Today I’m remembering my first day on the job as executive director of Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center. It was Mother’s Day 2019. Three hundred people streamed through our doors, enjoyed a veritable feast while laughing and reminiscing, and relaxed outside amidst beautiful flowers, soaking up the warm sunshine. Over twenty staff and volunteers welcomed and served with attentiveness and joy.
This Mother’s Day will be very different. For the first time in over 35 years, there will be no banquet, no bodies streaming through the doors, no laughter in the dining hall, no handshakes and hugs. The kitchen and dining hall will be empty and silent as staff, volunteers, and guests sequester in their own homes.
We hope, since the retreat center grounds will be open on Sunday, that some of you will meander over our way, walk the trails, sit outside for a bit, and soak up some sun. We will be glad to see you. Nevertheless, the cancellation of our full Mother’s Day celebration is a loss, versions of which will be replicated across our country as people shelter-at-home in order to care for those most vulnerable and connect with their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and mother-figures over Zoom, FaceTime, and texts.
Of all the losses I’ve endured in my own life, this pandemic-related cluster feels qualitatively distinct in its reach and its ongoing nature. First, this cluster of losses simultaneously affects every person that I know and billions that I don’t know—though by no means equally. Some are at far greater risk than others. The pandemic compounds existing inequities. Loss may be a great leveler, but it outright flattens some, and not others. Second, we don’t know when the losses will stop accumulating. How many more will get sick and die? Will there be a vaccine in a year? If so, how long before it’s available to everyone? How many more jobs will be lost? Will our kids be able to go to school in the Fall? (Let it be so!) How long before we see our closest friends and family members? I wonder when I will get to see my mother and stepfather, my daughter’s beloved Gabby and Grandpa, again? I choke up when thinking about this one.
Which brings me back to mothers, mothering, and Mother’s Day.
Those who mother know loss, because they know love. Loss comes to mothers in myriad ways: miscarriage and untimely deaths of children; disconnection and cut-offs in family units; witnessing children suffer from disease, injustice, rejection, and deep disillusionment; and the normal letting go as children grow and move on throughout their lives (to name but a few categories).
My favorite mothers (and, if you haven’t realized it, this is a much more expansive category than those who bear children) not only have endured losses but also have mourned those losses in ways that contribute to life. They honestly express their grief; they feel the full range of their emotions; they do not rush past it all too quickly; they allow trusted others to accompany them; they prayerfully lament and therefore keep hope alive in their own hearts; and, then, they notice and celebrate the little signs that life is coming back to them and their loved ones.
Which brings me to God. Toward the end of his life, Jesus mourned and lamented over Jerusalem, saying, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Scattered throughout the Christian scriptures are references to God as mother, a patient, persistent, educating, nurturing, grieving God whose love knows no bounds. It is not surprising that during the Middle Ages, anchoress Julian of Norwich, whose city had been decimated by the plague and who nearly died from a physical illness herself, wrote so eloquently of Christ as the Mother of all living things. For Julian, Christ gives us life, love, sustenance, wisdom, and knowledge, all that we truly need.
Whatever your circumstances this Mother’s Day, our hope is that you find in God comfort, love, and joy; that you freely and boldly mourn whatever griefs have come your way; and that, in doing so, you are awakened (whether that be today, tomorrow, or sometime in the future) to the beauty and gifts of life and love waiting for you. Know, too, that we look forward to feasting and celebrating together again.
*Theresa F. Latini, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA)