For many women, and men too, Mothering Sunday is a day on which tightly constrained emotions are liable to be ambushed and exposed.
Those who have lost children or been unable to conceive a child, or who have recently lost a parent or close relative, may well tread cautiously around this day: perhaps wishing – trying – to participate in community joy at the smiles and gifts of children for their mothers; perhaps feeling more than usually isolated.
The great joy expressed by Hannah and the decision to offer her son, Samuel, into a life of religious service (1 Samuel 1:20-28: one of the readings suggested for Mothering Sunday) has to be set in the context of her very great sorrow at being childless (1 Samuel 1:1-19).
The ambivalence and grieving that can accompany Mothering Sunday finds expression in three of the hymns suggested on Singing the Faith Plus for use on this day.
“God of Eve and God of Mary” (StF 119), for example, has the ability to widen our appreciation and definition of parenthood.
The hymn was written specifically for Mothering Sunday by Fred Kaan when he was serving as a part-time minister for a small housing estate congregation in Swindon. A few years later, he was asked to write a companion hymn for Father’s Day (“God of Adam, God of Joseph”). In both hymns, he gives thanks for the possibilities of parenthood and for inspiration found in the loving heart of God, but one phrase occurs in both texts – it gives particular thanks “for those who have no children, / yet are parents under God”. (See also Alan Gaunt’s hymn We gladly celebrate and praise, StF 120.)
For some, even this possibility may, at times, be too hard to contemplate. And, in any case, all grieving is personal and unique. Fred Pratt Green offers the suggestion of a wordless acknowledgement that might be helpful for those for whom grief is too raw for words:
If we’ve no breath for praise,
no thoughts to frame a prayer,
we know you need no words of ours
to prompt your care. (StF 616)
Finally, Alan Luff’s hymn, “God grant us words to speak” (StF 647), will be suitable in any number of contexts. Mothering Sunday, with the shadow of the cross falling ever more darkly over our Lenten reflections, may be one of them. He helps us pray to find the right words “to ease the pain that others feel” and points out (v.4) that, even as he was being crucified, Jesus’ “thoughts amid death’s strife / were for the ones whose pain he healed / by words of love and life.”