* Editorial Note: Mother’s Day is not only about beautiful bouquets of fragrant flowers and vibrant spring colors, accompanied by a family brunch. For a number of people, it is a day filled with heavy memories. In this spirit, we present this poignant piece by MaryKate Morse, a Leading Voice for Missio. Please know that if you struggle with Mother’s Day, you are not alone. God is with you. ~CK
I have lost three mothers. The “biological unit,” as my husband irreverently refers to my birth mother, is lost. She left when I was 11, and I don’t know where she is. Ever since my maternal grandmother died as a result of her extreme negligence, and after she spent the inheritance on her 32-year-old husband (whom she married when she was 65), she disappeared. I suppose I could look for her, but I don’t know if I want to. It’s a funny thing to have misplaced a mother.
My step-mom died, the one who lived what it means to be a mother to us. She married my dad when I was 18. She was beloved by us all. Through her we all came to faith. Through her we knew family and celebration and tenderness. She was the mom we never had, and she was more than that, she was the essence of mothering. Then she passed away in 2004 of multiple myeloma, and I am still grieving her loss.
This step-mother I knew and loved so well became a stranger to me in her dying. She retreated into a coma where even when crying out in the dark, I could not reach her and neither she me. We were slowly drawn apart by some great unseen undoing.
Then in 2006, my mother-in-law died. The mother-in-law I never connected with and didn’t know very well, became human to me in her dying. Her masks came off, and she was real, kind, and funny. As you can imagine, it was extremely disorienting when in their dying, my beloved mother grew distant, and the stranger one grew close.
Today, I am without a mother of any kind. Not real, not step, not in-law. They are all gone. Even my beloved spiritual director unexpectedly died of an illness. I have no surrogate moms. No aunts, or grandmothers, or female mentors. I am motherless. Not friendless, but motherless.
I need to discover a spiritual discipline that will help me with losing mothers. Death makes the now, the moment of death, eternal. The loss cannot be forgotten as many other things are. I am looking for a spiritual discipline for the loss of the nurturing woman in my life – for standing alone without a mother. Death makes the now, the moment of death, eternal. The loss cannot be forgotten as many other things are. I am looking for a spiritual discipline for the loss of the nurturing woman in my life – for standing alone without a mother. Click To Tweet
I have disciplines for all sorts of other spiritual problems: anger, fear, depression, discernment, forgiveness. I have disciplines for other events in life: weddings, funerals, transitions, callings. But I do not have one for losing mothers. I know I need one.
Spiritual disciplines are practices or habits which draw us to God. They help us to become more aware of God, of ourselves, and life. We grow. We rest in God with trust. We practice the discipline and know that the Holy Spirit is awakening things inside of us. Some spiritual disciplines are ancient, such as the classics of prayer and fasting. Others can be made new to serve the need or time in the present day. I hear God calling me to form a spiritual discipline for losing mothers, and I’m trying to listen. Spiritual disciplines are practices which draw us to God. They help us to become more aware of God, of ourselves, and life. Resting in God, we practice the discipline, knowing that the Holy Spirit is awakening things inside of us. Click To Tweet
What would it look like? How would I practice it? What would the Spirit unleash in me when I entered into this formative practice faithfully? I honestly don’t know. One spiritual director told me to ask my friends to be mother to me when I need it. This advice was helpful, but my friends have their own worries, and sometimes they are not present (as I’m sure they could say about me as well). This spiritual director also told me to ask God to give me a sign from my mother that she is okay. I have prayed for that as well, and waited. I am still waiting. That would be very nice, but it never happened.
Thinking of God as Mother does not help me. I believe that God is all-sufficient towards me as ‘Father-Mother God.’ Instead it is some discipline for standing alone without mothers. Many men and women and children have found themselves in this same place.
This unnatural place where there are no mothers…
I first began writing this article in 2006. I work on it every year around Mother’s Day. I am no closer to finding a spiritual discipline than I was back then. I ask regularly for inspiration. I wait patiently for the Spirit to guide me. And again, nothing; like a small death reminder.
However, I have noticed that I have developed little habits over all these years. They are consistent. They are almost mindless, but they settle me, like a mother’s soft crooning, or the calm covering that comes with the quiet power of a woman’s presence.
Wherever I go to speak, I carry my mother’s Bible – the one she used regularly. She had many, but this particular Bible was her final one. It’s a beautiful brown leather Bible. Her Bible is not even the translation I prefer, but I still use it to read the passage for my sermon, presentation, or teaching. I love the way that it feels. I keep it open before me while I’m speaking with the little red ribbon laying diagonally across the page. Somehow, in this small practice, I sense that she is with me in a mediated way.
Before I speak, in my preparatory centering prayer, I always invite her and other lost women to be with me as witnesses and as blessers. They always come. Jesus is there too, of course, but there is also a group of women ancestors present with me, women who have gone before me. My mother comes. My great aunt, Nell, whom I met only briefly a few times as a young girl. Nell would always wrap her arms around me and pull me into her soft ample self, and then feed me until I thought I would burst. My spiritual director, Jay, is present. And strangely enough, Ruth Bader Ginsberg comes as well. RBG’s presence makes me laugh every single time, but I am still comforted. I am steadied. I am readied.
Perhaps these are my spiritual disciplines, the little rituals of honoring and remembering.
Perhaps I belong to a special community of the motherless.
Perhaps in this place we commit ourselves to being mothers to other little orphaned souls.
Perhaps it is that simple. Perhaps these are little rituals of honoring and remembering. Perhaps I belong to a special community of the motherless. Perhaps in this place we commit ourselves to being mothers to other orphaned souls. Perhaps it is that simple. Click To Tweet
MaryKate Morse, PhD, is professor of Leadership and Spiritual Formation at Portland Seminary. Currently, she is the Lead Mentor for the Doctor of Ministry in Leadership & Spiritual Formation. Raised in the Air Force, MaryKate lived in various states and overseas. With her husband, Randy, and small children she lived in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia and Peru doing ministry and social projects with the Aymará Indians. She is a certified spiritual director and pastor with the Evangelical Friends. MaryKate continues to explore how spiritual formation and effective leadership result in the transformation of individuals and communities especially for evangelists and front-line leaders in diverse cultural environments. She has planted two churches and served as Executive Dean of Portland Seminary. Morse is also a leadership mentor and coach, conference and retreat speaker, and author including Lifelong Leadership: Woven Together through Mentoring Communities, Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space, and Influence, and A Guidebook to Prayer. MaryKate is married to Randy and has three adult children and five grandchildren. She enjoys being with family, hiking, reading, exploring new places, and playing with her dog, Tess.