Sermon offered by Jessica Gray on May 12, 2013
Mother's Day and Teacher Appreciation
I know firsthand that there are many paths up the mountain. Born and raised Southern Baptist, I have utmost respect for my Christian roots and the teachings of Jesus. As a young adult, I found a spiritual home in modern Paganism, as the rituals of the seasons touched a core part of my understanding of the world. While I primarily identify myself as Pagan, I also found great benefit in the mind training and practices of Tibetan Buddhism. I studied a specific form of dance meditation and have opportunities to perform and teach these dances throughout the world.
My three paths weave together, in and out, like a braid. Unfortunately, some people in my religious traditions have a problem with my other traditions. Christians and Pagans sometimes have a hard time getting along…. Possibly due to the fact that they tried to feed each other to the lions centuries ago. And many Buddhists are convinced that their one way is the right way, that eventually all beings will follow the path of the “dharma” to reach enlightenment.
In Unitarian Universalism, I found a spiritual tradition where I did not have to choose between paths. Some may say that I added a fourth path to my spiritual braid when I embraced Unitarian Universalism, but I envision this religious tradition as the weaver of the great braid of my many paths. It is a place where I can be Christian and Pagan and Buddhist and more – all according to my own conscience, my commitment to the principles, and my free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
This year in our faith development program we told stories and explored the six UU sources, including the world religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Modern Paganism and Humanism. So many paths up the mountain. In our youngest classes, Spirit Play, we encourage our children to find a sacred space to discover their own ways of interacting with the Spirit of Love and Mystery that some people call God.
I remember when I was a child in a Christian household, I asked my mom about what God looked like. If we were made in the image of God, but mom and I were both female, then why was God male? She gave me an answer I keep close to my heart to this day. She said that God is greater than male or female, greater than human beings can even understand. But the way we understand best is through human culture, and in the culture that the Bible was written, God was seen as male. But God could be so much more.
William Makepeace Thackeray said, “Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.” And what a truth that is. The youngest child only knows the world around him or her, and this great being, this mother, provides comfort and support, food and shelter, and infinite love. I would extend this to include fathers or caregivers of any kind, but to a very young child, the parent is God.
This reminds me of a funny story. In the belly of a pregnant woman, two babies are having a conversation.
A: Do you believe in life after birth?
B: Of course I do. Everybody knows there is life after birth. We are here in order to grow strong enough and prepare to be born.
A: I wonder what it’s like.
B: I don’t know all the details, but I believe there’s more light, and maybe we will walk and feed ourselves.
A: But we have the umbilical cord that feeds us. And why would we need to walk when we can float all the time?
B: I also know that after birth we will meet Mom and she will take care of us!
A: Mom? What is Mom?
B: She is our whole world. She is everywhere around us, and we are in her! Without her, we wouldn’t exist.
A: I haven’t seen her; I don’t believe in Mom.
B: I do believe in Mom. In fact, sometimes, when everything calms down, I can hear her sing and feel how she caresses our world. There just has to be life after birth.
For an unborn child, the mother is everything, the entirety of life. The mother is god.
Of course, once the baby is born, mothers make different choices. They make mistakes. They are not all-knowing or all-powerful. They are not actually gods, after all.
Some mothers sacrifice infinite time and resources to care for their child’s needs. She gives of herself completely until the child no longer needs the mother. As Erich Fromm said, “The mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother’s side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent.” But even once the child is independent, the mother is still there in times of need.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are mothers who, through circumstance or choice, do not provide for their children. Who are absent or even abusive. Who bring their children the harsh realities of pain and suffering.
We all need the mother presence in our lives. We need strength and support. We need sources of Refuge.
In the Tibetan practice called Refuge, we honor those who give us strength and support. First we honor the Guru, the lineage of teachers. For many of us, our parents were our very first teachers. Then we grow to find other teachers – those in school who teach us to read, to write, and hopefully to think. Teachers in Sunday School. In our program we strive for these teachers to give our children the tools to wonder and discover truth for themselves. We look to our church leadership, our ministers and religious educators, as teachers. And we find teachers in the world around us, through friends, mentors, co-workers… the list is endless.
The second and third sources of refuge are the Buddha and the Dharma, the enlightened ones and their teachings. Each of us must choose which path or paths will lead us to the truth of our own understanding, but those choices can give us support. The divine Mother is a refuge for so many, whether in the form of the Christian Mother Mary, the Greek Goddess Demeter, the Tibetan bodhisattva Tara, or any other form.
The fourth and final source of refuge is the Sangha, the community of practitioners. We are all called to be refuge for each other. To offer love and support. To step up and fill the role of mother for others when they need it. Are you open and willing to give of yourself for others?
We are a diverse community in this church. It is impossible to know the path that others are taking to find the spirit of love and mystery that some people call god. Are they following the path of the roses or the daffodils? The tulips or the irises or the lilies? It is the diversity that makes a brilliant bouquet.
Today you were asked to bring a flower so we could celebrate together the beauty inside each of us and the beauty of the earth. This is a common springtime tradition in Unitarian Universalist churches, a Flower Communion. This celebration is about sharing our togetherness and about honoring our differences.
As our children pass the flowers and the choir sings, take one that is different from the one you brought. If you forgot to bring one, take one anyway. Take this moment to think about your sources of refuge, your mothers or those who filled that role in your life, and the diversity of the great community of all who seek the truth. Think about your own flower-lined path. And think about how you can be a source of refuge for others.