THE HOLINESS OF MOTHERS
Grateful to be on Ohlone land.
When Lilian Sacun called me a month ago about speaking with you today, I was at my grandson’s baseball game as a weekend chaperone where we watched him play 4 games during the weekend. For that is what Lolas do, isn’t it? We drop everything when we are called to our apo-stolic ministry.
That is also exactly what my Mother used to do when we were growing up. Children always came first. My mother was a one-woman social welfare agency; she often brought in kids from the street, bathed them, fed them, and then sent them home.
All of us have memories of our mothers doing ordinary acts as if they were extraordinary.
This is why I want to focus my talk on the Holiness of Mothers.
In Hawaii, there is a sacred site called the birthing stones where the Hawaiian royal babies were born in ancient times. The place, Kukaniloko, is believed to be filled with mana and it is here that the gods would recognize the child’s royal birth.
When a Filipino American friend brought me to that site a few years ago, before we entered the site, he offered a chant to ask permission for entry, and he asked us to remove our shoes for we were on holy ground. As I walked bare feet around this sacred site with tears in my eyes, the thought that kept coming to me was Thank you for the holiness of mothers. My tears were my prayer at that moment in that sacred ground.
Ever since then I’ve always reflected on the holiness of Mothers.
For several years now I have also been reflecting on my Mother’s Catholic faith and how she agreed to become a Methodist when she married my father. I have often wondered how that conversion affected her devotion to Mother Mary and how she may have had to hide it. I feel in my heart today that it may have been Mother Mary who sustained her faith and gave her strength and courage to raise six children.
So this morning, it feels right to me to talk about the holiness of the mother of Jesus, Mary.
In preparing this talk, I looked for information as to why Protestants do not talk about Mary a lot. I found plenty of information online which I am not able to detail here but I share these few points:
· Around 1054, the Eastern Orthodox Church calls Mary – Theotokos- The Mother of God. Acc to the church, Mary was chosen by God and Mary freely cooperated in that choice…therefore, she is honored above all saints.
· Around 1500, Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, wrote “Mary is the embodiment of God’s grace” as he was writing a commentary on the Magnificat (Mary’s hymn of praise to the Lord based on the gospel of Luke)
· Marian devotion lost favor with Protestants in the 16th century. In the meantime, as Catholicism spread during the colonial era, churches were built on top of sacred sites that were dedicated to the goddess. In ancient cultures there are myths that refer to the virgin birth of the gods.
· Today, Protestants are beginning to take another look at Mary as a bridge to ecumenism. Cynthia Rigby, a Presbyterian theologian, writes that Mary is the archetypal Christian, the mother of all believers.
· Kathleen Norris, a poet/ author, says that she didn’t learn much about Mary from her Methodist and Congregational upbringing but after spending time in Benedictine monasteries, she grew to identify with Mary. "Like Mary, I am invited each day to bring Christ into the world in my prayers, thoughts, and actions," she says.”
· Mary is also revered as a symbol that bridges disparate cultures. Mary appears prominently in the Koran, where she is compared to Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, founder of the Islamic nation. In Mexico, where she appeared to an oppressed Aztec Indian in the 16th century, she is Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe; ten million pilgrims a year flock to a shrine honoring the dark-skinned Madonna. (https://www.usnews.com/news/religion/articles/2008/01/25/in-search-of-the-real-virgin-mary
So clearly there is a powerful resonance to the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, that is beyond theological and doctrinal debates in the history of the Christian church.
Personally, I am most attracted to the story that Mary may have been a shepherd learning about healing and herbal cures from other village women; something she may have passed on to her son.
I have been interested in the ways that indigenous peoples and their spirituality manifest in their relationship to the animate Earth. This is what we call traditional ecological knowledge and indigenous science today but if you ask the indigenous folks how they know which plants contain medicine, they simply say: The plants told me. The plants are alive.
So when I think of Mary as a shepherd who might have known of healing power of herbs and plants and that she might have taught this to her son, it is very meaningful to me.
We, too, have mothers or grandmothers who may be arbularyos or hilots, who know the healing power of ampalaya, guava leaves, alugbati, malunggay, guyabano, at iba pa. We may have had mothers and grandmothers who connect with the spirit world as mediators and bring healing from Spirit. Today we still have healers, shamans or medicine people. In our Filipino languages they are called babaylan, catalonan, mombaki, belian, ma-aram, arbularyo, …
The fact that these gifts may have been lost to many of us (because they have been demonized) in this modern age doesn’t negate the fact that this knowledge may still be in our cultural DNA waiting to be awakened. Perhaps if we ask Mary, if we ask our beloved ancestral mothers, we will begin to awaken the memories of our wholeness as indigenous peoples before we were called Filipinos. Even before we were Methodists.
I bring up this up as a way of talking about different ways of Being in the world.
Just like Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose story invites us to think of the holiness of Mothers.
According to Jason Byassee, former pastor of Shady Grove United Methodist Church in Providence, North Carolina and now a professor of theology, “For Protestants to ask Mary for her prayers may be the key to future ecumenism.”
Another Presbyterian theologian, Cynthia Rigby, argues that if there is a common theme that resonates in Protestant attempts to recoup something lost in the rejection of Mary, it is the description of her as the archetypical Christian, the mother of believers. "We too are ‘virgins’ who are incapable of bearing God," until God deigns to be born in our ordinariness as in Mary’s.
What I get from these sources is that the call to reconsider the importance of Mary in Protestant churches is a call to build ecumenical spirit, to encourage interfaith dialogue, and to create bridges across all kinds of differences. Or simply, to reclaim the power to birth God in the ordinariness of our lives.
In the recovery of our Filipino indigenous spirituality, I invite us to honor our Filipina mothers who have always been powerful not in a domineering or better-than-thou way, but powerful because they offer their lives in service to their families and communities in the same way that Mary offered her life to serve God’s purpose.
I invoke the holiness of mothers as the power to create Bridges: for example, the bridge between our US-born kids and immigrant parents. As a university professor, I have taught many Filipino Americans who tell me of their conflicted relationships with their parents. They talk about their confusion in their sense of identities as Filipino Americans. They question why their parents have not been helpful in clarifying what it means to be Filipino. They talk about miscommunication or the difficulty of bridging the generation and cultural gap between their immigrant parents. But I’ve also seen the healing of this gap when the children and parents are encouraged to fully embody our Filipino indigenous spirituality alongside our devotional faith as Methodists or Catholics. Believe me, it really is not an either-or. We can do both.
I invoke the holiness of mothers as the power to create the bridge between our neighbors of different faiths. I don’t know about you but there is a part of me that feels envious when my Filipino Catholic friends have their various religious festivals to go to – the Santo Nino in January, the Santacruzan in May, the Simbang Gabi in December, 9-day novenas when someone dies, etc. I guess that is why I wanted to talk about Mary today…because I am wondering how we might create bridges of communion with our Filipino Catholic kapwa.
I invoke the holiness of mothers as the power to create bridges with our co-workers who are different than us. There are many of areas of conflicts in our workplaces that might push us to the margins, push us to become silent, or push us to become subservient. I think if we recognize our holiness, we will also have the courage to break the rules, to speak up, to fight against racial injustice, call out racial microaggressions, and to stand up for other coworkers who are being discriminated against. So, Mothers, please take up your holiness and let it give you courage.
I invoke the holiness of mothers as the bridge to create communication within our communities that does not tear down but build up one another. Let’s have enough of “kanya-kanya mentality” or colonial mentality. Let’s learn how to work together with people that we may not like; let’s learn how to have deep conversations; let’s learn how to use our pakikiramdam to listen to each other in a deep way that connects our kapwa and loob. We live in a culture that fosters disconnection and separation because the more disconnected we are, the more fearful we become; the more fearful we are, the more they can sell us goods, and mindless tv shows, and junk food. Dear Mothers, please invoke your holiness to create better alternatives for our descendants.
The essence of our pagka-Pilipino is PakikipagKapwa, KAgandahang Loob at Pakikiramdam – no English words can fully capture the meaning of these concepts. So to capture the meaning, we have to look to our Mothers who manifest these values. I think about Filipina mothers who are also nurses, caregivers, nannies, managers, entrepreneurs, teachers, social workers, counselors, stay at home moms.
I am in awe of mothers whose hearts are so open and that they can behold so much with compassion. Just like when Mary had to behold her son on the cross, taking in his suffering into her own heart and body.
When I think of the holiness of Filipina mothers, I think of the desperate choices that some mothers are sometimes forced to make – the choice to leave our own children to take care of other people’s children in another country; the choice to leave the homeland to seek opportunities elsewhere; the choice to leave abusive partners; and sometimes even the choice to stay and bear suffering in silence.
Yes, I call this work of making such choices as Holy Work because we trust and have faith that God would not deem our choices as mistakes or sins. Moral and ethical choices that are often imposed on us by circumstances beyond our control are difficult and heart-wrenching. Sometimes these codes are a way to maintain the superiority of men over women, or the notion of what is “developed or modern” versus “traditional, undeveloped and third world”. I think in another sermon someday, I would want to talk about how Christianity has been wedded to capitalist values and how it has been in collusion with the degradation of the Earth…and of women and children. It breeds separation and disconnection.
When I think of the holiness of mothers, I think of the comfort women who were taken by the Japanese as sex slaves during WW2. I think of them because this is still happening and being perpetrated by human traffickers today albeit in different forms. One of my friends, Evelina Galang, will soon be publishing the stories of these Lolas. As I was reading the manuscript, I would often break down and cry at the horrible acts that dishonored their bodies and their spirit. In the reading of their stories, I had to allow their stories to get into my body. This is how I know that stories are alive and powerful. I want to honor these Lolas and what they have endured. And we must read their stories and tell others about it. The Lolas said that if we allow their stories to enter our bodies, perhaps wars will end.
And finally, when I think of the holiness of mothers, I think of the stories that we will pass on. I think of the answers to the question: What kind of ancestor are you going to be? Dear Mothers, this is a good question to always carry in our hearts.
When I think of the holiness of mothers, I do not think of the Hallmark version of Mother’s day.
I think of the holiness of Mothers as the ground of my faith, the rock of my foundation. I pray that we may look to Mary, the mother of Jesus; Mary, embodiment of God’s grace; Mary, the mother of all saints; Mary, the shepherd; and Mary the herbalist and healer.
All our Mothers are Holy. As you celebrate your Mother today, may you be filled with love, gratitude, kindness; may you be filled with the sweetness of remembering all of her Holy acts that carry you through each day and always ...like a lullaby that soothes our aches, pains, and our longings to be cradled in the bosom of a Holy Mother.
Sa Ugoy ng Duyan…