon. 

            We weren’t sure what Mike should call these friends who took such a prominent role in his young life, but the boys quickly figured out that they had a Mama Kit and a Mama Judy and a Daddy Larry and a Daddy Bruce.  

            As Mike got older and began to bring friends around, I became Mumsy to Aaron and a couple of other boys, and we all graduated to being Mom Kit, Mom Judy, Dad Bruce, Dad Larry.  This, of course, was about the time Mike started walking 15 feet ahead of me or behind me when we had to go shopping for school clothes and he disappeared entirely when we entered the underwear department.

            Being Mom Kit and Mumsy to young boys made me acutely aware of my responsibilities as a parent.  And as single parents, my former husband and I took very seriously the fracture in our family and tried to shield our son from the worst of it.  But it changed our roles to some extent.  We had to stand in for the other parent on many occasions, particularly with discipline, and it was tough. 

            I like to think we managed about as well as it could be done; we lived in houses within walking or biking distance and Mike saw each of us just about daily.  But it wasn’t at all easy and I got a whole new appreciation for what fathers contribute to a child’s growth and maturity.  I could see clearly what my own father had done for me.

            When I started seminary in 1995, I was faced with the need to come to terms with many of the religious ideas I’d been brought up with, as well as the roles that had been instilled in me with that religious upbringing.  I needed to find my own ways of interpreting the gifts of that upbringing and discarding the ones I could no longer use.

            Many of my understandings of religion and sacred texts came from my father, the Baptist minister.  I strove to please him and, as the first surviving child in our branch of the Ketcham family, I enjoyed a close relationship with him. 

         My dad had grown up in northern Missouri with parents who had little education.  His father had had a hunting accident that destroyed his left hand, where he wore a steel hook for the rest of his life.  This injury made it impossible for him to continue to work as a railroad gandy dancer, but he had seven children and no other means of support.  So in about 1920, he turned to moonshine, commandeering my dad and his older brother into being delivery boys.

            My grandmother got nervous about her 12 year old son tangling with the revenooers and wangled my grandfather’s permission for my father, at this young age, to take a three day train ride, all alone, from Missouri to Pinedale, Wyoming, where he went to high school and learned to be a cowboy on a ranch in the Green River valley. 

            To me, my dad was kind of a romantic figure, leaving a life of poverty and making a new life for himself and, later, for the whole Ketcham family, who eventually came to Wyoming to join him.  To be my dad’s “pal” and go fishing and to learn from him to saddle and ride a horse was the highest of honors for me.

            By the time I went to seminary, however, he had been dead for 25 years and I had diverged seriously from that early Baptist path.  I had never discussed my changes of belief with him before his death and had to make peace with our differences without any conversation to struggle through. 

            My mother had expressed her concern for my changes, my aunt was sure my dad was spinning in his grave, and I had a lot of baggage around religion and family when I entered Iliff School of Theology in 1995.

            So I felt a little wary about studying the Bible, which was a required course of study for all students.  I was pretty sure I didn’t know everything there was to know about the Bible, but though I liked some of what I knew, I was very uneasy about other passages and stories. 

            And it bothered me a lot that many people whom I loved dearly believed the Bible was the literal, inerrant, totally true Word of God, straight from the mouth and heart of the Creator who put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Like My Dear Dad.

            Getting ready to enter seminary, I was both excited to have scholarly men and women unfolding the meaning of such passages as a 6-day creation story, a water into wine story, and a bodily resurrection story and worried that perhaps even these learned professors would say that the stories were literally true. 

             I need not have been concerned. My Hebrew Bible professor was a top scholar in his field, a master of both the Hebrew and Greek languages, skilled in presenting the research that has gone on for centuries to reveal the culture and history of those ancient times, and a really funny man to boot.

            He unfolded for our class the mysteries of this set of books, supposedly sent by God yet bearing evidence of several different very human authors and editors.

            For example, in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the writing style, the use of different terms for God, chunks of text that seem to have been inserted later by an editor, all betray different minds working to set down in writing the worldview of a prehistoric people who knew nothing of science but did know how to shape a creation story into something meaningful for that culture.

            We learned that there were actually two very different creation stories, one in which it took 6 days to set the universe and earth and living creatures in place, and another in which humans are created first. In this second story, the first man and woman receive names: Adam, which signifies “everyman” and Eve, which means “Mother of all living”. These then were symbolic names, not actual monikers. And the two stories seemed to indicate that there were at least two different story-tellers.

            We learned about the context in which the purity laws in Hebrew scripture are distinctly apropos to those ancient times and reflect the ways by which a beleaguered people maintained their distinctiveness as a community and discouraged any act which did not further this cohesiveness.

            The punitive nature of these purity laws, which have often been used against sexual minorities, women, and children, was a factor of the times in which those early people lived and clearly out of place in our culture today.    At the same time, other laws reflected universal human moral precepts: don’t steal, don’t covet others’ property or partners, don’t murder, take time to rest, honor your elders.

            We learned to “unpack” the passages of the Bible to reveal the culture and mores of the writer, to find the original meanings of words and put them together to understand what the author meant by his or her words, to reveal the structure of the society in which the author lived, and to find meaning in it for our time, where possible.

            We learned to look at scripture metaphorically, not literally, and I have to tell you, this was hard for some of our more conservative classmates, some of whom bailed out and went down the street to the Southern Baptist seminary nearby.

            When we had completed our term of study of the Hebrew Bible, we turned to the Christian New Testament. Our professor was a young woman, an observant Conservative Jew whose doctoral thesis had been on the years linking the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian scriptures.

            She too was a challenging and stimulating teacher, unfolding the differences in theology within the first four books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

            We learned that these books had been written up to 100 years after Jesus died, that they were similar in some places and very different in others, that the names of their authors were probably not actually Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John but that these names had been given to lend their stories credibility.

            Each author had a particular bias about Jesus’ life and told the story with a certain slant, emphasizing certain aspects over others. In some, there is no birth story or the birth story is very different from the others; in some there is a resurrection story; in each book, some details are identical to the other books and other details are different.

           During our yearlong journey in understanding the Bible not only as traditionally sacred literature but also as a guide to early religious and social culture, we learned the skill of “exegesis”, a term that refers to the critical analysis or interpretation of a word or a passage, particularly of religious texts.

            There are several lenses to use in analyzing a text. I was reminded while writing this of just how complex this task can be, dissecting a text for its historical context, its original sources, its setting and the traditions of that setting, its unique message, the meaning of its story and who its author might be, the ethical implications of the text and the comparison of it to our own time and place in history.

           Each term, we were assigned the task of “exegeting” a passage from the scripture we were studying.   At the end of one term, we had been assigned to choose one of the methods of exegesis we’d studied, take one of the Psalms, and explain it, amplify it, unpack it using that method.

            Because this particular assignment became very important to me, I’d like to share part of it with you because it affected my sense of my father and his meaning in my life.  I had chosen the “personal” method of exegesis, relating a text to my own personal life.  (PAUSE)

            I’d been sitting at my kitchen table with books and journal articles piled around me, studying Psalm 121. I’d read it over and over, enjoying the poetry of the King James version instead of our more prosaic study RSV. Let me read it to you in the KJV text:


I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.

He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.

Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.

The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.   

The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

 

            I’d always thought these words were beautiful yet in my post-modern skeptical frame of mind, I’d dismissed their literal meaning, and then …

            As I sat at the kitchen table, looking over my stack of articles and notes, trying to find the right approach, one that was scholarly but also personally meaningful to me, unbidden music came into my thoughts, as it often does when I’m pondering.

            An old Sunday School song: “Safe am I, safe am I, in the hollow of his hand; sheltered o’er, sheltered o’er, with his love forevermore. No ill can harm me, no foe alarm me, for he keeps both day and night. Safe am I, safe am I, in the hollow of his hand.”

            The song sang itself over and over. I closed my eyes and tried to let myself feel where it was coming from. 

            …….Noise in my ears, a roaring. Rain down the back of my neck, my wet sneakers desperately trying to find a toehold on the steep slope. A long way down to rocky Crescent beach beneath me, the sound of sobbing, and a deep voice----“hang on, honey, Daddy’s coming”.

            My father’s gasping breaths, his anxious face, and then his strong arm scooping me up and carrying me bodily up the ocean cliff to the safety of the path there at Ecola State Park, as the rest of my family hurried up the trail to us.

           We had been walking on Crescent Beach when someone commented that we needed to be careful because the tide was coming in and we could easily be cut off and stranded by the rising water. I had panicked, as six-year-olds will, and had, in my fright, climbed halfway up a steep, grassy cliff before getting stuck--unable to go up or down--and clinging precariously to wet hummocks of slippery seagrass.

            My father’s quick action and strength had rescued me from terror and possibly serious injury, and as he held me tight, once we were safe, it seemed as though a miracle had occurred.

            At the top of the headland, my mother scolded and hugged me, while my sister looked on wide-eyed. My father leaned against a tree and tried to breathe. The desperate trip had cost him dearly. “Merritt, are you all right?” my mother was alarmed.

            “I’m not sure--let me rest a minute. I can hardly breathe and my chest hurts. But Betsy's okay, that’s the important thing.”  

 

Psalm 121, a child’s version

“I lift up my eyes to the hills,

Where is someone to help me?

My help comes from my father who is coming for me,

He will not let me slip from the cliff,

He is always alert to his child,

He who keeps me will neither slumber nor sleep.

He will keep me safe,

He will protect me from the terrors of the day and of the night.

He will protect me from all evil, he will save my life.

He will carry me to the path, he will be my help forevermore.”

 

            My father acted in the same way that your own fathers were likely to act, when you were in danger.  You yourself may have had occasion to save your own child’s life, or the life of another person.  What does a child learn from this behavior from a father or a father figure?

            I believe that I learned to trust because of my father’s faithfulness to me and my family.  I learned that I was worthy of the risks he took to carry me up that steep slope,(and if you’ve ever looked over the edge at Crescent Beach below the Ecola State Park lookout, you know how steep it was).

             I learned many things from watching my father, over the years.  I learned resilience and faith in my own ability to do hard things.  I learned to love unconditionally.  I learned to emulate my father’s passion for public service.  I also learned that ministry was a hard profession and that I needed to take care of myself so that it didn’t kill me, as the stress eventually took a toll on my father.  I learned to think independently and to be my true self.

            What have you learned from your father?  We learn valuable lessons from both the positive and negative behaviors of our fathers.  My dad was the target of his angry father’s belt and he learned that he never wanted to strike his child, for any reason.  He spanked me once when I was young and it upset him so badly he never did it again.           

            I invite you to think about the learnings you received from your father or from a father figure in your life and speak them out after a few moments of reflection.  What did you learn from your father?  (Cong. response)

            Thank you.  Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.


BENEDICTION:  Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place.  Let us go in peace, remembering the lessons we received from our fathers and our father figures.  May we use the negative lessons to grow in wisdom and may we use the positive lessons to offer greater love to the world.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.


 

 


Thursday, June 02, 2022

Nighttime Worries

 I woke up about 3 to go to the bathroom this morning and when I went back to bed, I was beset by the worry that someday I might die at home at night and that nobody would notice that I hadn’t left the house and would not come to check on me.  Not only would I be dead, but Lily would be frantic with hunger and thirst and anxiety and would have no way of signaling for help.

I couldn’t go back to sleep and kept struggling with this worry, devising possible scenarios which would prevent or remedy the situation.  I couldn’t think of anything that would save Lily’s life, if I weren’t found for several days.  She might yowl loudly, but could she be heard from her back bedroom?  Not likely.


So I got up, just to give myself something else to do and in the middle of getting ready for the day, feeding her, opening her favorite windows, etc., it came to me:  the chances of this happening to me are extremely small; I am more likely to be killed in a car accident or some such.  I don’t agonize over car accidents; I don’t need to agonize over this death scenario.  It might happen but it is MORE LIKELY that it will not happen, that Lily will die before I do, and that I can safely remember this comforting thought:  IT IS HIGHLY UNLIKELY THAT I WILL DIE SUDDENLY AND WITHOUT WARNING AND WILL LEAVE LILY UNCARED FOR.  I am a conscientious cat mama; I do all I can to make her life with me safe and comfortable.  That’s about all I can do.  Amen.


PS.  If you notice that I haven’t left the house in several days, please check on me!  Lily is in the back bedroom with her litter box.  Thanks.

Monday, May 09, 2022

 Gifts from our Mothers and our Other-Mothers

By Rev. Kit Ketcham, May 8, 2022


Interesting, isn’t it, the juxtaposition of the Supreme Court’s draft on abortion rights and a day honoring the role of Mothers, mothers who may not have had access to birth control or control of their own bodies.  I’m not going to address that issue now but it will doubtless be open season during coffee hour!

 

It’s taken me a long time since my mother’s death in 1994 to understand better my relationship with her, a relationship that often made me feel guilty that I wasn’t more patient with her, that I didn’t come to visit her more often, that I couldn’t be with her as she was dying.

 

And yet it was also a relationship of great joy, times spent walking down country roads in the Klickitat River valley while gazing at Mount Adams in the distance and smelling the sagebrush, times spent with her and my son on a long crosscountry trip through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, intense Scrabble and Boggle games when she would chortle gleefully over her phenomenal scores—and my pitiful ones.

 

As we aged, she into health crises of major significance and I into single parenthood and career changes, our roles shifted. Her caretaking of me over my lifetime morphed from the normal Mom duties of wiping noses, administering kaopectate, mopping up tears, reassuring teenage angst, and comforting a newly-single, once-married daughter; ….

eventually her caretaking was evidenced more in her willingness to weed my Denver gardens, vacuum my dusty floors, clean my grimy kitchen, pray for my return to the Baptist fold.

 

My relationship with her moved from dependence on her mothering to impatience with her lack of understanding of my life, of my religious changes, of my parenting techniques, and of my fondness for one boyfriend or another, for she never felt they were worthy of me.

 

It also eventually became a relationship which required me to take care of her the best I could from my faraway home in Colorado. Impatience with her became fear of losing her, a sense of obligation that I must do what I could to be present for her---and for my family members upon whose shoulders her care eventually fell. I needed to make amends to her for many lapses in my daughterly duties: that familiar impatience, resentment of her pleas that I return to my childhood faith, my own efforts to make HER see the light of truth and reason.

 

My relationship with my mother may have many of the same characteristics of your relationship with your mother, whether your mother is alive or not. I invite you, for a moment or two in silence, to consider the trajectory of your relationship with your mother or the mother figure in your life, whether a biological relationship exists or not. (silence)

 

Mother’s Day is one of those tough holidays during the church year that causes a preacher to dig deep for a new way of observing it, for it is a holiday that has been commercialized way beyond its original meaning, a meaning stated so eloquently in our antiphonal reading of Julia Ward Howe’s Mothers’ Day Proclamation.

 

In addition, some of us have had wonderful experiences with our mothers and others of us have had very painful years because of a mother who was unable to fulfill her role well.

 

We depend so much on those who mother us! We depend on them for all the tasks that accompany children and youths: the feeding, clothing, cleaning up, teaching, encouraging, nurturing, training, accompanying, shaping, guarding, approving, disapproving. Though others share these tasks---thank you to big sisters, big brothers, fathers, and other adults---mothers are often the ones who do the most. And, of course, pregnancy and birth are one-woman jobs, though usually with a lot of help.

 

When we move into those mothering roles ourselves, whether as birth mothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, all those female roles of nurture and shaping, we tend to mother the way our mothers mothered us. Even men who take on nurturing roles often find themselves behaving like their own mothers on occasion.

 

I remember one time, when my son was small and being annoying in that sort-of-innocent little-boy way, my yelling at him, the way my mother sometimes had yelled at me, “you ornery whelp! I’m going to rip off your leg and beat you over the head with the bloody stump!”

 

 Astonished, he puddled up and began to cry a little bit, not knowing that I was joking, in the way my mother used to joke when she was fed to the gills with our rambunctiousness and needed to say something shocking but entirely impossible.

 

To young Mike, HIS mom, I, was completely capable of ripping off his leg, at least in fantasy! Oh boy, did I ever have to backpedal!  It has occurred to me to wonder where MY mother got that memorable and shocking phrase!  Possibly from her Viking roots as full-blooded Scandinavian!

 

But what happens when we approach our mothering job after having been raised by a mother who really couldn’t do the tasks of motherhood, whether from illness or a rotten upbringing herself or addictions or any number of the plagues of human living?

 

We may have been lucky enough to have a different mother figure to learn from or we may have turned to our father for the nurture our mother couldn’t give. And we stumbled along as best we could, using our own negative experiences as guideposts for what NOT to do.

 

Some of us have been pretty angry with our mothers; we may have told them so or we may have kept it inside, only sharing the positive feelings we had or withdrawing so that we wouldn’t express our hurt. Some of us have used our mothers’ behavior to learn new ways of being in relationship with children, unwilling to risk making the same mistakes. Some of us have been leery of motherhood and not sure we should take on the role. 

Some of us mother other people’s children, sometimes in addition to our own. Some of us would love to be mothers but have not yet had that chance.

 

Most of us, probably, can name the many gifts our mothers gave us, both the positive ones and the negative ones. For a gift’s meaning depends on how we use it.

 

Our mothers teach us self-sufficiency in many areas and many ways; some of those are the traditional roles of womanhood---housekeeping, nurturing children, dealing with relationships with men, with other women, with siblings. Some of her ways were helpful and others were not.

 

We learn from their example, both the good example and the bad. We may find ourselves living out our mother’s foibles and catch ourselves just in time to avoid the behaviors we deplored in her. Or not!

 

What have been the gifts our mothers gave us? I invite you again into a time of silence to think about the gifts our mothers offered, the gifts we received joyfully, the gifts we rejected because they were inappropriate, the gifts we have transformed from something negative into something positive. (silence)

 

As I think about the gifts my mother gave me, I am most struck by the gift of JOY, her firm belief that life was good, that there was plenty of love to go around, and that happiness was a natural state of being.

 She also gave me the gift of scolding me for saying I was bored and teaching me to look inside myself and at the world outside myself to find interesting things to see and experience. She gave me the negative gift of being deeply, continuously disappointed in my choice of religious beliefs, and I learned how important it is to respect others’ religious paths.

 

Just for a moment, I’d like to give you a chance to say your mother’s gift aloud. Just call out the name of the gift, whether it was an attitude, a material gift, a deed, a skill, whatever it was. If the gift was negative, see if you can find the silver lining there. Go ahead----say it! And it doesn’t matter if you say the same things or if you say them at the same time. It is a way of honoring our mothers and their gifts.

 

Many of us are lucky enough to have mothers living, even living with us or close by and experiencing an entirely different kind of relationship than we did when we lived together as a young family. There is something appropriate about that cycle of living, in which the caretaker becomes the taken-care-of and the child becomes the caretaker. It’s often not a comfortable place to be, for either person, and yet great joy is available in that changed relationship.

 

When my mother was living in a retirement facility and then in assisted living in Longview WA, we had a chance to see her in a different way. My siblings and I wondered how she would survive the challenges of institutional living after being independent for so many years and we worried about her ability to communicate after several small strokes left her mostly wordless.

 

But despite her aphasia, her inability to utter intelligible speech, she found other ways of communicating. She immediately found friends at the assisted living facility, she expressed herself with hugs and touches, smiles, tears. She miraculously could remember and sing lustily all the words to the old hymns and carols, even adding her strong alto part at the Christmas concert the care facility put on.

 

We saw her then in a whole new way, this woman who had survived so many of life’s challenges and great sorrows: the loss of her mother at an early age, her father’s painful death from cancer, the loss of two stillborn babies before I came along, the chronic illness of her beloved husband, my father, my heretical religious beliefs and commitments, the failed marriages of all three of her children, loneliness and pain and ill health.

 

We saw her make joy out of almost nothing. We saw her continue to love---to love us and our children, to love her new companions also at the far edges of their lives, to love music and singing and visiting favorite places. We saw her give thanks continuously---to her God, whom she saw as close by and accessible, to us for our love and care, to the nurses and staff members who cared for her, to the friends who visited and took her to church and made sure she was not lonely. What an example for us to follow!

 

And then she died. Not unexpectedly, not in great pain, but one day she was awake and responsive, the next day unconscious, almost the next day, gone.

 

The death of our mother is one of the greatest losses we humans endure. Whether she was a good or a notsogood parent, whether she gave us what we needed from her or failed us badly, whether she was joyous or depressed, thankful or ungrateful, nurturing or needy, her death creates a hole in our lives.

 

A familiar relationship, a long-lived pattern has ended, at least in physical form. How do we deal with that loss? How do we make it as meaningful as possible? How do we cope with the fact that so much still needs to be repaired or acknowledged between us, though time has run out?

 

I invite us to take another few moments of silence to consider this important moment in all of our lives. For some of us it has occurred; for others, it is yet to be. And before the silence, let me offer these ideas:

 

If there is pain because of unresolved issues, if there is relief at her release from illness and old age, if there is fear about the future, if there is joy about her life, if there is a desire to make things better, let these feelings and thoughts come to mind, acknowledge them, and let them go, for the present. You can come back to them later.

 

If there is guilt because we were not the best possible sons and daughters, if there is satisfaction because we know we did the best we could, if there is anger, if there is grief, if there is hope for reconciliation, let these feelings and thoughts come to mind, acknowledge them and let them go, for the present. You can come back to them later.

 

Let us be still together as we consider the loss of our mothers. (Silence)

 

We are who we are, in great part, because of our mothers, because of who they were and who their mothers were. We are who we are because of who our mothers chose to be our fathers; we are who we are because of the genetic makeup we inherited, the family constellation in which we grew up, the communities we inhabited.

 

We do with our own true natures what we have learned from our mothers and fathers. And where those lessons were negative, we have the ability to turn those dark times into silver linings.

 

As Veja and I talked about this service, I asked her for her thoughts about her mother, who died several years ago, and who I had the privilege of meeting.  And she answered that she was even more deeply aware of her mother’s unconditional love and how much she is like her mother, with a greater appreciation of her mother’s gifts of strength and love.  She credits her mother for her own resilience and strength while facing aging and loss.

 

I no longer have my mother’s presence, but I have my mother’s spirit deeply embedded in my heart. She influences my behavior even now, as I understand how hard it is to parent an adult child without impinging upon his selfhood as a father, husband, and friend.

 

Let’s think now about the tasks of being mothered.  If there are unresolved issues between you and your living mother, do what you can to resolve them, kindly and with the understanding gained from your years of experience. For she will not always be alive but she will always be part of your life.

 

If she is already gone, consider writing her a letter, perhaps forgiving her lapses, perhaps accepting the gifts she was able to give, perhaps apologizing for your own mistakes and reassuring her and yourself of your love for each other. Then keep that letter and reread it occasionally to remind yourself of the many gifts of the life she gave you.

 

These actions can bring peace if your heart is troubled by your relationship with your mother; you will have done what you can do and then you can let go of some of that sorrow. It may be worth the effort.

 

We’ve been pretty serious and we are in a national time of turmoil and conflict about motherhood.  Here are some quotations from mothers that may make us laugh.


GIFTS FROM MY MOTHER

My mother taught me TO APPRECIATE A JOB WELL DONE .

"If you're going to kill each other, do it outside. I just finished cleaning."

My mother taught me RELIGION.
"you better pray that will come out of the carpet."

My mother taught me LOGIC.
" Because I said so, that's why."

 My mother taught me ADVANCED LOGIC .
"If you fall out of that swing and break your neck, you're not going to the store with me."

My mother taught me FORESIGHT.
"Make sure you wear clean underwear, in case you're in an accident."

 My mother taught me about CONTORTIONISM.
"Will you look at that dirt on the back of your neck?

 My mother taught me about GARDENING.

“You could grow potatoes in those ears of yours!”

 My mother taught me about WEATHER.
"This room of yours looks as if a tornado went through it."

 My mother taught me about HYPERBOLE.
"If I told you once, I've told you a million times. Don't exaggerate!"

 My mother taught me about ANTICIPATION.
"Just wait until we get home."
My mother taught me about RECEIVING .
"You are going to get it when you get home!"

 My mother taught me OPHTHALMOLOGY. 

"If you don't stop crossing your eyes, they are going to get stuck that way."

 My mother taught me HOW TO BECOME AN ADULT .
"If you don't eat your vegetables, you'll never grow up."

 My mother taught me GENETICS.
"You're just like your father."

 My mother taught me about my ROOTS.
"Shut that door behind you. Do you think you were born in a barn?"

 My mother taught me WISDOM.
"When you get to be my age, you'll understand."

 And finally, my mother taught me about JUSTICE.
Honey," she said, "you deserve that kid."

 

Let’s take a time of silence in honor of all who extend care.

 

BENEDICTION: Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering our mothers with love and forgiveness, remembering our own efforts to offer mothering to those who need it and forgiving ourselves our lapses. Let us remember as well the many women and men who want children of their own and do not yet have them. May their hearts be eased. May we find joy and growth in the lessons learned from our many, many mothers and may we give our own gifts to the children in our lives. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.