Every one of us has inherited a legacy that is a mixed blessing. The legacy we inherited from those who raised us has made us who we are. And you and I all know that some of that legacy has given us the greatest blessings of our lives, and some of that legacy is what we will struggle with until the day we die. We are called to work with those legacies and to carry them in new ways not only for our sake, but for the sake of our children….
Spirit of Life, God of grace and mercy, Source of hope and healing, this is a day that is often filled with memories. Memories of those who raised us. Memories of those still with us or who have passed on that fill us with gratitude and love. Memories that can bring grief and sorrow. Memories that bring unrest and turmoil. Some memories are good to remember, some we wish we could forget. Spirit of Life, help us with our memories and if we are called in some way to the path of forgiveness, help us walk towards that path.
On this day, we would ask for blessings on the legacies that we carry from those who are raising and have raised us, for they bear both wisdom and folly. Help us to hold these legacies gently and firmly, for they hold power and promise and if carried wisely, can deepen our spirits and grow our capacity for giving and receiving love.
On this day, we would also ask for blessings on the legacies that we will leave to those who follow us. We are all parents in some way. We are all mothers and fathers. We are all aunts and uncles and grandparents. We are role models and mentors and friends. Help us to celebrate the legacies we are proud of, and to forgive ourselves for the legacies that we wish we could undo. Help us to claim the truth that we are all parents of this desperately beautiful world and its people that each of us will leave this world changed for having been here.
Let us take a moment of silence for the deepest prayers and meditations of our hearts……
In the spirit of love, peace, and hope, this we pray. Amen and blessed be.
One of the happiest memories I have of my mother is of her dancing with us. Several times a week, out came the portable record player, and we danced in the living room to the likes of Joan Baez, the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Neil Sedaka, Roy Orbison, ABBA, the Everly Brothers, Buffy Saint Marie, Roy Clark, and Gordon Lightfoot. We also listened to Russian, Ukrainian, German and gypsy folk music, and our mother would pick my brothers and I up in her arms and waltz around the sun dappled living room.
One of the happiest memories of my father is of his strength. He was a hard working farmer, still is, and he would come in from the fields or the barn, and no matter how tired, he would play with us while my mom finished supper. My favorite game was “Daddy Bench Press”. He would lay on his back with his arms outstretched and a kid would stand on each arm with our hands clasped together over him. Then he would bench press us until we collapsed over him, screaming hysterically. He would roar like a lion and hold us close. Being held in his strong arms was the safest place in the world. I believed my dad was the strongest man in the world, and I almost got in a fistfight with a girl at school who told me that her dad was the strongest man in the world. I knew that couldn’t be true because she knew nothing about Daddy Bench Press. And besides, my dad, his brother, and their cousin won gold, silver, and bronze in the Wheatley Hotel Armwrestling Competition! She had to be wrong!
So those are some of my happiest memories. Memories of laughter and deep unconditional love and protective strength. And of course, now I know how much my parents protected us from the difficulties they faced. I had no way of knowing as a child that my mother danced with her children because it gave her the strength to go on. It helped her to find hope when she struggled to find it. I had no way of knowing that my father couldn’t wait to come home and play with us because it was one of the best ways to let the weariness in his soul and body melt away. Our pleas for another round of Daddy Bench Press could lift his spirits and help him remember why he worked so hard. It validated his perseverance and steadfast loyalty.
Both my parents carried the mixed legacies of their families of origin. They came from immigrant families with parents who had experienced war and incredible violence and upheaval, and this deeply influenced their parenting choices. My parents couldn’t wait to leave their parents’ homes and be freed of their difficult and restrictive ways of being. And of course, we all know that when you run from something, it still follows you. Of course my own family has been deeply shaped by the kind of troubled legacies that I mentioned in our prayer today. I can’t imagine that there is one family here that doesn’t have troubled legacies. I’m sure we could fill this room with them. But those legacies often sit side by side with the good ones, the ones where we are held and feel safe and treasured and there is laughter and joy and hope.
Today is Mothers Day, but we are making this Parents Day here at Emerson. We are honoring not only those who are literally parents, but all those who in some way held us and made us feel safe and treasured, all those who brought laughter and joy and hope into our lives. We are also honoring the parent inside all of us, for we are all parents regardless of whether we have raised children.
There’s an excellent article by Anne Lamott published this week* where she talks about not liking Mothers Day, even though she’s a mother. The reason she doesn’t like Mothers Day is because it tells us that women who are mothers are better women than those who aren’t. That only a mother can understand unconditional love and true selfishlessness. Mothers Day is hard for women who aren’t mothers. It sends this message, that we already get from so many places, sometimes even from within our hearts, that our destiny cannot be fulfilled without becoming a mother, that we are not real women without children. This is one reason she doesn’t like Mothers Day.
Anne also writes that the day can be hard for women who are mothers because Mothers Day holds this unrealistic hallmark image of motherhood as some sacred holy perfect thing. It holds up an example that is completely unattainable and cannot truly affirm the normal down to earth every day mother that you are. I suspect that every mother here can probably list, at the drop of a hat, all the ways you think you could be a better mother. While self-examination is critical to be a good parent, self-recrimination is not. So that’s another reason Anne Lamott doesn’t like Mothers Day.
Finally, Anne writes that Mothers Day is hard for those who struggle with the legacy their parents left them. Some of us have parents who should probably have never been parents. Mothers Day with its image of perfect parenthood holds up what we didn’t have. It may show us in a painful hurtful way what we are struggling with, what may be keeping us from giving and receiving love the way we would like to. So these are the reasons that Anne Lamott doesn’t like Mothers Day and the reason that we are honoring all parents today, and all the ways that we are parents.
At the same time, I think there is something undeniably special about raising a child, being a mother, being a father that is irreplaceable. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of babysitting a one year old, and as he raised his arms in total trust for me to pick him up, I felt this surge of softness and love, and I thought to myself, “Wow, his parents get this every night.” And then last week in worship we honored our young people, those who are entering high school, those who are graduating and going to the next stages of their lives, and I watched the parents of these young people, their pride and joy, and the whole range of emotions that wells up as your children grow and change, sometimes away from you for while. It was a precious bittersweet Sunday. It always is.
Somehow we have to find a healthy and inclusive way to honor parenthood and the many ways that we are parents. To honor the very real and unique journey of those who are raising children. And also to honor the fact that every single one of us, parent or not, is responsible for our children. We all make a difference in the lives of our young people. We are all role models. The way we are men and the way we are women, we are examples to our young people. Every one of us is a mother and every one of us is a father, and I say that as a way to avoid simplistic ways of understanding gender because there is no one way to be a mother or father or parent and there is no one way to be a woman or a man. We are all unique and in our uniqueness we have something special to offer the children in our lives.
Do you know what I celebrate about my parents? I celebrate their journey. Both of my parents have spent their whole lives unwinding the tangled legacies of their parents, who were also tangled beautiful people. Both of my parents have slowly repaired, strand by strand, the more damaging things they inherited. They never ever gave up trying to heal. Never stopped yearning to be made whole. Their path included music and dance, hard work and faith and beauty and good friends. Often, the motivation for healing came from their desire to be good parents. Their desire to raise us well was a huge motivating factor for them in the choices they made. Their desire for hope and healing was not just about themselves, it was often for us. I suspect that when they weren’t strong enough to do it for themselves, they found their strength in their love for us. So I celebrate that.
When have you pursued hope and healing for the sake of a child?
I also celebrate everyone else who walked that journey with them. Aunts and uncles. Grandparents. Teachers. Mentors. Good friends. Ministers. All tangled up in their own journeys. And the reason I celebrate these people is because now I am one of these people. I am an aunt and a sister and a babysitter and a mentor and a minister. I am blessed with children in my life and I want to be a good role model. I want to be one of those places of unconditional love that the children who come through my life can depend on.
When have you sought healing for the sake of the children who have come through your life?
So I celebrate the people who played those roles for me, people who could be there for me in the way that my parents couldn’t. Sometimes our mentors can provide those things our parents can’t because mentors do not have the same stake in our decisions. Sometimes they have a clearer perspective because they are not inside the situation the way your parents were. They don’t have to live with your mistakes. They don’t have to pay for your mistakes! Sometimes mentors can say the things a parent can’t and you’ll be able to hear things from them that you can’t hear from a parent.
I have come into an ever-strengthening belief that we all need mentors, if only because it is completely unreasonable to assume that our parents can provide everything that we need. No one can. That’s why places like this are so important for our children. This congregation is one of those places where your children will have good role models, good mentors, loving supportive strong adults who share your values and can reinforce them with your children. And especially in modern society, where so many of us live far from our extended families, congregations like this one can be like an extended family and provide that kind of support and strength.
We need all the help we can get to raise our children in this incredibly complicated world. They need all the love and support they can get to find their way in this incredibly complicated world.
We all need all the help we can get because every one of us has inherited a legacy that is a mixed blessing. The legacy we inherited from those who raised us has made us who we are. And you and I all know that some of that legacy has given us the greatest blessings of our lives, and some of that legacy is what we will struggle with until the day we die. We are called to work with those legacies and to carry them in new ways not only for our sake, but for the sake of our children.
What I know from my own life is that the greatest love that has been bestowed on me, the love that has shaped me and sometimes healed me, has been from those who did not deny their tangled legacy, but carried it and worked with it, held it up, spoke of it honestly from the deepest places in their hearts, and sought to offer forgiveness and to accept forgiveness for the unforeseen ways those legacies have shaped their lives and the ones who depended on them. That’s the love that’s shaped me and blessed me. So tell your stories. Tell your children of the legacy you carry and how you carry it, and when they’re old enough, tell them the whole story. It will be such a blessing to them.
My parents have just retired. They have one grandchild, and now my mother dances with him and my father wrestles with him. They’re a lot older and wiser now of course, with a lot more self-understanding and more time for self-reflection. They’re in that stage of life where they are looking back at their life’s choices, grateful for some, regretful of others. They want the best for each of their four children and still worry about the choices we make. They still delight in us and they delight in their grandson. They worry about him like they worry about us and seek acceptance of the ways they can influence his life and the ways they can’t. They delight in being two more loving adults in his life. And when he’s worn them out, they delight in sending him home to his parents!
What are you celebrating today? What are you needing to hold lightly? Let us be grateful for and gentle with the mixed blessings of the legacies bestowed upon us by those who raised us. Let us carry those legacies with grace and care and compassion so that we may bless those who follow us.
May the spirit be with you and yours. Amen.
* “Why I Hate Mother’s Day.” Anne Lamotte. http://www.salon.com/2010/05/08/hate_mothers_day_anne_lamott/
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