The Beautiful Next

I hope you’ve had a good start to your Mother’s Day. Maybe your day started off with coffee and quiet, or with breakfast in bed, or a kiss from your spouse. Maybe you were remembering Mother’s Days when the kids woke you up early because they just couldn’t wait to give you their homemade presents. I remember one year making homemade bird feeders—by spreading peanut butter on empty toilet paper rolls and then rolling them in bird seed.  I then dribbled a trail of seed all through the house as I went to deliver them. Mom didn’t seem to mind.

This morning as a reflection in our Friends Together group, I shared my favorite Mother’s Day poem, written by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins. It’s called The Lanyard and it is a funny and sweet poem about how nothing we can ever do can even come close to the measure of thanks, the degree of indebtedness, we carry throughout our lives for our moms. A drawing here, a finger painting there. A crudely made ceramic ashtray, some flowers picked straight from the garden, these little symbols of our thanks attempted to capture our thanks in some small but mighty measure. We know now, from our adult vantage point, that those tiny but earnest thank-you gifts were like using a thimble to scoop some water out of the ocean.

In truth we are all touched and blessed by the lives of mothers, whether we have had a mother, been a mother, or we love a mother. The protection, love, and care we envision as almost a stereotype of motherhood is something we all count on. A goodness that is an inherent part of life. We trust it. We know that beyond all else, a good mom loves you, looks after you, believes in you, no matter how many times you mess up—or how badly.

I’ve been thinking this week about how moms embody the miraculous ability to bring forth the beautiful next. From a dream, a hope, a promise, new life arrives into the world through moms—and the blessing continues. What an amazing thing, this ability to create, sustain, and nurture life. Through mothers, God’s story moves on, incarnation happens…children of God, 7.5 billion of us now on this planet, born into the world.

Through the nine months she carries her child, a mother has some control but not ultimate control over the process or the outcome. She does faithfully what she can to care for the growing child, eating well, watching over her health, taking her vitamins, getting the care she needs. But ultimately this unfolding of new life is beyond her control. Who she will hold in her arms one day soon, what their personality will be, what they will like and not like, what choices they will make with the life given them—that’s all not hers to say. And yet day by day, moment by moment, she makes the best choices she can in the best way she can, hoping to bring forth—for herself and her child and their family—the beautiful next.

We are living through a time just now when we really need the possibility that something lovely, something Godly, something profound is on its way. We need to know this suffering and struggle is not its own end; but one difficult chapter in God’s unfolding story for all his children. Perhaps this heartbreaking time—with its waves of chaos and fear and loss–is the painful labor of the a new world on the way.

We all are very aware that the virus continues its spread through our country and around the world, and because it is something new, we can’t be certain that when the number of cases begins to decline, the crisis will truly be over. It’s not that simple. History has shown that a second wave could be worse—more deadly—than the first, so we live in a sense of suspension, trying to make our best choices, day by day, to care for one another, to be smart and safe, take our vitamins, protect those we love. We are doing what we can to be faithful to the new creation happening through us.

With so much outside our control, and so much at stake, it’s important to take a moment and reflect on what that might be. What is this new creation attempting to be born into our world just now?

God told us, through Jeremiah, in our Old Testament reading for today (Jer 29:11), that the beautiful next God has planned for us is something good, something to look forward to: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” This is a promise and a plan that God had not just for the people of Jeremiah’s day, not only for the folks of the early church, but for us, today, right here and now, right when we need it most. God’s intention for us is goodness and a future of hope—that’s something we can count on, even and especially now.

If we trust God and hold tightly to God’s promises, it’s easier to remember that God is leading us step by step through each day and have confidence in that. I think of a story attributed to Brother Angelo, one of the monks who lived and worshipped with St. Francis of Assisi. Brother Angelo is known for this prayer,

“Heavenly Father, I am because you are, I believe in you because you believe in me, I am here and so you are here. Teach me to rest in your peace.”

In addition to being a monk, Brother Angelo was a musician and troubadour. The story is that Brother Angelo’s trust in Francis was so complete that come what may, he tells us, “I picked up my lute that Francis agreed I should bring with me and followed him down the path to the future.”

What a lovely thought. Were there challenges in that day, leprosy running rampant, struggles and rancor between people in their society? Certainly. But Brother Angelo’s solid trust in Francis enabled him to do what he could, to use his talents, and to follow Francis into their shared future in God whatever it might hold.

We could wonder whether we, stuck at home in quarantine as we are, have the kind of trust we need to believe that God is right now about the work of bringing something beautiful to life through us. Our New Testament scripture, from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:9-13) assures us that confidence is not only possible, it is rock solid, because the trust, faith, and goodness is given by God, aspects of God’s own character:

As it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10But God has revealed it to us by the Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11For who among men knows the thoughts of man except his own spirit within him? So too, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13And this is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.

God gives us all we need as we grow in trust and follow God down the path into our future. Julian of Norwich was an English mystic and anchorite who is known as the first female author of a book in the English language. Her book is titled, Revelations of Divine Love. Julianaa had an experience of Christ on May 13, 1373, almost 650 years ago now. She was around age 30 when she became deathly ill and in fact believed she was sadly at the end of her life. She prayed to accept her fate and was given a series of 16 visions of Christ, helping her to understand Christs actions and intentions in the world in a full and vibrant way.

When she got well, Julian dedicated her life to God and became an anchoress, or a woman of prayer who lived in a cell with a single small window facing the outside of a monastery. People from the town would come to an anchoress for prayer, for wisdom, for a sense of Godly application to their everyday ills and challenges. Toward the end of her life, Julian tried to write down the visions God had given her during the time of her illness and that is what became the basis for her book. One of Julian’s revelations was, as she wrote, “as truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother.”

She continues,

“I understand three ways of contemplating motherhood in God. The first is the foundation of our nature’s creation; the second is his taking of our nature, where the motherhood of grace begins; the third is the motherhood at work…and it is all one love.”

As we think about our own mothers today, we can see how true this is in both the material and the eternal worlds. Our mothers—to use a phrase so tenderly made famous by Fred Rogers—“love us into being” in a very real way. Our mothers understand the struggles we face, the influences that bind us, and they offer us grace. Mothers do their best throughout their lives to model right action, to demonstrate truth and compassion, to help us learn how to live and act and move in the world in accord as we grow into good, kind, merciful human beings.

These are all God’s values, brought into this colorful, three-dimensional world through the actions and examples of our mothers as they shaped a new generation with love and grace and care. May we do our best to live up to the gifts they’ve entrusted to us. And do all we can—especially in times of challenge—to hold a hopeful space in our hearts for God to lead us toward his beautiful next.


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