March 22, 2020
So…here we are.
Outside my window, the fruit trees are in full, cotton pink bloom. The oak in my front yard is cast in hazy rust-colored buds. My grass is turning patchy green. It will need tending soon. The sun is finally pushing through days of cloud cover, though I can see promise of more weather creeping up behind the mountains to my west. But for now, the sun is gifting my neighborhood, the mountains beyond, and the valley below with variegated hues of light and shadow. By the look of things outside my window, one would never guess this is a place in deep distress.
Last week, as all COVID-19 chaos broke loose, I was tucked away with my two oldest sons out west on spring break. We were at Lake Tahoe, skiing and enjoying time with my husband’s side of the family. We weren’t unaware of what was happening. How could we be? The alerts, emails, and texts were pouring in: first it was notice of some major universities shutting down, then it was my son’s major university shutting down, then some universities in Virginia, then my son’s college in Virginia, and finally the Commonwealth’s K-12 school system. I started wondering what getting home would look like. What I really wondered (read: obsessed over) was what life would look like once we were home.
And now? Well, here we are.
This morning, in my Lenten devotion, I learned that today is called Mothering Sunday. According to author Malcolm Guite, the fourth Sunday in Lent is sometimes called Refreshment Sunday, also celebrated as Mothering Sunday. As society has moved to the secular, Mothering Sunday has become ‘Mother’s Day’ (and not celebrated in the Lenten season). But its roots were first established in the rich soil of celebrating God’s nurturing care for us, the nurturing work of parents, as well as the church community as a place of nurturing and growth.
Guite reminds readers the image of the Church as a “mother” is an ancient one; as ancient as Christ himself. Jesus used the mothering image to describe himself longing to gather his people as a mother hen gathers her brood under the protection of her wing (Matthew 23.37). There are also the references of the “birth-pangs of the kingdom.” Even from the beginning, the pain of bringing forth life is laid out. “From now on, you will bring forth children in pain,” God says to Eve.
Readers of the Genesis story often stop at the physical “curse” of pain in childbirth. But a close reading of the text when connected to the entirety of the Bible reveals a far deeper and hope-filled meaning: God didn’t simply pronounce curses after Adam and Eve messed up and then keep his distance. Rather, he committed to live in the suffering with humankind, in order that the suffering life wouldn’t be for naught. Instead, it would be like childbirth. Yes, there is pain in the moment (however long the moment lasts), but on the other side of the pain is new life. Soft, wrinkled skin, tiny fingers reaching and grasping, wide puffy eyes latching onto the only face they can keep in focus; that of Mother.
So, here we are.
One week down. An unforeseen many more to go. Looking out at my flowering and budding trees, I’m reminded of the network of roots running beneath the surface. In his book, the Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohleben says trees communicate and even support one another through their root systems. It seems they assist fellow trees “remotely” by pumping nutrients to a sick neighbor when they recognize its distress. From above ground the trees are scattered, maintaining their safe distance well over six feet apart. Yet, in ways I cannot see and—the more I read Wohleben’s book—seem almost fantastical in imagining (like the forest trees that did battle in Lord of the Rings), the trees are nurturing one another, bolstering one another in times of distress, even helping other species of trees for the sake of the entire community.
May we take heart this Mothering Sunday. May we–by sheer grace–find ways to nurture one another. May we stand in solidarity, scattered but still maintaining and even strengthening our connectedness beneath the surface. May we remember the promise of new life at the end of suffering; or, believe in its truth for the first time.
And in the believing, may it change how we live, move, see, and breathe through this particular birth-pang of now.
Much love, grace, and peace to you all.