Sun still unsure of its own potential floated through muslin curtains on the morning of April 6, 2013. It was Saturday after a typically intense week at the hospital. Savoring the beginning of an entire weekend off, I indulged the freedom knowing another chaplain would be carrying the on-call pager. All this made morning rituals more intentional, deliberate, delectable. Winter remained stingy in yielding its persistent fury but evidence of Spring’s maturing self-assurance was mounting.
Coffee drunk and paper read, I straddled the granite counter preparing raisin bran and orange juice. An unanticipated brightness washed over me as I sliced the banana atop my cereal. Yesterday had not offered an end of week let-up in patient visits. This morning I was finally able to attend to the fact that the day before, April 5, had been my mother’s birthday. Slicing bananas, preparing breakfast, the world’s woes securely held at bay – as she had done so many decades before – I was surprised with her unannounced presence.
Transfixed, I once again became the four year-old impatiently standing next to the kitchen table as Mom portioned out the Cheerios and insisted on pouring the milk. With skill mastered over many years of feeding a hungry brood, she sliced half of a banana atop my bowl. “Mom, I want the whole thing!” I protested according to every child’s prescribed script. She knew her lines by heart, “No, Richard. You can have your share, but you have to leave some for the others.” Again, according to well rehearsed ritual I sulked and ate my breakfast.
A mother’s love washes over you every bit as much at 62 as it does at age four. Putting the knife down on the granite counter-top, I stepped back and savored the moment. Yes, I was deeply grateful for this unforeseen intimacy. I acknowledged my mother’s matter-of-fact and unpretentious love lavished upon an insatiable child. Moreover, I was deeply grateful for a mother who unceremoniously taught me one of life’s most enduring and essential lessons: yes, we are each entitled to have a share but we must leave some for others! I remain hungry for such wisdom and maternal direction to nourish my body and soul again and again.
Mom always trucked us off to church and would have made sure we got our ashes on Wednesday. So of course she comes to mind this week. My conclusion is that Pope Francis has nothing over on my mother! The pope cited Saint Paul for his pre-Lent exhortation: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). We should remember that Paul was writing to the Christians of Corinth to encourage them to be generous in helping the struggling folks in Jerusalem who were in particular need. Like me, can’t you just see Mama Bergoglio instructing her young son, “Yes, Jorge, we are each entitled to a sufficient portion but we must share with others so they have enough too”?
On this Friday in Lent I am grateful for the half of the banana I did not get! I am indebted to parents who somehow made sure we had what was sufficient but never so much we thought we didn’t need to share. I love a mother who pretended she actually preferred chicken wings when she had a family to feed and in so doing opened the Eucharist to me.
Isn’t this what Lenten fasting and abstinence is meant to kindle in us? Lent is not a self-improvement program or about spiritual perfection – Lent is our school of love.
Thanks, Mom, for “mothering” God to me. This Lent I can only hope to do as much and as well.