Today is Mothering Sunday, traditionally the day in the year when those working in service, or away from home, were encouraged to return home and visit their families. Often, they would take with them presents of cake and pick flowers from the side of the road as they travelled. It was also the day when people were encouraged to return to their mother church, the church in which they were brought up.
Times may have changed but the tradition of celebrating mothers continues. It is for many a very happy and blessed day, an opportunity to be with loved ones and share a meal, give flowers and enjoy family life. Sadly, for many others, Mother’s Day is a difficult and emotional time for a whole variety of reasons. But whoever we are and whatever Mother’s Day means to us personally, this year we all find ourselves in a different and difficult place where fear and anxiety are rife and where we are actively told to stay away from coming together-either as human or church family. In this time, I find it very comforting to look at this picture- another by Stanley Spencer. The painting is of Jesus encircling a mother hen who is looking after her chicks. One of the smallest chicks is tucked under the mother’s wing, the others are nearby, as is a small sparrow joining them within the circle of Christ’s arm. Those arms of Christ reach out to protect and hold within them the mother and her chicks. This is an image that we often find in the Bible and one that we shall be coming to shortly as we travel through Lent. Having entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday Jesus looks out and laments over the city with these words:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem……how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gather her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!”
The longing of Christ to protect and gather his people is beautifully encapsulated in this image of a mother hen. But there are also many places in the Old Testament where this image is also to be found, one of which, from Psalm 57, is so fitting for our world today.
“In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
until the destroying storms pass by.”
Christ longs to protect and keep us, holding us within his love and encircling us with his presence and that is such a wonderful image to hold onto in our current situation.
Some of you may be familiar with caim prayers. Caim is an old Gaelic word meaning: “protecting”, “encircling” and these simple prayers of faith call upon God to circle us with his love and protection. Below is an example of an old caim prayer that you might like to use for yourself and for others.
Circle me Lord, Keep protection near, and danger afar.
Circle me Lord, Keep light near, and darkness afar.
Circle me Lord, Keep peace within. Keep evil out.
Circle me Lord, Keep hope within. Keep doubt without.
May you be a bright flame before me.
May you be a guiding star above me.
May you be a smooth path below me.
And a loving Guide behind me.
Today, tonight, and forever.