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Laetare Pops, Moms and Mother Churches

Laetare Pops, Moms and Mother Churches 

A Reflection for Mothering Sunday
Fr Steven Young, 14 March 2021

Look what I found! Limited Edition Strawberry and White Choc Flavour Coco Pops.
Turn your milk rose coloured just in time for Laetare Sunday!

This Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent in the Western Christian Liturgical Calendar we have a reprieve from the otherwise austere period of Lent. This Sunday gets its name from the first few words of the traditional Latin entrance of the Mass of the day “Laetare Jerusalem” (“Rejoice, O Jerusalem”) from Isaiah 66:10.

This Sunday is also known as Mothering Sunday. Priests are given the option to wear rose-coloured vestments in place of the violet vestments normally worn during this day. As you can see from the photo our curate Heather has taken full advantage of this and purchased her own rose coloured chasuble from that great liturgical supplier… Ebay.
Heather Betts, you look fab. 
We hope that she will wear it whenever she presides on Laetare Sunday or indeed the only other day rose vestments can be worn “Gaudate Sunday” the equivalent day of refreshment on the Third Sunday Advent.

It’s easy to forget that Mothering Sunday is a day of not only honouring mothers but also mother churches – in this context, one’s mother church was either the church where one was baptised, the local parish church, or the nearest cathedral (the latter being the mother church of all the parish churches in a diocese), in the case of St Michael’s Mill Hill this is St Paul’s Cathedral, where we are prayed for by name at least once a year in the Cathedral during evensong.  Historically, domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mother church, usually with their own mothers and other family members. Anyone who did this was commonly said to have gone “mothering” a term recorded as early as 1644.

Mother’s day is much later invention and technically speaking it’s a completely unrelated American Event invented by a woman called Anna Jarvis in 1908, who incidentally was actually very much against the commercialisation of Mother’s Day and started organising boycotts of the event she herself created – at one such event she even managed to get arrested for disturbing the peace!

In this reflection I want to share why it is so important that we don’t lose the dual aspect of Mothering Sunday.  Our relationship to earthly and spiritual ancestors is inextricably linked.

I was listening this week to a reflection by Tich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Thien Buddhist monk, peace activist, and founder of The Plum Village Tradition.  Nhat Hanh has published over 100 books in English which have sold over 5 million copies worldwide and he is the founder of the largest monastic order in the West which is based in the Dordogne in Southwest France.

In his reflection Nhat Hanh described how many people would visit the monastery because they were looking for truth and beauty but many found it hard to receive love because they were alienated from not only their earthly ancestors but also their spiritual tradition. In many cases, these people would be on very bad terms with their parents but may also have rejected or felt alienated from, the spiritual tradition they had been brought up in; whether that be Christianity, Judaism or any other faith.

Nhat Hanh says that this lack of reconciliation with our earthly and spiritual families creates a kind of rootlessness which left unchecked will affect every area of our lives. I am mindful that Mothering Sunday, will feel like a very different day for those who are on good terms with their parents, or have fond memories of their parents, than it will be for those to whom this may not be the case. Equally, we are unlikely to pay a visit to our "Mother Church" if we have felt rejected or alienated from our faith tradition.
Although I am very fortunate to have a great relationship with both of my parents from whom I am privileged to feel a sense of as close to unconditional love and acceptance as any human being can offer, despite being an ordained priest I have often felt a profound sense of alienation from my “Mother Church”.  There have been times when I have felt so angry with the leadership of the church that it has greatly affected my happiness and caused me to treat others and myself in a way that has not led to anyone’s flourishing.

The practice of mindful looking may be very helpful in order for us to understand not only our parents but the people who represent our tradition.  Once there is understanding there can be the possibility of reconciliation, even if to protect ourselves we have to limit, or even permanently cease contact with another, we can grow towards doing so in a state of compassionate reconciliation which will help us to heal.  This can apply equally to people of our faith tradition as to our mothers and fathers.

Nhat Hanh tells the story of a young man who came to spend time at the monastery. He was so angry with his father to the point that even after his Father’s death he still could not reconcile with him.  Nhat Hanh helped him to look deeply by teaching him the Emptiness of Transmission; a way of looking deeply to recognise that you are one with your parents – you are a continuation of your parents. Getting angry with your parents is to get angry at yourself.

Nhat Hanh taught the young man “to reconcile with your father is to reconcile with yourself”.

The young man put a picture of his Father on his desk and put a little a lamp next to it – every time he sat down at the desk he would first look in eyes of his father and practice breathing in and out and to touch the fact that he is only a continuation of his father. He realised the fact that his father was not capable of transmitting the seeds of love and trust that lie deep in his consciousness because he did not have the capacity to do so. He was not helped by anyone to touch these seeds in order for them to get nourishment. And of course the seeds of trust and love in him were covered up by so many layers of suffering and when you have become aware of that you can start to forgive. You can start to understand.

Nhat Hanh teaches a wonderful guided meditation on the five-year-old boy. Breathing in I see myself as a five year old boy or girl. Breathing out I smile to that five-year old boy or girl who is me and that you practice for one or two weeks. A five year old or girl is always very vulnerable, very fragile. A stern look may already hurt him or her. A shout may already hurt him or her. That is why we are very fragile when we are five. If you see yourself as a five year old boy like that and if you breathe out and smile to you that smile will be the smile of compassion and understanding.

Two weeks later Nhat Hanh gave him the other half of the practice. Breathing in, he was asked to see his father as the five-year old boy. Breathing out he was asked to smile to the five-year-old boy that was my father.

Maybe you have not imagined that your father could be a five-year old boy, but he was a five year old boy. He had been a five year old boy and if you are capable of breathing in and seeing your father as a five year old boy you would see that he is also fragile vulnerable to get hurt easily and he may be like you the victim of his grandfather and practice like that smiling to that five-year old boy with compassion.

One day you understand that your father is also a victim that is why he was not capable of nourishing himself with the seed of love and trust.  We can do the same of course with our mothers or anyone else with whom we find it difficult to reconcile. This does not mean that we return to unsafe situations, those who have been harmed by another should always protect themselves from abuse. But even a situation of non-contact can be continued in a state of peace and compassion which will helped the survivor to heal. Without this healing the most painful possibility is that when we have our own children we continue what Buddhists call the cycle of Samsara and suffering. We are more likely to cause pain to our own children.
This week I was in a situation where I choose to practice this technique. I was in a meeting with a number of people who I have felt very hurt by in the past from my mother church tradition of Evangelical Christianity. These people believe that because I was in a same-sex relationships when my ex-partner and I adopted we should not have been allowed to become a fathers to our son. They would questioned whether I should be allowed to be a priest in the Church of England. If I were to fall in love again they would argue that I should not be allowed to marry someone of the same gender.  Some have taught that I and others like me should pray to be healed and ask God to make me different to the way I was made.  These are all teachings that I feel to be a departure from the radically inclusive love of Christ.

At the start of the meeting I still felt that familiar sense of hurt and betrayal I felt so many times before but I choose that instead of focusing on those thoughts and feelings I would let them pass. I looked instead at each of the people as five year old boys and girls. Five year old boys and girls who are also hurt by teachings which are contrary to the compassionate gospel of Christ. Five year old boys and girls who have also felt intense pressure to confirm to someone else’s code of obedience and scriptural interpretation. Vulnerable children who have been taught that they too would be rejected if they didn’t become someone they weren’t made by God to be. For the first time I felt a deep sense of compassion for them and reconciliation. My sense of hurt at their different views began to evaporate.

This way of looking deeply made me realise that the only way to break the cycle of pain was to try to look deeply at each of them with as the same compassion with which Christ views us all.  To be mindful that without this compassionate way of looking deeply I am liable to treat them with the same contempt and rejection as I feel they have previously treated me.   If we are to heal our families, and moreover our church, we begin by recognising that we are not separate entities from those who hurt us. We are one body in Christ. My prayer is that where there is lack of reconciliation in our lives each of us would “go Mothering.” This Mothering Sunday, go "Mindful Mothering" by practicing compassionate looking at those who have hurt you. When we do so we may well see Christ in them, and them in us, and reconciliation can begin.

Oh, and do try the Laetare Coco Pops!

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