I offered this reflection on Mother’s Day/Christian Family Sunday at Wesley [St Andrews] and St James. Of late, I’ve usually been away that weekend visiting my mother , but because of family emergencies this year involving other senior relatives, I had, this year, my last chance to reflect on this particular Sunday. I often hope my Sunday reflections will invite people to take another look at biblical and other texts: this week’s were Psalm 23; Acts 9:36-43 and 1 John 3:16-24.
What jumps out in today’s story from Acts, about Dorcas aka Tabitha?
So often in our Bible the women are behind the scenes, we have to ask ourselves – who made all those meals? Who did the dishes? Who looked after all the children?
But here we see a woman surrounded by her friends, a woman remembered by all the sewing or knitting she did, as my old aunt did- at her funeral, my cousin wore the last socks she ever made him, before she had to lay down her knitting needles.
We think of so many women whose work is mostly unpaid, or, if paid, still a labour of love- knitting , sewing, rug hooking, quilting. And don’t forget the culinary arts!
This story reminds us- ministry has many forms- feeding and clothing and quiet acts of caring matter just as much as standing up and speaking. Often the former actions were considered women’s work- the latter were considered men’s work. That’s not always true today, But still today, such work, such caring is easily overlooked.
This story holds up the less visible, humbler, more practical acts of caring . And today is a good day to remember those acts.
We need these acts of caring more than anything else. People need feeding and clothing- children need raising- those who are ill or aging need all kinds of help. Everything else is – you might say- icing on the cake.
Consider the first letter attributed to John. Laying down your life for the other: it’s not always the big heroic gesture; It’s often the small day to day sacrifices, ones rarely noticed, much less rewarded.
If you are a mother- and these days perhaps a father too- you give up personal time, you give up a good nights’ sleep, you give up peace and quiet. You are tired -perhaps you’ve been out at work all day or night – but there’s still mealtime, laundry and cleaning, and making sure the children are ready for school, they’ve got their lunch, they’ve done their homework, they’ve got up in time. Or you get even less sleep or you use up your allotted days off because a child is sick. Or you do crisis intervention- who knows what might come up ?
Sacrificial love of this kind isn’t just parental. The time may come when those who took care of us now need care. And often again it’s the small things: picking up the phone even if we are busy; giving them our weekends or holidays; doing cleaning , sorting and shopping they can’t do; being with them at medical appointments if possible; staying within reach of their hospital bed or lazy boy chair; Bringing them meals; maybe even helping them eat the meals; encouraging and supporting them in accessing more care , even in facing difficult changes; if they are confined to bed, making sure their phone, their glasses, their call button are all within easy reach.
Sometimes love means setting our own agenda, our preference aside- at least some of the time- doing things we would never choose to do, having conversations we’d rather not have, even missing time at our workplace when emergencies come up.
We lay down our lives in big ways and small ways. In so doing, we express love. `how does God`s love abide in anyone who has the world`s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help.?“[1 John 3:17]. To stay connected with the Compassionate One, the Source of Compassion ,use what words you will, we must be compassionate.
Compassion costs us. Compassion costs us everything we have- at times- whether we are tending to the sick, or helping those in poverty, or supporting a refugee family, or donating to a cause, or trying to make a better world, or being compassionate to our planet, or tending to our own families.
This is what it means to love not in word and in speech, but in truth and actions. Our words still matter- but let them be in service to the wellbeing of others. And we speak the most eloquently when we treat others with kindness and respect, doing even small things to help them feel cared for and supported, working for a world where all feel safe and loved. We speak the most eloquently when we listen well, inviting honest open conversation- people don’t have to be fine when they aren’t, we don’t have to be fine when we aren’t.
The best gift we can give is to open a safe space for vulnerable people, and allow ourselves to be vulnerable – like those widows in our Acts story. It was OK for them to weep and mourn together- I’m not sure Peter quite got that. Perhaps, if you carry sadness in your hearts today because of absent loved ones, you too need those safe times and places.
Finally, loving is difficult at times, with families, with friends, even within our church family. We all get weary- and run down- at times nerves and tempers fray. And loving is particularly difficult when we grieve those things we can’t fix: chronic or terminal illnesses, the privations which can come with aging, loneliness for those no longer with us.
We are all fragile, mortal creatures- there are sadnesses. There are losses, there is letting go.
Jean Vanier, who died this week, understood all this.He chose to live with the most vulnerable of people, special-needs adults- some would require help with feeding, personal care and more- some might be verbal in our language, some not. He chose the most humble way of connecting , of presence . His university degrees, his past achievements meant nothing-just his common humanity with all of God’s beloved.
And Vanier embraced his own aging, his own frailty , his own giving up of abilities and possibilities. Love in action meant loving acceptance of all, even himself.
Vanier reminds us – “we are not called to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.”
Like Dorcas and her widow friends, like so many of the mothering , or parenting, or caregiving people who’ve touched our lives, like spiritual communities at their best, when we open arms and hearts with tenderness and humility, you may be called to do humdrum, even tedious things for those you love, or your community, this community or any other. You may be called to offer the simple gift of time, presence, listening to family, friends, spiritual community, even strangers.
It may seem small, unspectacular, a distraction. But what you do and where you show up matters. –
And each small offering can be wrapped up in extraordinary love. the love which lives in each of our hearts, the love that brings about life itself- not just our life, all life-the love which upholds us in green pastures and dark valleys, the love shown forth in Jesus’ actions, not just his words, and the love which makes family and friendship and community possible .
Continue in prayer, seek connection each day with the compassion and love all around you, and know that you are works of extraordinary love, and extraordinary love shows forth in your works- and extraordinary love beyond your own gives you the strength to continue .
May it be so !