In England, they have apparently discovered a way, using two electrical paddles, to simulate the physical experience of contractions—and for a fee, those who want to share in the experience of childbirth can now do so.
When I was born, fathers waited nervously in a smoke filled waiting room and were introduced to their newborns behind glass, which was a little like visiting a zoo. No longer. Now we dads want to be there. You know…sharing the experience.
So with these paddles, now dads can take it to the next level.
But just in case you wonder whose side they’re on, the picture on their promotional materials makes it clear—it’s a picture of a man on an exam table, screaming at the top of his lungs, while his wife sits next to him….weeping with delighted laughter.
….So if you’re still in the market for a Mother’s Day gift, look no further….
Of course, on a day when we are reminded to remember our mothers, and to consider some of our many cultural expectations around motherhood, thinking about their experience should be central in our thoughts.
And yet, I think we need to move quite cautiously if we are inclined to think that we can ever precisely share that experience.
Because if we can share it at all, the ways in which we can are not simple.
That’s an insight that goes deep into the DNA of the Christian movement, too.
Jesus was unusual for his time in even noticing women, and in having women at the heart of his movement before, during and after the resurrection.
At the heart of his teaching was the recognition that no human life is simple, that we all have dreams and regrets, loves and losses, moments of courage and moments of fear, and life wisdom that comes, but only at a very high price.
And if Jesus saw that this was as true for women as it was for men, well, that was unusual. Also, surely commendable.
But if that’s as far as we get, it’s not far enough, and Jesus would be the first to say so.
Because in his openness to the friendship of women, and the insights of women, and the reality of the sins of women as well as their graces, Jesus wasn’t simply putting women on a pedestal and leaving them there.
He was recognizing that they were partners in the work, and part of God’s plan for the redemption of the world, imperfect but utterly committed to sharing the love of God with all the world.
Jesus wasn’t trying to claim he could share in their experience. His point was that women were an expression of God’s experience.
That God’s love is embodied—made visible—in the witness of all God’s people, and that what matters is not what you look like or what your background is, or your biology.
What matters is having a heart that has been touched by God.
He was saying that underneath all our differences, there is an underlying unity tin God hat binds us all.
But at the same time, within the unity that binds us all, God’s love takes a million different forms. It is made real through the lives of people of all descriptions.
The love of mothers was only one. But it was an important one. Appreciating women’s lives in their complexity is in Christianity’s DNA.
That said, Mother’s Day can also be a day that doesn’t exactly lend itself to complexity.
For so many people, it seems to be making an argument not only about what motherhood is, but about what all women’s lives are about.
It’s a day when it can seem strangely hard to acknowledge that not every woman feels called to be a mom, and that not every mom turns out to be a saint, just as surely as not every woman has an inner Martha Stewart whom she seeks to channel.
Cynthia Bowser, from Greenwich Social Services, who is on the front lines of need in our community, once told me ruefully, “Some people just should not be parents.”
On a day like today, there are people in this room who know that this was true of their own mothers, and that’s a complicated place to be in, amid all the flowers, and the cards, and the people going to brunch.
For some, there is the dreaded phone call that lies ahead, with all its painful pretending.
Likewise, for mothers who have lost children, or who do not have the bond they hoped for with a child, there is heartache – a heartache at remembering the phone that will not ring, the card that isn’t on the kitchen counter, or the empty chair at that brunch.
Love is not always a sweet emotion.
Considering how best to honor our mothers isn’t something we should do lightly or unadvisedly.
Complexity should be part of this day.
But the fundamental challenge of Mother’s Day comes down to this: how do we say thank you for being loved?
The poet Billy Collins asks that question in a poem that some of you may know, titled, “The Lanyard.”
Here’s the poem (reader’s note: the poem can be found at (It’s worth it):
How do we say thank you for being loved? For the providence that sustains us as we grow into the fullness of adult stature? How do we acknowledge that we are here thanks to a grace that we will never be able to make even, and are not expected to?
Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
This morning, I hear in that a call to love the world as an expression of our gratitude.
We cannot all share the experience of motherhood. But we can share the love we have received and offer some of it as the love we have to give.
And the Christian understanding of what it is to share our love is to do things that give life – that nurse the sick, that teach others to walk and swim, that feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and offer insight and knowledge, and offer someone “two clear eyes to see the world,” as Collins says.
How can you and I give life? That’s the question.
Because that’s what it is to have a heart that has been touched by God.
To love the world as Jesus does, and to love the world as so many mothers do, is to enter into all the complexity of human need, and human becoming, and to lend ourselves to that work, in all its diaper-changing, tantrum-receiving, snack- providing glory.
Today is a day when we say thank you to some of those who offer us that kind of love.
And it’s a day to ponder how it is that, even in some small way, we might offer our love back to them, and to the wider world—how it is we might know and guide and serve people in all their need and in all their ragged and slow becoming.
Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” It is the only way to share the experience.
The experience of motherhood.
The experience of faith.
The experience as life as Jesus invites us to live it. The experience of anything worth sharing.
God bless the mothers who show us how. Happy Mother’s Day, one and all.