I'm okay with it, though.
It's the shopping itself that sometimes is awkward. Like the time I picked up - in addition to the family haul - some Shabbat candles for worship at St. Francis House. We place them in a sand-filled dish in the chapel, as a marker of our intention to be present to the God who has so wonderfully promised to be present to us. It's mostly pragmatic: short of a deeper dish and Ethiopian beeswax candles, the Shabbat candles work best in the sand.(1) But one day the cashier surprised me when she kindly asked, "So you're Jewish?"
Um, no. But I like the candles?
I lamely said something about using them for friends of different faith backgrounds, which is true, though our ecumenical night prayers are decidedly Christian. I do like the candles. She smiled without judgment and sold me two boxes.
Today's embarrassment came along these lines.
Background: the kids had invited us to parent appreciation day at school, which was wonderful but/and/yet/also meant I would have no time to change before going to work.
So it was that I was wearing my collar as I arrived at the co-op for my weekly shopping event. While not a big deal in itself, it did make me pause as I picked up my candles. Then, as I picked up the candles, I remembered the need to buy flowers for St. Francis House. We don't always use flowers in worship, but we make a point of having them throughout the season of Easter. (We talk a lot about remembering - and we look for lots of ways to visibly remind ourselves - that Easter is longer than Lent.) Because the Easter flowers are for St. Francis House, I make a note to myself as I pick them out that I will need to put in on the church credit card and make two purchases (the candles are inexpensive, so I usually buy them with the groceries and donate them to the Episcopal Center).
As I'm picking out the flowers, too, I think of Mother's Day and decide to buy several bouquets for Rebekah, from the kids.
Shopping cart full, I make my way to the register. I am now a clearly marked priest praying I can smuggle the Shabbat candles past the cashier without interrogation and also that I'll be allowed to purchase inordinate amounts of flowers on two different cards without smirking or comment. (It happens. For all the imagined awkwardness my friends speculate about wearing the collar in public, it's really only the unexpected romantic references - handholding, etc. - that, from my perspective, cause people to act in uncomfortably weird ways).
Thankfully, the bagger remembers the context of the weekend. "So you've got a lot of moms, huh?"
I laugh. Thank God for good humor.
Yeah. Something like that.
And, actually, she's dead on - she's inadvertently nailed this Episco-priest's reality: every week, shopping for my family and shopping for my family; living in the often beautiful and sometimes complicated space between Jesus' strange words about who is his family, really, and the wonderful gift Episcopalian clergy are afforded to marry, and raise children.
Just then, I remember the language of the (especially Catholic) tradition: "mother Church." Of course I would have two flower orders for the day. I start to laugh again.
Taking my receipt, I consider my Church as mother, and also the mothers I've had through the church:
- My mom (whom I love to the moon and past it, and who is getting something other than flowers this year)
- The Church
- My godmothers
- The many women of and in the church who lived, without the title, the baptismal responsibilities of god-parentage toward me
- The women clergy - colleagues, friends, and mentors - who have chosen the title "mother" and worn it in ways that have drawn me deeper into the love of God
I also depend a lot on moms who aren't mine, notably - though not exclusively -
- My beyond words amazing and wonderful wife, Bek
- The godmothers of my children
- The many women of and in the church who are living, without the title, the baptismal responsibilities of god-parentage toward my children
As I wheel the shopping cart to the car, I abruptly remember this quote, which 1) may not be an actual quote and 2) has aged into offensiveness and toward deserved critique (my own included), but which nonetheless names that to call the Church "Mom" is not to say that any of us have ever or always found her to be the ecclesial Mom we needed or that she might, in a perfect world, have been for us.
Some of us have felt more pain or distress at the hands of the Church than others. I remind my wife constantly that to raise children without the need of some kind of future therapeutic counseling is not a realistic goal. That reminder aside, the counseling some members of the Church would require from their dealings with the Church we rightly call the sin the Church is called to confess. The Church is lovely because God loves the Church. But/and/yet/also, all of the difficulties that come with finding way ways to pray for all manner of mothers and women on Mother's Day (2) - and which we will visit again with respect to fathers and men next month (3) - also arise when we talk about the Church as our mother.
In all that it implies, it is true: the Church has been a mother to me. And, within her, I have a lot of mothers. I thank God for mothers from which I've learned, and with which I've lived, the mercy and forgiveness of God. To say this is in part to remember that the Church is a mother we are called to forgive. That the Church would need our forgiveness is not fatal to the life of the Church; the Spirit's gift of forgiveness is the life of the Church.
Moreover, and finally,
the Church - and all we who are members of her - can pray, says the 12th century monastic Bernard of Clairvaux, to be made more holy mothers through imitation of Christ our Mother. Bernard frequently wrote about Christ as a mother who nurses us with his wounds, as breasts, and exhorted those who would be leaders of the faith to likewise seek to love as Christ:
Learn that you must be mothers to those in your care, not masters; make an effort to arouse the response of love, not that of fear: and should there be occasional need for severity, let it be paternal rather than tyrannical. Show affection as a mother would, correct like a father. Be gentle, avoid harshness, do not resort to blows, expose your breasts: let your bosoms expand with milk, not swell with passion. (p50)
(1) A part of me is glad to be kept mindful of the Church's indebtedness and kinship to the People of Israel, particularly as embodied in the early Jewish-Christians like Peter and Paul who braved an openness to God's openness, living a flesh and blood generosity toward all people. "God shows no partiality," they said. Still, I know that's not what the candles are sold for. I draw my own line at purchasing the candles on the Jewish Sabbath (I won't), for obvious - if insufficiently coherent - reasons.
(2) By way of example, here's a good prayer my friend and colleague Rev. David Simmons uses:
On this Mother's Day, we give thanks to God for the divine gift of motherhood in all its diverse forms. Let us pray for all the mothers among us today; for our own mothers, those living and those who have passed away; for the mothers who loved us and for those who fell short of loving us fully; for all who hope to be mothers someday and for those whose hope to have children has been frustrated; for all mothers who have lost children; for all women and men who have mothered in any way - those who have been our substitute mothers and we who have done so for those in need; and for the earth that bore us and provides us with our sustenance. We pray in remembrance of the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, who although pierced by a sword of anguish at your crucifixion, now rejoices in your glorious resurrection. With her and with all the saints in heaven and on earth, we praise you, Holy God, who gathers us together as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings. Amen.
(3) No less theological for the children whose biological experience makes calling God "Father" a challenge.