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Being Held by the Mother…the Greening Branch | May 12, 2024 Rev. Dr. Kathryn Benton


We can learn a great deal from the way Mother Earth holds us all –

the criminals, the saints, the weak, the strong, the rich,

the poor without rejecting us, and always giving us a chance to start over.


The opening words are from Sobonfu Some. They encompass the spirit of the Great Mother…the one who holds us…all of us, and gives us the chance to start over. The spirit described by Hildegard of Bingen as the greening branch. This is the mothering image upon which we want to depend. Some is speaking to the power of healing. She says that we can learn from Mother Earth…learn about our connectedness and the unconditional love of the mother. Another song that brings this spirit to mind is the spiritual, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. I envision these arms holding us in difficult times…like a mother.


On this Mother’s Day, I feel drawn to this image…the mothering spirit evident in nature and evident in the lives of the human being. It is a spirit that may or may not have been part of our own experience with our actual mother, for our human mothers are human. They are products of their own history and their own struggles. And, like all mothers and fathers as well, they are torn between their own needs and the needs of their children. They are called to give us a chance to start over with support…the support needed to grow into our own mothering presence. Whether we call this presence God, Goddess, Spirit scarcely matters. It is what allows us to lean into the power of the fellowship…like this fellowship. It is the power that is present when we are able to lean on each other, much like a community based upon the sound principles of Mother Earth…of the mothering presence. I am reminded of a profound story by Olive Schreiner. Contained within the longer work entitled, Three Dreams in a Desert, in part, it goes like this:


I saw a desert and I saw a woman coming out of it. And she came to the bank of a dark river; and the bank was steep and high. And on it an old man met her, who had a long, white beard; and a stick that curled was in his hand, and on it was written Reason. And he asked her what she wanted; and she said “I am woman; and I am seeking for the land of Freedom.” And he said, “It is before you.”…She said, “How am I to get there?” He said, “There is one way, and one only. Down the banks of Labour, through the water of Suffering. There is no other.”…And she said, “I am ready; let me go.”


And he said, “No-but stay; what is that-in your breast?” She was silent. He said, “Open it and let me see.” And she opened it. And against her breast was a tiny thing, who drank from it, and the yellow curls above his forehead pressed against it; and his knees were drawn up to her, and he held her breast fast with his hands.


 And Reason said, “Who is he and what is he doing here?” And she said, “Look at his little wings-“ And reason said, “Put him down.” And she said, “He is asleep, and he is drinking! I will carry him to the Land of Freedom. He has been a child so, so long, I have carried him. In the Land of Freedom he will be a man…And Reason said, “Put him down!”…He said, “He will not die. When he finds you have left him alone he will open his wings and fly. He will be in the Land of Freedom before you. Those who reach the Land of Freedom, the first hand they see stretching down the bank to help them shall be Love’s.”


The woman’s search for the Land of Freedom is every person’s search. Thurman speaks of this search, as do so many other teachers. Schreiner’s description is, I think, different. Within it are contained struggles that are part of our lived experience as mothers and as mothers’ sons or daughters. Within it are contained the choices we must make when we love another, yet want to continue our journey toward healing and wholeness. This story changes the script…changes the emphasis from an either/or mindset to a more integrated point of view, where we are able to lean on each other and lean on this mothering spirit. Yet, within this story is also the realization that we must be able to let go …to allow space for others to make it to the Land of Freedom as well. Within this story is the recognition that our relationships with others have the potential to go wrong…they have the potential to be, instead of supportive, abusive. Audre Lorde put it like this:


To share the power of each other’s feelings is different from using another’s feelings as we would a Kleenex. When we look the other way from our experience…we use rather than share the feelings of those who participate in the experience with us. And use without consent of the used is abuse.


Of course, this is what has happened to our relationship with our own mother, Mother Earth. We have used her like a Kleenex without regard for her sacredness…her preciousness…without remembering our origins…our source.


This story also reminds me of my own journey in life…as a child myself, with my own children and with others that I have encountered. And it reminds me of the life of Sojourner Truth, which has profoundly affected my own life. Her story of motherhood is a strong one that follows the wisdom of Olive Schreiner. She struggled with Freedom and with motherhood as well. Her story mirrors Schreiner’s story in that she was torn between her need to nurture her children and to achieve freedom. Reclaiming her son from being sold into slavery was a powerful act of the mothering spirit.


Later, she brought him with her to New York. It was during this time that her resolve to care for him…to give him a chance to start over were eventually exhausted and she had to put him down…she had to allow him the space to find his own freedom. This illustrates the difference between our aspirations…our urges to care for each other and the reality of our tethered existence. Our urges to care for others unconditionally are part of what Thurman called the moments of our high resolve. They are the part of us that aspires to come closer to the Earth Mother…that greening branch that we can lean on. In these moments we become aware of something that holds us…something that has hold of us.

This something has been with us from the start…it has searched us out in order to remind us of the power of connection and acceptance…the power of giving us a chance to start over. May we increase our awareness of this power and follow the example of Olive Schreiner, of Sojourner Truth, of Cecil Williams, of Elaine Stolp and so many more.


May we keep fresh before us the moments of our high resolve…that we may not forget that to which our lives are committed and our connection to Mother Earth…the one who has searched us and knows us…the one who has woven us together in the depths of the earth…the one whose loving hand reaches out to help us in times of distress…the one upon whom we can depend.


139th Psalm

You have searched me, Lord,

and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar…

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb…

My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place,

when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 

Your eyes saw my unformed body;

… when I awake, I am still with you.

Search me, God, and know my heart;

test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

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