Tag Archive: Mary


On Tuesday night I began to jot down a few notes about Mother’s Day.  I didn’t intend to post them…until Wednesday afternoon.  While eating lunch with several staff persons on Wednesday the senior pastor said to me, “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you: You need to acknowledge the oldest and youngest mothers at the 9:00a worship service on Sunday.”  Before he could get out another word I responded in exuberant and honest haste, “You can forget about that!”  He laughed; I calmed down.  “I knew that would get to you,” he joked.  He was right.  (So below are a few incomplete thoughts…!)  

I grew up in a church with two Mother’s Day rituals: 1) the “oldest/youngest/most times a mother/most children present” mothers were awarded flowers, and 2) all willing and able men sang “Church in the Wildwood” during the special music moment.  The service always had a certain innocent charm.

But something seemed amiss.  You could see some women fidget in their seats.  I always felt a strange twinge of uneasiness during the service.

I always wondered how the celebration of motherhood affected some in the pews:

– the woman who desperately wanted a child but could not conceive?

– the woman who lost a child during pregnancy or delivery?

– the son or daughter who was celebrating the first mother’s day without mom?

– the child whose mother abused or abandoned him or her?

– the person whose memory of “mom” is more painful than heartwarming?

For people who have been told Leave it to Beaver motherhood is the norm (we’re looking at you, Hallmark), I can only imagine that they are not looking for the church to reinforce that myth.   How painful some silly celebration might be for those unable, though desperately wanting, to be a candidate.  (Is it not God, the parent of all, whom worship is all about anyways?)

Is eliminating such moments from worship too pandering, too much trying to meet the needs of all?  Perhaps.  And it’s true that the Church must say something meaningful and compelling about parenthood and families.  We should celebrate those who have nurtured and loved us.  But the reality is that parenthood and families are not one-size-fits-all entities.  Families are different, unique, and messy.  Mothers – and those who wish to be – come from a variety of social locations.  We must be aware that motherhood – or lack thereof – means different things to the women in the pews.

On Mother’s Day I like to think of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  She carried Jesus for nine months in her womb.  She was there when he was born…and when he died.  I imagine she held him, cooed at him, and giggled with him.  She taught him to talk and set the table.  I like to think that she corrected and reprimanded him when necessary.  She counseled; she loved; she nurtured.

When Jesus was young, Mary took him to the Temple where Simon told her that a “sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35).  Can you imagine living with those words echoing in your mind?  Years earlier she told the angel that announced Jesus’ birth, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  Of course, at that moment she was speaking of her conception by the Spirit, but what trust, what faith, what commitment.  Think of the beauty of Mary’s openness to God to “let it be.”  (This is not a fatalistic “let it be.”  But rather, a trusting in the grace and goodness of God “let it be.”)

Very few words in Methodist literature are devoted to Mary.  If she is mentioned at all it usually comes in the way of saying, “See Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed,’ which state that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin.  Perhaps Mother’s Day is a day to think of Mary in all of her fullness and beauty.  To put aside differences in the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, and to ponder in our hearts her commitment, obedience, and trust.  To be reminded of her openness to being a vessel for God’s glory.  I suppose it is some folks’ Protestant desire to not be Catholic that leads them away from spending time with Mary.  What a shame.  Thinking of Mary more often and more intimately would do our souls good – our longing, fearful, and thirsty souls.

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I admit it.  I am guilty of worship snobbery.  I am a selective worshiper.  A worship elitist.  A liturgical snob.  Give me a well-put together service; a theologically sound, intellectually challenging, and enlightening sermon; and a choir second only to the heavenly chorus.  I am a worshiper who dines on what fancies me the most, often leaving the remainder of the worship palate untouched.

Each week I examine the Duke Divinity School worship schedule to see who is preaching, what choir is singing, and what worship tradition is being celebrated at each service.

My favorite professor is preaching on Tuesday, I notice.  I will be sure to be there.

Oh, the contemporary praise and worship team is leading the Wednesday service.  I’ll plan to watch “Glee” on Tuesday night, and skip worship on Wednesday to catch up on reading.

It’s an Anglican service on Thursday.  I don’t have the time to spare.  But I’ve always wanted to hear the preacher.  Perhaps I can eavesdrop when the preacher steps into the pulpit.

I fear that I am not alone.  When I go into different churches the demographics and homogeneity of various worship services are predictable (if not also stereotypical).    Young people congregate with other young folks at “contemporary” praise-and-worships services.  Those who have always worshipped in a traditional manner gather to worship “traditionally.”  Different styles of worship and worshipers rarely mix, even worshipping in separate buildings simultaneously.

In the name of being “selective” or “efficient” we prioritize one worship style over another.  We believe one preacher (the popular one we like) is more likely to speak God’s Word than the less well-known preacher we’re not willing to give a chance.  We cling to old hymns and dismiss the new choruses because surely goodness comes with age.

Why do we do this?

Of course, we have our preferences for worship, but why do we prioritize?  Or is that the right word?  Do we prioritize or idolize?  Idolization might be more accurate.  It seems we lift up one style of worship above the One who is to be worshipped.  We enter into churches, sanctuaries, chapels, or other holy places seeking something that pleases us.  We use worship as a means to satisfy our own desires.

When this happens worship becomes a commodity no different than the millions of other products we consume throughout our lives.  We shop for a worship service that is comfortable and accommodating to our preferences like we hunt down a pair of blue jeans that fits just right.  We profess allegiance to a worship style the same way we commit ourselves to a certain auto manufacturer.  We say, “I am contemporary worshipper” as easily, confidently, and trivially as we say, “I’m a Ford or Chevy person.”

When our allegiance to a particular worship style overshadows our allegiance to the One worshipped we’ve missed the point.  Worship becomes our idol; we bow down to the performance and presentation of the mortal over the immortal.  Our emotional and psychological needs – and not our need to praise and glorify God- take center stage.

Jesus’ urging to Mary and Martha may help.  Jesus said, “Only one thing is needed (Luke 10:38-42).  That one thing says the Psalmist: “To dwell in the house of the Lord…to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4).  We don’t need worship to be many selfish and pleasing things; only one thing is needed.  Worship is not bowing down to our own preferences and losing ourselves in our own worshipful delights.  Rather, true worship is getting lost in wonder, love and praise of the God whom calls and invites us to enter God’s holy and mysterious presence always, everywhere, and in any manner.

I just finished reading one of my new all-time favorite books, Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter.  Berry’s poetic command of  words and storytelling transported me to another time and place.  Berry’s novel – a commentary on war, land, family, farming, modernity, and loss – was simply magnificent.  I often found myself reading the story in the same manner the characters lived…slowly, reflectively, and simply.

I love the moment when the narrator (Hannah Coulter) reflects upon her husband, Nathan: “He had the hardiness of his father and uncle, their indifference to bad weather, and their sufferance of whatever work or difficulty had come or would come.”

Some may say that Nathan was fatalistic; whatever comes, let it come.  And to a certain extent they would be right.  But what if Hannah and Nathan understood something that we struggle so mightily to get our minds around, namely, that there is a season for everything.  The Teacher, Qoheleth, of Ecclesiastes apparently got it.  The Byrds in their song, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” seemed to get it.

So why the fear of seasons?  Perhaps accepting the seasons would require us to give up control, to surrender.  Might we have to admit that we can’t solve a problem of fix it?  Are we more comfortable if we think we’re in control, and God is slightly out of sight, on the margins ready to come to rescue if needed?  What if we give up what we want, and give in to what God wants?

I love also what Nathan says as he ponders his cancer diagnosis.  Hannah asks him, “Well, what are you planning to do?  Just die?  Or what?”  Nathan responds, “Dear Hannah, I’m going to live right on.  Dying is none of my business.  Dying will have to take care of itself.”

Is it fatalism…or trust?  Is it throwing in the towel…or surrendering to a God who is more merciful and gracious than we can imagine?  Does the simple-minded Nathan understand life and death and resurrection more fully and faithfully than those of us privy to education and technology?  I think so.

I am reminded of Mary’s precious words to the angel Gabriel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1.38).

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