Margaret Mahy is a wonderfully imaginative poet, whose rhyming, alliteration, and creative use of language delights us all. “Bubble Trouble” is the only children’s poem featuring in a collection of New Zealand’s 100 finest.
The plot line is simply that the baby is in trouble and his mother and sister will need assistance. So, the community comes together to save baby. Neighboring children, scrabble players, an older crabby couple, two quilters, a jogger, and the local minister and the church children’s choir… all tried to save the baby. In the end it was one mischievous chorister with his slingshot, quick thinking, and the patchwork quilt, that saved baby.
In response to the need of one family the community mobilized.
I was reminded of ‘Bubble Trouble’ this week as the community of Tolaga Bay mobilized to find the 3-year-old boy, Axle, who had wandered away from home on Tuesday afternoon. More than 100 volunteers scoured the area looking for the boy. Helicopters, drones, and dogs joined the search. And happily, thankfully, 21 hours later Axle was found unharmed three kilometres from home “wanting his mum”.
Quite a Mother’s Day present!
Some twenty years or so back churches, particularly those of a more liberal hue, would celebrate Mother’s Day by affirming all who nurture others – whether male or female – and posies would be made for all the congregation. Yet while the roles of men and women in child-raising have changed somewhat, and depending on circumstance have some fluidity about them, I personally like to focus this day remembering the women who bore us and mothered us. Which of course might be more than one woman. Just as similarly I like to remember the fathers in our lives on the 1st Sunday in September.
Remembering mothers and fathers can be difficult. Some of us are blessed with supportive parents who we’ve looked up to, respected, learned from, loved, and later cared for. Some of us haven’t known our parent or parents, or our experiences have been very painful and we struggle to find anything good to hold on to. Others of us – maybe most of us – live with a mix of feelings. Yes, there is love, but there is also pain. Yes, there are things we have tried to emulate, but also things we’ve tried to forget. Yes, there were good times, but also difficult times. Memories sometimes require lots of healing, and forgiving.
The Bible isn’t particularly helpful with Mother’s Day. There are no disciples who are mothers with children mentioned in the Christian Scriptures. The patriarchal and polygamous cultures of most of the Torah doesn’t give us much about mothering that is positive to emulate. The one exception might be the saving of baby Moses. Which – like with Bubble Trouble and little Axle – was a joint undertaking.
Moses (basket, bullrushes) you might recall was saved from the murderous edict of the Pharoah by his sister Miriam, his birth mother Jochebed, the midwives Shiprah and Puah, and his adoptive mother, the Pharoah’s daughter. How historical the story is who knows? But it is an encouragement to us all that if we want to save children – whether those children be Uighur, Rohingya, refugees, or children held back by poverty and discrimination in our own land – then it is going to take more than just one woman, one mother, to make a difference. It’s going to take a village. And then some.
Sometimes on Mother’s Day – and as reflected in the first reading and offertory hymn today – there is attention paid to the biblical imaging of God as mother. This is particularly necessary because Christianity by and large has fallen into the mire of succumbing to one dominant metaphor of the divine – namely God as father. I was interested and pleased at Easter that an article about the Maori Anglican priest, Christopher Douglas-Huriwai, talked about his deliberate use of female images and pronouns in his preaching and worship to counter the heresy that God is male. Note the heresy is not called God ‘father’, it is solely calling God ‘father’. By mixing metaphors and genders about God one can de-stabilize the dominant fixation.
I found a phone number for Chris and rang him up. He was very grateful, as he was expecting much criticism for the article. To question the gender of God is still, believe it or not, a step too far for many Christians. Which just shows how deep we are in the mire.
Personally, as you no doubt have noticed, I prefer to frame god as something we are in, and is in us, rather than some object or being outside. The Johannine phrase “God is love and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them”[i] points in this direction, as does the phrase ascribe to St Paul “In God we live and move and have our being.”[ii]
So, god is about the realization that we are part of, immersed in, a oneness, a sacred order of all things. Prayer is an awareness of that connection, and characterized both by deep listening, and by acts of compassion. Or put another way, as we love others and ourselves, we can become more aware that we are immersed in god. And out of this awareness comes gratitude.
From such a theological understanding arises an ethic, a discipline, of firstly loving who you are (the good and not so good bits). That can take a lifetime.
Secondly, of listening to what the mystics call ‘the knowing of the heart’. This about the feeling of connection to the oneness, to god living in and through us and all being and beings. The ‘knowing of the heart’ is different from ‘the knowing of the mind’.
Thirdly of practicing gratitude. Every hour of the day. Whether we feel grateful or not.
And lastly, it is – in the words of Joy Cowley – holding your ego tenderly and wisely, and helping it go to sleep. Joy sees evil in the world as done by people who are convinced they are right. Evil she says comes from our protective instinct for survival, and the ego is its tool. But the ego is not an enemy. That ‘me first’ instinct is an important part of early growth and if it has developed in a healthy way it will be subdued in maturity.
We all have a tendency to think we are right and others’ wrong, and some can – when they have the power – use it to enforce their rightness. To live in a peaceful nonviolent world, to live in an inclusive, plural and diverse world, to live with a spiritual understanding of oneness, then we need to find ways to help others and ourselves tenderly and wisely hold our ego (our self-preservation drive) and help it go to sleep.
I like this maternal, and often paternal, image of cuddling a baby to sleep.
These actions of loving yourself, listening to the knowing of the heart, practicing gratitude, and gently singing our self-interest off to sleep, are hard to do alone. Like raising or rescuing a child, we need a village, a community. We need to help and encourage one another. We need the skills of one another.
You might have noticed in the Bubble Trouble story that each person brings their own gifts to the task at hand. Some gifts, like scrabble or reading a book – aren’t needed. And others, like patchwork are.
Similarly, you might have heard in the reports on the finding of little Axle that not everyone was out looking. Some were making copious quantities of food. Some were telling others what was going on. Some were coordinating.
May we, this Mother’s Day and every day, value, cherish, and encourage one another in loving, listening, gratitude, putting selfishness to sleep, and working with others to build a world where all belong, all can be rescued, and all can help in the rescuing.
[i] 1 John 4:16
[ii] Acts 17:28