Dear monks, artists and pilgrims,
I wrote this reflection last Sunday morning, Mother’s Day in the U.S.:
Each day John and I walk with Sourney up the canal and down the river that slice through Galway. Yesterday the swan we’ve seen nesting across the smooth water for several weeks was out with her new babies, five tiny grey cygnets swimming behind her as she searched for food.
Back at home, the starlings have nested again outside our building in the large fuchsia bushes as they do each May. The young ones old enough to fly come to our balcony with their mothers, following her around with beaks open and shrill cries as she gathers morsels to place in their open mouths. The sparrows come and eat the insects caught in the spider webs that have formed because of the dry, sunny weather.
Every morning I awaken to my sweet black dog following me to the kitchen, where I put out her breakfast and make myself some coffee. After she eats, I go outside with her and today saw the first strawberry had ripened in its pot. I plucked it greedily, in awe of its deep redness where it was green just two days before. I stood under the morning mist tasting that berry as the gift that it is, knowing this will be the first of many.
My wonderful husband often cooks us eggs for breakfast and Sourney sits patiently at my feet waiting for me to place the plate on the floor so she can lick off any remaining yolk. John and I talk about how it is Mother’s Day again, this time in the U.S., Ireland celebrates it in March, and we commiserate over this second reminder within a season of each of our losses and longings. We both feel the deep ache of the absence of our mothers, especially in these days so full of grief surrounding us.
Amidst the cries of starling and the pleading brown eyes of my dog, plunged into the tenderness of loss and memory, I think of Julian of Norwich whose feast day just passed on May 13th. I have been reading her during this lockdown, fascinated more than I ever have been before by her call to become an anchoring presence in her community affected by plague. With her wisdom I have been pondering a lot what it means to sit still for hours and watch while the world around me unravels. The longer I sit the more things offer themselves to me as spark and catalyst.
Julian described Jesus as Mother and I marvel at her vision, how she could see beyond the strictly defined gender roles of her time. How her own hunger brought her this image beyond boundaries, which nourished her and has nourished thousands of others across time. Mother swan, starling, and sparrow come to nurture the world, as does Jesus in all the ways he offered food to others, sat at table, broke bread.
What am I hungering for in this time of global pandemic? What is the nourishment I seek? I need to rest a while longer in the ache of that question, holding awareness of both absence and fullness.
I know it has something to do with showing up each day with my own bit of bread to offer others. No more, no less, holding open my hands.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo © Christine Valters Paintner