Mother's Day | May 14, 2023 by Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Throughout my childhood and early adult years, Mother’s Day was a high holy day. Leading up to it, I busied myself finding the right greeting card for our mother who certainly deserved great praise for nurturing our bodies, souls, and minds. Later I added my grandmother, sister (Mae Frances), Aunt Maggie, and Aunt Geneva. The aunts did not have children yet nurtured me in various ways. I always stayed with Aunt Maggie when I visited Memphis. She had an extra bedroom. Once, when my oldest brother, William, visited, she referred to the extra bedroom as Dorsey’s room. While buying a new car, the salesperson suggested that the driver’s seat was low for her she responded that the seat would be fine for Dorsey. Aunt Geneva was an aunt through marriage to my Uncle Thomas. After he died, she sent me a check from his estate. Only she knew that I was in his will. She could have kept the money for herself but did not. The money sure came in handy.
At church carnations to be pinned on your lapel ruled the vestibule: red ones if your mother still lived, white ones if she had moved beyond this physical plane. Later in life, I would encounter people who called themselves CME Christians. They would attend church on Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Easter. You should not expect to see them the other 49 weeks of the year.
I now realize that Mother’s Day is not as joyous for all women. Some feel judged less than others because they have no children, whether this was a choice or a result of physical/medical/health reasons. Yet, they mother, nurture and inspire. And there are men who mother, nurture, and inspire. People from all genders mother, nurture, and inspire. The non-human world mothers, nurtures, and inspires.
This Mother’s Day is different from past Mother’s Days. The Fellowship of Reconciliation, our nation’s oldest interfaith peace organization has acted in the spirit of Julia Ward Howe by requesting President Biden to declare this Mother’s Day, today, a national day of repentance, mourning, prayer, and reflection to address the culture of gun violence “that is staining our collective soul…. We ask for our lawmakers and faith institutions to reflect this Mother’s Day on how we are allowing gun manufacturers, the gun lobby, and a culture of gun worship to hold our country hostage.”
Nearly 700 leaders from various faith traditions signed the petition urging President Biden to declare this Mother’s Day a day of prayer and mourning the deaths that come much too frequently and abundantly through the nation’s worship of guns.
The petition is not just to the president. It is a call to faith communities to bring forth the legacy of peace within their religious communities to end the epidemic of gun violence in our nation.
Statistics reveal that “in the year, 2021, nearly 49,000 Americans were killed by guns, and another 100,000 were wounded. They indicate . . . Since 1968, more Americans have died from domestic gunfire (more than 1.5 million) than were killed in all U.S. wars since the American Revolution (about 1.2 million). In addition to those killed or wounded by guns, millions of Americans have experienced the trauma of gun violence incidents or live with the constant threat of gun violence, and millions of Americans have been the victims of crimes committed with a gun.
All of the dead were children of mothers.
In many ways, the nation is traumatized by the prospect of gun violence happening in their/ our supposed protected spaces: houses of worship, schools, shopping malls, movie theatres, parks. There’s no hiding place.
The Gun Violence Archive states there have been at least 202 mass shootings so far this year, more mass shootings than days in the year. Mass shootings are defined as an incident in which four or more victims are shot or killed, according to the archive.
At this time last year, the country had experienced 183 mass shootings. Those mass shootings resulted in the deaths of 13,900 people.
Will Rachel’s weeping ever cease? Are they perpetual, unending, eternal? There must be an end to the gun madness! And, we have a role in ending it.
It is of interest that many of our legislators who refuse to enact any laws that get to the heart of the matter are Christians. Do they not know the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill, murder?” Neither should one be an accomplice to the murder by allowing the manufacture and liberal distribution of the weapons. In some communities it is easier to get guns than books. That commandment from our Judeo-Christian heritage, I learned it as a child.
I certainly do not expect many to be aware that the Talmud declares: He who takes one life it is as though he has destroyed the universe and he who save one life it is as though he has saved the universe.
Mishnah Sandhedrin 4:5
How many universes have been destroyed as we celebrate Mother’s Day? How many mothers have been slain?
. . . I came that they may have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10 NSRV)
The careless taking of human life is symptomatic of a nation that has lost its bearing. The focus of the individual shooters scapegoats the real culprit, our nation. The murders are a logical consequence of our nation’s use of the military to respond to crises. Many of which we have created. Why are we horrified by these killings and not horrified by the stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction and refusal to sign on to treaties and accords that could stabilize our fragile peace. It is time for us to move differently, to have a vision that is uplifting and not based on military power or greed. We have alienated each other from each other and even alienated ourselves from ourselves. The way forward is to create a nation based on nonviolence, love, justice, and peace.
Why did I have to bring divisive politics into a celebration of Mother’s Day? I am just following Julia Ward Howe. Look at her declaration.
Arise, all women who have hearts.
Wake up! Get up! Mount! Ascend! She is calling upon people who were disenfranchised. They could not vote in elections. They were excluded from political discussions about the general welfare of the nation and themselves. Only propertied men made decisions about such crucial issues. She calls upon them to seize the political moment and infuse it with morality and bring an end to the barbarism of war.
“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
She calls the men, the husbands, the decision makers, irrelevant agencies that are not capable of dealing with the great questions of life, society, or war and peace. And, she has a strategy for putting them on notice about who is assuming control. Don’t bring your bloodied hands and souls to bed for romance. Sleep on the couch until the new vision becomes a reality. She is not talking in abstractions, but concretely and personally. What a nonviolent strategy that is, one that can be implemented on a personal level as well as a mass level.
“Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
All that we have taught them of kindness, of treating others like you want to be treated, of our common heritage will not be wiped out because of decision our men make.
From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession.
In 1870, Howe speaks of an earth devastated by the wars, by the greed and that military might is not the balance of justice. Do the men not hear the cry? She calls for altered consciousness in women to not languish in traditional impotence, but to assert themselves as agents of change, forging a new relationship not only to war but to the men in their lives responsible for the death making realities.
She hears better than they Isaiah’s exhortation to “beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.”
Howe’s call for altered consciousness reminds me of one of my favorite passages from Olive Schreiner.
“. . . a good old mother duck, who, having for years led her ducklings to the same pond, when that pond has been drained and nothing is left but baked mud, will still persist in bringing her younglings down to it, and walks about with flapping wings and anxious quack, trying to induce them to enter it. But the ducklings, with fresh young instincts, hear far off the delicious drippings from the new dam which has been built higher up to catch the water, and they smell the chickweed and the long grass that is growing up beside it; and absolutely refuse to disport themselves on the baked mud and to pretend to seek for worms where no worms are. And, they leave the ancient mother quacking beside her pond and set out to seek for new pastures – perhaps to lose themselves upon the way? Perhaps to find them? To the old mother one is inclined to say, ‘Ah good old mother duck, can you not see the world has changed? You cannot bring the water back into the dried-up pond. Mayhap it was better and pleasanter when it was there, but it has gone forever; and, would you and yours swim again, it must be in other waters.’”
While we celebrate mothers and the various mothers who nurture and challenge us to live more fully, let us remind ourselves of concrete issues that must be addressed. Remind ourselves also of a larger vision we must embrace. Remind ourselves that the devastation of the earth and the killing of children of mothers must cease.
Rachel has been weeping long enough. Let us take bold action to dry her tears.
AND THE SPIRIT of wisdom came to me . . . I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to have her instead of light, for the light that cometh from her never goeth out. And all such things as are either secret or manifest, them I know. For wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me . . . For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty; a drop of dew that at the morning cometh down upon the earth . . . For she is more beautiful than the sun, and above all the order of stars, being compared with light, she is found before it.
Wisdom 7: 7, 10, 21, 22, 25, 29