Image: cover art from Embodied, by Lee Ann M. Pomrenke
I knew that I wanted to become a mother from an early age. It was probably not long before I discerned that I might also be called to become a priest. I had never seen a woman serve the Eucharist, and yet it made such sense, for a mother or a godmother to preside over the feast, and to help her Maker make sure that the children were fed.
One vocation was fulfilled long before the other. When I finally applied for the ordination process in the Episcopal Church, a friend who has known me longer than most others was surprised. “I just don’t see you as a priest,” she told me. She grew up in the Vicarage as the child of a parish priest – “My dad was always distracted. I can’t imagine you not being present for your children.” Well, neither could I.
A mentor told me, as we discussed the part-time, peripatetic approach I would take to seminary, that I would have to resign myself to failure: that I would not measure up as a parent, as a student, nor as a potential priest, as hard as I tried. He was speaking, he implied, from experience.
My friend and my mentor each touched upon that near-fatal intersection of parenting and perfectionism that will plague me with anxiety until the kingdom come.
Does God, that perfect Parent, suffer anxiety?
To an entire school of theology of course the question is nonsense. That moment of separation on the Cross, My God, my God, exists in some minds entirely to reassure us that no, God does not suffer, because to do so implies alterations, currents, moods in the heart of changelessness.
My experience of love is that it does not live without that tension between adaptation and constancy. “Love is not love / which alters when it alteration finds,” Shakespeare wrote (Sonnet 116), but love does not restrain itself from the changes and chances of celebration, grief, and bewildered groping that accompany the lover through life.
My greatest fear in life is letting down my children, failing them; and the second is like it: failing to live into the call that I have claimed, to be a priest in Christ’s church. On the first morning that I left before dawn to drive to the seminary, I looked up and saw our youngest child, her face pressed against her bedroom window, crying as I reversed away from her.
Does God ever worry whether every child knows well enough how much She loves us?
I know that I am projecting my maternal anxiety onto God, but our God, after all, in one moment is a mother hen, gathering her chicks beneath her wings; in another, a mother bear, fearful to her enemies and warm but stern with her cubs. Our God is a jealous God, who appoints and anoints, repents and relents.
God knows I have carved imperfect slices out of my life to deliver to the grandparents and godparents of the church and my own, now grown, offspring, dropping crumbs like chocolate cake and making a mess. God knows.
This post is part of the book launch blog tour for Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God, by Lee Ann M. Pomrenke. Embodied includes reflection questions at the end of each chapter, to instigate conversations that lead to support and new perspectives. The book is available this September from Bookshop.org, Amazon, or Cokesbury.