The Text for my thoughts is Ecclesiastes 11:5: As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.
On Mother’s Day, of course we want to pay tribute to our Mothers to honour them. It’s not true of course, God being omnipresent and all, but almost – to say: because God could not be everywhere, He made mothers.
I want us to think about the mystery, the wonder & the miracle of God’s work in our world and in our lives. I want us to consider our mothers in the wonder of natural birth and the work of the Holy Spirit in the wonder of spiritual birth.
I remember three mothering episodes – birth stories, really, with our 3 children – with one early by a month - unexpected because he was half a twin. And I’m cramming on the reading - Lamaze breathing – do it right, or you end up hyperventilating! Breathing with, helping her focus and relax (as if), through the waves of pain. Breathing until there comes the first breath of the newborn baby. And one is moved to tears – breath taken away with the wonder of it all.
MOTHERS - What are they like? . . . We can follow their actions, their sacrifices & most of all their love. I know there are sad, even terrible exceptions, but a mother’s love isuniversal, almost proverbial. As I created this note, my mother was 93 and living with my sister in a condo, about 30 metres from where she was born. It was her grandfather's and then her father's farm. Moving back 'home,' Mother saw it as God’s smile.
A Mother’s love reminds us of God’s Love, which is always unconditional. In Scripture, God’s love is often compared to a mother’s love. In Deuteronomy 32:18 God chided His covenant people because they had forgotten the One who gave them birth.
The Hebrew word 'birth' carries the meaning of “writhing in the pains of childbirth.” In Isaiah 66:12-13, the prophet pictures a re-born Jerusalem as like a mother that would provide nourishment for her infant children, bouncing them on her knees to cheer them up. God would do this in and through Jerusalem and God summarizes it all by saying. 'As one is comforted by His mother, so I will comfort you.'
In her book ‘Small Wonder’ Barbara Kingsolver tells of a small child - only 16 months old - in Lorestan province in Iran who became lost and wandered off, when everyone thought someone else was watching him. The frantic parents were joined by friends & even strangers - searching everywhere. They find nothing and are almost giving up. But parents never do, as Kingsolver notes, and finally they find themselves searching in the hills and caves around the village, some at last over 5 kilometres away. Nights and days pass and still they search, if even to recover a little body.
Kingsolver describes what may have happened. The mother weeps, and the father’s mouth becomes a thin line as he finds several men willing to go all the way up intothe mountains. Into the caves. At the mouth of a cave they enter - and they hear the cry of a child. It’s dark – and, ominously, they smell bear. But the boy is in there - crying, alive. "They move into the half-light inside the cave, and the smell gets danker," writes Kingsolver.
As their eyes adjust, they see the animal, the dark, round shape of a thick-furred, she-bear lying against the wall. --- And then they see the child. The bear is curled around him, protecting him from these fierce-smelling intruders in her cave. The boy is alive, unscarred & perfectly well after three days—and well-fed too, smelling of milk. The bear was nursing the child.
Kingsolver asks, 'How is it possible that a huge, hungry bear would take a pitifully small, delicate human child to her breast rather than rip him into food?' But she was a mammal, a mother. She was lactating, so she must have had young of her own somewhere—possibly killed, or dead of disease, so that she was driven by the pure chemistry of maternity to take this small, warm neonate to her belly and hold him there, gently.
Again, Kingsolver: You could read this story and declare “impossible! . . . or "you could read this story and think of how warm lives are drawn to one another in coldplaces, think of the unconquerable force of a mother’s love, the fact of the DNA code that we share in its great majority with other mammals—you could think of all that and say, Of course the bear nursed the baby. He was crying from hunger, she had milk. Small wonder."
Every child is a ‘small wonder.’
THERE IS SO MUCH MYSTERY AND WONDER IN LIFE - AND IN THE WAYS OF GOD
When Brendan the Celtic missionary spoke to a Druid king about becoming a Christian, the king asked him, ‘If I become Christ’s man, what will happen to me?” Brendan replied, “Sire, if you become Christ’s man, you will behold wonder upon wonder, and every wonder true.” Says Eugene Peterson, “It looks like I’m going to have to let go of what was expected - and enter a mystery.”
God’s ways -- often invisible, mysterious, but wonderful.
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,In light inaccessible hid from our eyes . . .
All laud we would render: O help us to see’Tis only the splendour of light hideth thee.
God’s self is hid from our eyes . . . But His works and actions are not. GOD'S ways are often unknown and mostly unfathomable.
Again to say, there is the mystery, wonder and miracle of how God forms us and others – as wee babies in the womb of our mothers – in the gestation of nine months when we were being fearfully & wonderfully made (as the Psalmist puts it) – and then bringing us to birth, giving the baby’s first breath & brand new life to follow. AND just as through a mother, God brings our natural life, So by the unseen work of God’s Spirit we are brought to new birth, into a New Life as a New Creation. There are actions in life that leave no immediate trace, but they bring about sure, obvious and resulting effects.
Speaking of God’s wondrous ways, I’m intrigued that the writer of Proverbs 30 names four things in life that he found just ‘too wonderful – beyond his comprehension.” Thereare three things which are too wonderful for me -- four which I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship in the middle of the sea, and the way of a man with a maid.
First, an Eagle in Flight. There’s no trace in the air as this large, heavy bird, soars high in the heavens and wends its flight from there to there.
Then, a Snake on a Rock. A snake slithers forward on a slippery rock where there is no sand to mark the track and imprints of its passing.
Next, a Sailing Ship. The way of a ship that ploughs the waves of the open sea. Its keel leaves no lasting furrow to mark its course.
Finally, A Man with a Maid. The way of a man with a maid (and it really should be translated: ‘in’ a maid) Here is the way of a bridegroom and the secret, precious, sacred act of making love with his virgin wife. It may or may not be known by others at the time, but the results may soon be evident, as there’ll follow the joyous announcement that there’s ‘a wee bairn coming!’ In giving new life & breath, God almost takes our breath away.
Perhaps It's all a netaphor? – (see also Deuteronomy 32:10,11) In a desert land he found him (Israel), in a barren, howling waste. He shielded him & cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them & carries them aloft.
So God’s people are found, cared for – and borne aloft on eagle’s wings; freed from the tyranny and slavery of the Evil One's ('the serpent’s') beguiling ways, carried safely to new harbour as across an ocean and given new birth and new life.
In this Season just prior to Pentecost, we look look together at the Person and Ministry of the Holy Spirit. In this message however, we're thinking more of the Spirit’s roll in the birthing and mothering ways of God. The Holy Spirit’s work is wonderfully mysterious, unseen and unknown, until we see the fruitful effects of Presence and Power.
Who Has Seen the Wind? Asks the poet, Christina Rossetti. Who has seen the wind? neither you nor I; But when the trees bow down their heads, the wind is passing by.
This also reminds us of Nicodemus' night-visit to Jesus. Jesus said, ‘No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ "But how can someone be born when they’re old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh: - the Spirit gives birth to spirit. Don’t be surprised that I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you can’t tell from whence it comes, nor where it’s going. That’s what it’s like with everyone born of the Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit, like the wind, cannot be seen - but the fruit, the effects can be seen and known. The Wind of God in our life may be gentle or it may be very, very powerful. The energy of God, the electricity of God, all the invisible power of the universe - that results in very visible effects - resides in the Holy Spirit. Our God enables: God the Holy Spirit is the enabler of all of the ministry of God’s People.
THE SPIRIT OF GOD IS MOTHER-LIKE
There is much to compare - thinking of Mother’s and as we come to know and appreciate the Holy Spirit’s life and ministry. 'Spirit' in the Scriptures comes from two words: 'pneuma' and 'ruach.' From the New Testament Greek pneuma (where we get pneumatic (tires, etc.)) is: wind, breath, spirit. But in Old Testament Hebrew, when Jews spoke of breath, wind or spirit, the word used is ruach, (and the word is feminine in case). In the original Creation: "The Ruach of God was hovering over the surface of the waters."
When God through the prophet promised Messiah would come, saying through the prophet:: - "Behold, my Servant whom I uphold; I have put my Ruach upon him."
When the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Jesus: – He opened the scroll & found the place where it was written: The Ruach of YHVH is upon me, because he has anointed me. . . ."
The Holy Spirit birthed the Church. Pentecost was the Church’s Birth Day. Just as the Holy Spirit overshadowed the earth at Creation (hover on egg) - as the Spirit of God overshadowed and journeyed with Israel, as the Spirit overshadowed Mary so that Messiah might be born, so the Spirit overshadowed and was poured out on the first disciples.
The Spirit’s Enabling is Necessary for the New Birth We cannot bring ourselves to birth – either physically or spiritually. We are entirely dependent upon the love, will, capacity and coming together of others – of Another. The Spirit, like the wind, blows - and we are born again - born anew, born from above. We are “children – writes St. John in the prologue to his Gospel, who are “born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but of God.”
The Holy Spirit enables, loves and cares. The Spirit is with us, walking with us and attending our way. In fact, near, indwelling, and comforting us - He shows us Jesus! That’s very much like our mother’s who brought us to birth, nurtured and nourished us, was patient when we failed or fell. The one who, for many of us, first showed us Jesus.
Bible scholars think that the very name for God, Yahweh, is derived literally from the verb ‘to be’ – and that - linked also to the idea: “to breathe.” The Jews did not say the Name because to breathe in and out was already to name and participate in God-self.
When God breathed into the first man & woman so that they became not merely animals but living beings with spirits and souls with capacity for relationship with their Creator, He did that by his very breath – the Spirit or divine Wind that proceeded from the mouth of God. Every tree and flour and microbe, every star, every cloud -- all thingsthat exist, are visible expressions of the breath of God, the energy of the universe that became real & visible – as breathed-out Word, known as Creation.
The Spirit and Childbirth – Breathing . . . (an insert-thought from a mother I follow on Twitter . . .)
“The rooms where women labor and birth are full of this work. There are doctors and nurses and midwives and doulas who come to our aid. There are friends and family praying for us outside. And there is certainly lots of groaning and breathing . . . The mix is all swirled together in one sacred space where life passes from one side to the other. “The baby takes in its first breath and picks up where the mother’s breathing left off – now a joyful sign that the child is healthy and the lungs are strong. The room heaves a collective sigh of relief. From panting to crying to sighing, the place is full of spirit and breath.”
The Spirit Gives Birth to our Prayers (groans), says St. Paul in Romans 8. The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groaning. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will. What speaks to childbirth more than inexpressible groanings?!
And earlier in the Book of Romans, we read, We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even till now; and we ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit. We also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
It’s not a stretch – is it? - to see linked together the birthing and loving care of our mothers - and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Here is: --
The great mystery of mother and child - the great mystery of the path of the wind – the Breath of God – the Spirit of God sho brings to birth, enriches our lives and guides our paths.
We thank God for giving us life itself, both natural and spiritual, for God gives His loving presence and provision day by days. And we thank Him for the many ways He loves us for the way He comes to indwell and enable us to be truly human and to flourish in our minds and hearts and throughout our lives.