“Needing a Mother”
The Lord is my Shepherd, I have all I need
She makes me lie down in green meadows
Beside the still waters, She will lead
She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs
She leads me in a path of good things
And fills my heart with songs
Even though I walk, through a dark and dreary land
There is nothing that can shake me
She has said She won't forsake me
I'm in her hand
She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes
She anoints my head with oil
And my cup overflows
Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me
All the days of my life
And I will live in her house
Forever, forever and ever
Glory be to our Mother, and Daughter
And to the Holy of Holies
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be
World, without end
- Bobby McFerrin
The first time I heard this version of the 23rd psalm, I was shaken and moved by the language that songwriter Bobby McFerrin uses. Yes, the feminine is employed to refer to God. But it is more that this rendition, for me, drives home the sense of intimacy and love that the psalmist originally experiences. I still love the words of the King James translation, and the Book of Common Prayer. They are a comfort and a joy. But right now, the affirmation that “there is nothing that can shake me; She has said She won’t forsake me. I’m in her hand” is spiritual food for my life.
Bobby McFerrin is probably better known for the song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. Probably not the anthem for many in our time. But in an interview, he talks about setting Psalm 23 to music:
“The 23rd Psalm is dedicated to my mother. She was the driving force in my religious and spiritual education, and I have so many memories of her singing in church. But I wrote it because I'd been reading the Bible one morning, and I was thinking about God's unconditional love, about how we crave it but have so much trouble believing we can trust it, and how we can't fully understand it. And then I left my reading and spent time with my wife and our children. Watching her with them, the way she loved them, I realized one of the ways we're shown a glimpse of how God loves us is through our mothers. They cherish our spirits, they demand that we become our best selves, and they take care of us. “
One of our very human fears is separation. Especially from those who love us and whom we love. We were made to be in relationships, in community with each other. It starts in the womb, when a developing babies are connected physically and emotionally to the one who will bring them into the world. It is our first and sometimes closest relationship. When we are born and the umbilical cord is cut, we begin a lifelong journey of what it means to be an individual. Paradoxically, to find ourselves we need nurturing and comfort, guidance and encouragement from others. For some, that comes from our natural mother. For some, it is another who takes on the role of mothering in our lives. But each of us goes through life growing from the series of changes and separations and losses of those relationships.
A child in a grocery store takes his hand from the shopping cart and stops to stare at the pretty packages on the shelf. He doesn’t notice it being pushed around the corner to the next aisle. When he turns around, that familiar pair of legs isn’t in sight. That’s when the wail goes up- “MOMMY!” The parent turns back, swoops down and gives him a reassuring hug. Mommy isn’t going to go away and leave him on his own. Not yet.
The young adult is packing her suitcase to leave for college. It will be her first time living away from home. She’s excited and scared and knows that this is good choice while doubting how she will cope. Although she doesn’t want to let on to her parents, she is hoping that they will figure out how to Facetime her, or even just email or call. Just in case, she takes a Selfie of Mom and her to keep on her phone.
The senior has found that in recent years the roles have become reversed as she looks after an aging parent. Now the time has come to say goodbye to her mother at the end of a good and long life. She didn’t imagine that it was going to be this difficult to let her go, or to be left behind. It’s like being a little child again, when mother turns a corner and you don’t see where she has gone. How do we trust there is a love that enfolds both our loved one and ourselves at these times?
The words of our Scriptures, the experiences of people of faith, and the person of Jesus Christ affirm that God is always with us. There is a prayer from the Celtic tradition that goes,
“My dear ones, O Lord, bless Thou, and keep in every place where they are.” Time and distance are not barriers to God. He (or She) is the means of bringing us together, no matter how deeply we feel the separation dividing us. God’s goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our life and beyond, into the house of the kingdom forever.
There was a young woman known as Juliana of Norwich who wrote of her encounters with a divine love. In her lifetime during the 14th century, the world was shaken by the Black Death, the Hundred Years’ War, the Peasants Revolt, and great political upheaval in England. Juliana herself came near death, but recovered to write her “Revelations” as an encouragement to others. Her words, though somewhat archaic, convey a startling and comforting image of God:
“We realize that all our mothers bear us for pain and for dying, and what is that? But our true mother, Jesus- All love- alone bears us for joy and for endless living, blessed may he be! Thus he sustains us within himself in love and hard labour, until the fulness of time”. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, this saint understands that we are each born for abundant and eternal life. The cross is the proclamation that our Creator has the power to overcome every trial and hardship for us, the children of the promise.
In the Church, we celebrate Mothering Sunday on this, the 4th Sunday of Lent. Often, we honour those who have shown us love and nurturing, whether they are our natural or adoptive mothers or those who have become “moms” in our lives. We also remember the Church as our Mother- the body that feeds us spiritually and in relationship with brothers and sisters of faith around the world. Tokens of that love, whether daffodils or slices of Simnel or Apostles’ Cake, are exchanged to rekindle those bonds of affection. We may not be able to physically gather to share. But distance doesn’t mean we cannot show love to one another, or to feel the love of God surrounding us and connecting us.
No matter where you are, how old you are, and how much your heart is crying, “I want my mommy”, God is present. As near as a heartbeat. As near as breath. Listen to your own body for this reassurance. The One who created you gave you a heart that beats with love and lungs that fill with the breath of the Spirit. As an infant is calmed by the nearness of her mother, may the nearness of our Mother Christ within you calm your spirit. Nothing can separate you. Forever, forever and ever. Amen.