Today, apparently, is “Birthing Person” Day, and the prevailing manner of marking the occasion seems to be people posting pictures of “birthing creatures” in the wild–fluffy “mother” birds with baby birds under their wings, a cheetah “mother” screaming at her cubs, that sort of thing. That seems about right. Mother’s Day is so fraught. It is that terrible moment–whether you are a “Birthing Person” (BP), or a “mother” or whatever–to contemplate your own failures and frustrations, and the ingratitude of your offspring. Do they even deserve to have you as their BP?
That’s before you add in a multitude of other accumulated griefs. Maybe your own mother has been awful to you your whole life. Maybe she really was a Bad Mother. Or maybe your mother has just died–a lot of mothers and grandmothers did this year. Maybe you have wanted (whatever your sex and gender) to be a mother or a BP yourself and you haven’t been able to, for so many complicated and heart-breaking reasons. The morning dawns on this auspicious day and no matter what happens, it probably won’t be a time of uncomplicated and simple joy where you get nice presents and just feel happy and don’t have to eat and drink your feelings or stand in the kitchen alone at a family party quietly devouring a whole cheese while no one is looking. At no point will you escape to cry because you’re so tired and irritated about everything.
Plus, if you are are yourself a BP, and secretly wish that everyone (your children especially) would notice, and that you wouldn’t have to organize your own present, and your own dinner, and guilt your children into going to church with you, and try to sublimate your own emotional exhaustion, you can go watch scolding videos on youtube about how you should amend your bad attitude #inJesusnameamen because motherhood is not being selfish and awful. In other words, maybe it’s just the usual Sunday of swirling hope, sadness, and anger because you have nothing in your closet groaning with clothes to even wear.
To remediate the trouble, you toddle over to the Sunday lections and there discover that some Christians (Anglicans) don’t even account for Birthing Persons Day in the church year. They think it is some number of Sundays after Easter and yet are still unaccountably having gospel readings from the night before Jesus died.
“If you keep my commandments,” says Jesus, “you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” Which is a variation of what I say to my own children every single day of the year–if you loved me, you would keep my commandments. Or, more often, I told you to bring down your laundry half an hour ago, what have you been doing?
Speaking as a “birthing person,” I feel I have a unique insight into how God must feel all the time when he speaks. There he goes on, century after century, telling his very own people who he carries along in his bosom through the Red Sea and into the wilderness, who he brings into a well-provisioned and gracious land, who he clearly and plainly tells what he expects everyone to do, and while his words are still falling off the pens of the prophets his own people are running off to do the very things he tells them not to do with nary a backward glance at him. Over and over again he drags them back to himself, to the goodness of the life he wants them to have, the life he created them for them. And over and over again they run away from him.
So here is Jesus, once again, slowly and loudly, and plainly explaining it–If you love me, you will at least try to do what I say and you will not run off into the imagination of your own heart but will stay close to me and carefully listen…LISTEN. But, of course, the disciples that night were in a stupor of disappointment. So horrified were they by what Jesus was saying that they could not attend.
And, like so many children, they did “love” Jesus in that forgetful and fitful way of taking so many essentials for granted, like his going on with them in the usual way forever, and giving them everything they wanted and “needed” the moment the desire flitted across their minds. He was the solid and true person of their lives and they just didn’t have to think about it that much. And now he is going away, at this late hour, and he wants them to know that the kind of love they owe him is not that warm glowing nostalgia, that comfortably alleviated guilt, that quick text–“Love Ya Jesus! Happy Whichever Day This Is–and Jesus will be grateful because he has reasonable expectations and knows that you are busy and that you love him so it’s fine. Unhappily, no hallmark card or quick brunch after your annual visit to church will satisfy him. He wants an all-encompassing love that radically reorients you and all your desires around him and him alone–both his “commandments” and indeed his Person. He wants you to be so close to him always that your entire way of thinking and feeling and desiring–indeed what you desire–is singly focused on him.
If he were your mother (thank goodness he is not) it would be both creepy and cloying. It would be controlling and miserable. Fortunately, being both God and Man, being both Word and Light, being both the Provisions and the Way, he is not going to tell you to do something that might, perhaps, someday destroy or diminish you. He is not holding on to you to satisfy some clutching, desperate, fearful need inside himself. He has already loved you–to the end, to perfection.
Most mercifully, he knows that you are not the least bit capable of this kind of obedient love. He knows you have no idea where to begin, nor what it would look like, nor the far-reaching implications, and that you do not have the inclination even to try. And so, he “lays down his life” for you. He goes even unto death. He dies instead of you, carrying your failures and sins into the pit and leaving them there. He is the obedience you never grasped nor even saw. And then, because of that death and its necessary resurrection, he opens the way for the Comforter–that strong, bracing, life-giving breath of his everlasting presence–to keep you in his love always.
In this, then, Jesus is really the best “Birthing Person.” Not because he is a woman–he is not. Not because he needs acknowledgment or a card or a phone call. Not because he wants to be fulfilled through parenthood. Not because “love is love” or because getting a child will fill some lack in himself, or tick some box, or salve some grief, or allay some fear. No, because he gives life to the world. Because, in dying, he destroyed death. In rising again he opened the way to life forever. In ascending into heaven he intercedes for those who he loves. He is our food, our water, our wine, our hope, our glory. It doesn’t matter how lonely or disappointed or grieved you are. It doesn’t matter if you have a bad attitude or unreasonable expectations or never managed to obey–if you grab onto him as your Life, he will never let go of you. He is your Person, the very definition and embodiment of Love. You don’t have to do anything to make him love you. All you have to do is fling yourself at him and he will sort out the mess and the details. Also, though, go to church. Seriously, Just Go.