Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. So, God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. ~ Genesis 1:26-27
My mom and dad walked me around the outside of Harriet Thompson Elementary School several days before my inaugural day of first grade. The school was a long red brick and mortar building shaped like an “L.” The vast playground spilled over to the middle school campus. Mom and Dad assured me to no avail that the “big” kids would not venture into our space. I was equally excited and terrified for the start of school.
When the big day arrived, my mom walked me to the front doors, hugged me, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and told me she loved me. She gently nudged me towards the doors. I held back my tears, but I’m pretty sure mom did not when she walked back to our Ford Fairlane.
Once inside the brick walls, a cheerful lady took my hand. “What’s your name and what grade are you going to be in?” “I’m Craig and I’m in furst,” I said. She checked her clipboard and said, “You are going to be in Miss Byrd’s class. This is her first year. Follow me.”
My shoulders fell together, and I wrapped my arms around my chest as the cheerful lady walked me down the never-ending hall spilling over with kids and people moving in every direction. We stopped in front of the last room on the right. “Miss Byrd, this is Craig,” said the cheerful lady. I looked up and up. The biggest smile in the world looked down at me as Miss Byrd got down on her knees and gave me a “mama” hug. “It is such a pleasure to meet you, Craig. We are going to have a great year.”
Miss Byrd took me into her room and showed me the windows which opened to magnificent green trees. She had a small library in the back with colorful books, and she told me there were more books than I could count in the school library. “My grandma is a librarian,” I told her. “She reads books to me and my sister.” “Your Grandma sounds like a very special lady,” said Miss Byrd.
For the first few weeks, Mom would drive me to school and give me a hug and tell me she loved me. I’d run inside to Miss Byrd who would also wrap her arms around me and welcome me. Once a week each student got to sit in a rocking chair with our new young grandma, Miss Byrd, and read a book. She delighted in us, and we delighted in her.
Father Richard Rohr says, “Most people, though not all, first experienced unconditional love, not through the image of a man, but through the image of a woman.” We had a loving teacher (most of our elementary teachers were women), a kind neighbor, a tender grandma or aunt, or an enduring mother. “These women became the basis for many people’s real and operative God,” says Rohr.
Once a year, our family would drive back to Kansas to visit relatives. I stayed at my Aunt Maurita’s and Uncle Bob’s farmhouse. My cousins and I spent the days fishing for catfish in the creek, swimming at the Osborne pool, and playing tag until the stars came out. It was a magical time.
However, my favorite part of those trips was when everyone would go to sleep at night except for the cicadas and crickets singing under the canopies of trees. I would walk down to the cellar and get a cold pop bought just for me and return to the kitchen table. My Aunt Maurita and I would talk long into the night. She would ask me questions about everything in my life and hold my stories in her heart for safekeeping. From her, I learned what it felt like to be truly listened to. It was holy and sacred.
Last year, I stopped to see Aunt Maurita who is eighty-five now and living in town. The two of us ate supper at ten o’clock and after we cleaned the kitchen, I asked, “Do you have a cold pop?” “I don’t have a cellar now, but the pop is out in the garage in the fridge. You never know who’s going to come by.” We talked late into the night like days of old. Love does endure.
I first learned about unconditional love and grace from so many strong and tender women. They were “the hands and feet of Christ” to me. I am forever grateful to them.
In Genesis, God creates male and female from God’s image. “We have to find and to trust images that present both a healthy feminine face for God and a healthy masculine face for God,” writes Rohr. One gender is not superior to the other, but they mutually support one another. We need both. “Until we conceive of God in such a way that, within God, masculinity and femininity can be seen as mutually and perfectly empowering, then masculinity and femininity in this world will not find a mutual harmony or happiness either,” writes Rohr.
Who are the people in our lives who have manifested the love, joy, peace, and grace of God? Who has revealed the feminine face of God to us?
This Mother’s Day let’s celebrate and lift up the mother figures in our lives who often revealed to us the intimacy, the mystery, and the Grace of God. Amen.
Blessings and Peace,