It seems hard to believe but supposedly phone usage spikes by 37% on this day, more than on Christmas! Anna Jarvis suggested the day be commemorated in 1904 in honor of all the sacrifices that mothers make. She apparently was not interested in making any such sacrifices herself and never married or had any children. She had in mind a simple ritual to mark the day, a single white rosebud pinned to one’s church clothes on the second Sunday in May.
But, greeting card companies and perfumers would have none of it and it soon became the highly commercialized and guilt-inducing holiday that we know today.
Even in her lifetime it had gotten out of control, and she would spend virtually her entire fortune — which was not insubstantial since she never had to make any mother sacrifices and was able to hold on to her dough – in legal fees trying without success to get the day removed from the calendar.
Julia Ward Howe had tried to exploit the idea of motherhood earlier in 1870 attempting to galvanize mothers everywhere to act for world peace. Apparently greeting card companies and perfumers just couldn’t get any purchase around that idea, and it has all but fallen out of vogue for any group to champion, but that’s a sermon for another day.
Being a card-carrying mother, I would like to speak a moment about those sacrifices. By my accounting, they generally include being disliked by one’s children for most of their childhoods and giving up on dreams of how you imagined things would go in favor of appreciating how they are actually going.
The first one is not so bad. I was blessed to have good friends and didn’t need for my children to be my friends, which worked out well since they didn’t want to be mine, either. And I would do it all again not a whole lot differently if it meant having the relationships I now enjoy with them as adults.
The second thing remains a mixed blessing, for the most part. It was and remains hard to give up on something I imagined would be. There’s some anxiety around not being entirely clear about what is going to happen now that I recognize that I am not in control of what happens most of the time.
Perhaps the disciples felt this way when Jesus started being sketchy with his answers to what was coming next. It must’ve pinched a little to hear him basically saying “your pay grade isn’t high enough for you to know what comes next.”
And then, he was gone. Three years with him day and night. Three agonizing days without him day and night. Forty incredibly happy days with him after the Resurrection. Then, in one afternoon in the middle of giving them a blessing, he was gone! But not really. More like when someone you love dies, and after a period of understandable mourning and grief, you realize that they are truly present with you all the time now, but in a different way.
WE know the Spirit will come to them in a few days’ time, but THEY don’t know exactly what that will be like. It’s hard not to know what is coming next and equally hard to leave aside the sadness of things no longer being like they were.
I wonder if God ever looks at us and says what we do about our own children: How I wish they would stay little and cute. It feels like all of civilization is one big awkward adolescent, gangly, voices changing, mood swings, and hating its parents.
How could Jesus have said on the cross that it is finished when so much isn’t finished? How could he leave when his closest friends were still asking basic questions? What is the profile of a spiritual transition? How do we know if we’re in one and what should we expect on the other side? Transitions aren’t times without energy. There is a different energy exchange process that offers very important information to us.
I know for myself that when I don’t feel like praying or even thinking about God, it means that I’m in a spiritual pout because something’s not going the way I think it should go. And I can’t get past my own resentment and disappointment to see the unfolding of the divine plan right in front of me.
Usually only in hindsight am I able to offer thanks to God for not giving me what I thought I wanted and instead giving me what I was too ignorant to even know I needed.
I get that. And I get being ignorant in the first place. Where I continue to struggle is in the gap.
Why a period between the Ascension and the Pentecost? Why not the Spirit coming down as Jesus was going up like twin escalators? Why do kids have to have their own kids before they understand why we did what we did?
I think this repeated pattern of the gap goes back to the idea of transformation and sanctification, to all the liminal seasons in our lives where we are asked to trust in something we cannot see yet.
Here is the place where we sit so expectantly, so hopefully, in these days between Jesus leaving and the Spirit arriving, not just in this story of our faith history but in all those places in our current history where what we loved is gone and what will be next has not yet arrived, in that period, if you will, where we are mourning the death of someone we loved and not yet able to see that they are still with us.
St. Paul talks about the “hope” that marks this season, a hope that we cannot see. And, in times such as these, in these liminal seasons of transition from what we thought was going to be to what will be, the Spirit literally says our prayers for us – interceding with the Father for us on our behalf with sighs too deep for words.
I am convinced that this “hope” is the hope Paul is referring to in his letter to the Ephesians that we heard this morning a hope that over time the eyes of our hearts will see the light.
This lightening of the heart takes time. The process is one of constantly being pushed toward what we do not know and away from our comfortable corners. It also gives us a discernible “gap” between events and seasons in our lives, a gap that our whole selves actually crave in order to maintain balance.
More teens are taking an intentional gap year between high school and college to make sure that they are emotionally and mentally prepared for a new paradigm. Congregations use an interim period to discern what sort of clergy they need to lead their communities into the next iteration.
Neural science tells us that during intentional gap times, the brain does not really slow down or stop working. Rather, in the same way that certain molecular, genetic and physiological processes occur primarily or even exclusively when we sleep at night, many important mental processes seem to require what we call downtime and other forms of rest during the day. Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.
In other words, doing our best at what we called to do requires periods of time when we step back from what we do and do something else for a bit.
So what is God inviting YOU to consider during these days between Ascension and Pentecost – either literally or figuratively? Are you recently widowed? Is your nest suddenly empty? Have you changed jobs or careers? Are you facing retirement, or rethinking a certain relationship?
And who will be your companion as you spend time thinking and breathing? Some of you come to Stuart or me, which is fine. But we have other trained persons who can also be helpful during this time. We have Cheryl Kelley who offers spiritual direction primarily for people who find themselves in a gap. We also have at least 15 Community of Hope chaplains who are also good company during gaps. You may have a new friend or an old friend who can partner with you in prayer during this unique time. The important thing is to recognize that if that’s where you find yourself, be prepared to settle in for a bit. This is a really important season. Don’t rush it.
A prayer you might find helpful for framing such a time is from page 832 for Quiet Confidence:
O God of peace who has taught us that in returning and rest we will be saved, in quietness and confidence will be our strength, by the might of your spirit lift us up to your presence where we may be still and know that you are God [and that we are not.]
The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Park
Ascension Day Year B 2018