“Revisiting, Revisioning, Revising: Mother’s Day 2014” by Rev. Gail Geisenhainer
This morning, we were privileged to hear Rev.Gail Geisenhainer preach on Mothers' Day. She powerfully invoked Julia Ward Howe's original proclamation of the first Mothers' Day, as well as speaking to our evolving understanding of parenting. I especially appreciated her clarity about changing holiday practices to reflect new and emerging truths.
If you didn't make it to a worship service this morning, enjoy this one....
“Revisiting, Revisioning, Revising: Mother’s Day 2014”
Rev. Gail R. Geisenhainer, Senior Minister
First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor
May 11, 2014
Today is Mother's Day. For those of us raised with Mothers able and willing to love us and nurture us, spoil and guide us, Mother's Day is at worst, a benign salute to the power of the market economy to shape family habits. At best, it is a chance to express to our Mothers the love and gratitude we hold for them. For those of us who struggled into adulthood without either the presence of, or the concern from, a Mother who was able to offer us that kind of love, Mother's Day is another cultural nightmare, an emotional road filled with potholes. And it can hurt.
For mothers who struggle…, and mothers who thrive with the role, we open our embrace today. Here, in this congregation, we offer deep welcome for the full range of our experiences on this day.
Holidays, Holy Days, and cultured cultic practices are rooted in time and culture and need
improvement to keep current with emergent wisdom. The practice of honoring new or emergent truth is among the many things I cherish about Unitarian Universalism. Here we can revere the past while placing our trust in the dawning future. We can change what we do in immediate response to what we know.
In the spirit of this human practice of reshaping holidays, I believe it is time to reconsider today’s holiday: Mother’s Day.
Some dates for reference:
1870, Julia Ward Howe, author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, issued the Mother’s Day Proclamation we read earlier. In the late 19th century, Mother’s Day rallies for peace were held in major cities around the world.
1905, An American woman named Anna Jarvis began a practice called Mother’s Day as a day of Memorial and Honor for her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, who was a Peace and Public Health activist. The Jarvis plan prevailed and in 1914, United States President, Woodrow Wilson, signed the holiday into law.
Jarvis explained her intent for a “great day where sons and daughters could honor their mothers and fathers and homes in a way that will perpetuate family ties and give emphasis to true home life.” (Wikipedia)
By the 1920’s, Hallmark had begun selling Mother’s Day cards. Jarvis protested intensely. She claimed that the day was for sentiment and not for profit. Her views did not prevail and the day has become a time for selling chocolate, carnations, flowers, cards and meals in restaurants…, all in the the name of honoring mothers.
At no time in her public statements did Anna Jarvis make mention of Julie Ward Howe’s call to establish a great day of counsel for mothers to mourn the dead, make the call to disarm, and demand peace.
Most recently, our UUA has supported a shift in language to claim this day as “Mamas Day.” it is described this way:
“Mother’s Day was originally founded as an antiwar rallying cry by Unitarian Julia Ward Howe. Mother’s Day can be more than a day for flowers and pancakes. With “Mamas Day”, we hear a call to honor all those who mother, especially those who bear the brunt of hurtful policies or who are weighed down by stigma in our culture. We celebrate trans mamas, immigrant mamas, single mamas, lesbian mamas, young mamas, and other. It’s an opportunity to take action to create the conditions so that all families can thrive.” (uua.org)
For my part, it makes little difference who gets credit for founding the holiday. If we are to honor the holiday as a tribute to mothering, then, yes, I would want us to expand the focus to include all who nurture, all who hold kinship circles together. I know plenty of women with children who struggle against the social forces of poverty, racism, hetero-normative biasing to provide wellness and nurture for children. I know plenty of women without children who do the same. Our society is moving quickly past the role-rigidty taken for granted a hundred years ago. And, it feels weird to me to separate mothering and fathering into two separate holidays. Gender based role rigidity is also fading into the fog of past expectations. For my part, I would be happier with a holiday that celebrates the trials, rewards, and challenges of nurturing deep wellness in children without assuming all that happens only in hetero-normative, two-parent households.
But I do need for us to revisit Julia Ward Howe’s Proclamation and her ideas. I would advocate that we go back to the hard questions of war and peace…, the hard questions of how on earth it can be that we offer up the bodies of our young to preserve our ideals, preserve our freedoms, and protect our economic interests.
Julia Ward Howe wrote that “women.., would be too tender…, to allow our sons to be trained to injure…,” others. Over one hundred years ago many people in this country believed that if women could vote, war would end. Would that it could be true. But women vote now, and we still engage in war. For all the wonderful gains of the suffragist and feminist and womanist movements of the past hundred years…, some days it seems all we have gained is the right to teach our daughters as well as our sons how to injure others.
Howe's wisdom extended to the human process of peacemaking as well as to the goal. She knew that real peacemaking must begin with grieving. She wrote, "Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead." I think that is true. If we are to bring about an end to violence, an end to armed struggle, we will first have to allow ourselves to deeply mourn all the lives that have been lost to warfare. Then, Howe wrote, "Let (the women) solemnly take counsel with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace." What a concept! Don't ask the generals of armies who are trained in warfare how to create world peace. Don't ask the politicians who are trained in diplomacy by armed force how to create world peace. Ask the women whose children are lost in warfare what we must do to effect world peace. A revolutionary concept. One we have yet to try.
Julia Ward Howe called upon us to "Disarm, Disarm!" Now more than ever, when the United States is the world's largest and most dangerous nuclear power, the call to disarm has an absoluteness and an urgency Howe could barely have imagined. Now more than ever, when our government is leading us into a Pax Americana enforced by military strength, the call for Peace needs revisiting. Julia Ward Howe knew deeply the irrationality of expecting warfare and violence to bring about justice or honor. She wrote, "The sword of murder is not the balance of justice! Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession."
Julia Ward Howe lived through the American Civil War. She was President of the Women's International Peace Association. She was an abolitionist who was the co-editor of The Commonwealth, an anti-slavery newspaper. Howe authored several books, including an biography of Margaret Fuller. She was a poet and President of the New England Woman Suffrage Association. But she is best known today as the author of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic;" a stirring hymn concerned with justice, freedom and ending slavery. But her original plan faded from public view.
I suspect there are many reasons why the United States Congress and President Wilson embraced the Jarvis plan for honoring mothers instead of the Julia Ward Howe call to “Disarm! Disarm!” The Jarvis plan is softer…, easier. We can grasp her concepts so easily. Red carnations to honor living mothers. White carnations to honor mothers no longer living. Cards, Dinners, Flowers…., We honor the women who sacrifice so much for our well-being. Not much controversy in that.
But to disarm? To reach that goal we need support and progress from many areas of human living. For our part, we need a religious platform on which to stand to press the need for peaceful means to peaceful ends. The purpose of religion and worship is to address the great questions.., to equip people to make different decisions.
Julia Ward Howe said something even more radical in her proclamation than her call to disarm. Pacifists for eons have called for disarmament. The Proclamation pushed the call deeper.
Julia Ward Howe challenged the authority of governments to wage war. She wrote, “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.” I think she meant that mothers are the agencies with the authority to decide if sons should be sent off to slaughter through war. But, in saying this as she did, she also implied that governments of men were agencies irrelevant to great questions like the waging of war. No small wonder, then, that our government did not rally to her cause and embrace her proclamation!
For my part, I would have our Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations spend more time with the theological questions of authority, war, and weapons.., and less time claiming that Howe was the founder of our holiday of Mother’s Day. My views are, to me, clear and pragmatic. I believe war is wrong. I believe no government should have the authority to wage war. I believe we ought to ban firearms: all firearms. I do not expect, however, that I will see real movement toward any of those views in my lifetime.
I don’t think we will disarm, practice peace, or end war by wanting it to be so. Until we find ways to bring whole generations of people, across all boundaries of language and nation, into ways of living together that are not violence-based, we will continue to believe we cannot risk being without weapons, armies, and the stink of war. Speaking of his god, the Hebrew prophet, Micah, said this:
“And he will judge among many people, rebuking strong nations far away; and they will reshape
Will there be a time to study war no more? Oh, I hope it could be true. Will there be a time to reshape swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks. Would that it could become true. Could we teach one another to live life in peace, to cultivate food and good will instead of enmity and violence?
As Julia Ward Howe instructed…, with editing for a new century, “let us take counsel with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace.”
May It Ever Be So