Every morning, my 13-month old and I race to see who will make it from sleep to wakefulness first. She usually wins. When we're both awake, I will myself to stand up out of bed, and then I move over to beckon her to stand up in her play-yard, wiggling my fingers and smiling. If she's still sleepy, it'll take her a few moments, but when she smiles back I know she's ready. I pick her up, we move into the bathroom to look at one another in the mirror, and then we go to the refrigerator to fetch her morning milk. I put her in the gated living room and fetch her some Cheerios to nosh on, and sometimes I join her there and sit. A new element has entered our morning ritual when I join her. She fetches a fistful of Cheerios, toddles over to me, and extends her hand to my mouth, her eyes filled with expectation. The surprise of this gesture doesn't fade. I open my mouth. She places a Cheerio on my tongue, or on my teeth, and I use American Sign Language along with my voice to say "Thank you!" after I've crunched on my little wheaty gift. My daughter feeds me. My daughter, who hasn't yet experienced the waters of baptism, is Christ enfleshed. She feeds the hungry and breaks open a stony heart as she does it. I don't know much about my female ancestors, but I wonder if there were women like my daughter among them, women who were bold in doing priestly work, even if they could never take the title of priest. Will my daughter be a priest of Christ and feed those who hunger? Will she be someone more extraordinary and surprising than I can imagine?
When Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica, he compares the ministry of himself and his fellow leaders to that of a mother.
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. -Thessalonians 2:7b-8
This ministry is one of gentleness, of refreshment, of steady abiding-with that overflows with love. He regards the members of the Thessalonian church as very dear. Belonging now to a church in which the vocations of women to ordained ministry are recognized and fully accepted, I find fresh meaning in this. In this passage, Paul is unafraid of comparing himself and other leaders to devoted women. In recommending himself to the Thessalonian church, he embraces a maternal image. In mothering, goodness may be found. In mothering, loyalty may be found. In mothering, unfettered love may be found. In mothering, all the nourishment a young one needs may be found. To be a gracious, loving, effective, Godly minister, in this passage, is to be a mother. I am grateful to be part of a church that embraces the title of "Mother" for its female priestly ministers. When I consider the call I hear to priestly ministry, considering it in terms of mothering enriches it beyond what any book on priesthood might say. Mothering is something I get. Mothering implies total commitment, total love, and totally deep joy--even in the midst of difficulties and trials. I would give anything for my children, including my life. Isn't this what the high priest, Jesus the Christ, does?
Part of my spiritual practice includes lectio divina, or sacred reading. I read a few verses from scripture at a time and ponder them in order to hear God's voice speaking through them. Today I read in the second chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, "This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." It's so familiar from Christmastime that its oddness almost escapes notice. Why would God's sign to the world be a just-born infant wrapped up like the dead, laid in a feeding trough for large animals? Why would a bunch of sheep-herders run at the chance to see this so-called sign? If you don't know that this child is destined from his birth for death, the mummy look doesn't make sense. If you don't know that by losing his life, this child will become food for all who hunger, this doesn't make sense. How can this bizarre telling of a child's birth make any sense without knowing the whole story that is to come? What signs and wonders does God leave for me to see that I don't yet understand? How do I develop the imagination to see what they could mean and to strive for what God is setting in motion?