The Wisdom of the Mother

Scripture can be found here...

I first heard this song when I was young—not even a teenager, maybe ten years old. It was the era of the “guitar mass” in Catholic Churches, and this song, “Hosea,” became a centerpiece of worship and a cornerstone of my developing faith.


Come back to me with all your heart

Don’t let fear keep us apart

Trees do bend though straight and tall

So must we to others’ call

Long have I waited for your coming

home to me and living deeply our new life [1]

Here’s what my ten-year-old heart understood, for the first time, because of this song: God’s heart is broken. God is longing for us—for me—to return. God is waiting for me—for us—to come home.


I didn’t entirely understand how people had broken God’s heart, though I had an idea it was something to do with sin. I had only a dim understanding of things like war, and violence, and the ways people can hurt each other. I had no idea whatsoever about the kinds of things we have witnessed this past weekend… violent attacks on people who were mourning their dead in Baghdad, and going about their daily lives in Beirut, and going out to dance and hear music, or to have dinner with friends in Paris. I did not yet understand the lengths to which human beings could go to harm or terrify one another.


It didn’t take too long for me to learn.


This week’s scripture passage has us once again in the Northern Kingdom, perhaps a hundred years after the ministry of Elijah. The prophet who speaks to us now is Hosea, and he has a call story unlike any other.


In chapter 1, we learn how God tells Hosea to marry a woman who will betray him, and so he does. When they have three children, they obediently name them exactly what God tells them to: “God scatters,” “No mercy,” and “Not my people” (Hosea 1:4, 6, 9).


Welcome to the world of Hosea, the prophet whom God invites to dwell in the emotional world of rejection, betrayal, and abandonment. Hosea is the prophet whom God invites, insofar as any human can understand it, into God’s own inner turmoil. God looks at the covenant people, God looks at Israel, and all God sees is unfaithfulness, and violence, God’s own children hurting one another, God’s own children killing one another.


God’s heart is broken. God is longing for us to return. God is waiting for us to come home.


Can you hear the voice of the mother in this passage?


When Israel was a child, I loved him.


Out of Egypt I called my son.


The more I called to them, the more they turned away.


Yet, it was I who taught them to walk.


I took them up in my arms, but they didn’t know that I was the one who healed them.


I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.


I took them up in my arms and held them to my cheek.


I bent down to them and fed them.


But they turn away.


God speaks as a heartbroken mother grieving the behavior of her beloved and long lost child.


Can you hear that voice?


The wilderness will lead you to your heart where I will speak

Integrity and justice with tenderness you shall know.


Long have I waited for your coming

home to me and living deeply our new life


God also speaks as an angry mother.


They will return to slavery—except this time, it’s Assyria, not Egypt.


They turn away, so I will not answer them whey they cry out.


I think every good and loving parent has memories that are seared in our consciences, burned on our hearts, when we expressed anger to our children in ways we regretted. Maybe we slammed a door. Maybe we yelled. Maybe we were too loud, too harsh. Maybe words escaped our lips that we will forever regret. We are mortals, and not gods, so our parenting, no matter how much we love our children, is always imperfect.


But—it’s not that we shouldn’t ever be angry. There are very good reasons to be angry. I heard another parent say, this week, “The thing that makes me the angriest is when one of my children hurts the other.” Sometimes we become angry because we watch as our children hurt themselves. Sometimes we are terrified by their behavior because it is so risky—but our terror comes out as anger. Sometimes we see our children sabotaging their own goals and dreams. We get frustrated. We get angry. Sometimes we have good reason.


But one of the tasks of becoming an adult (and becoming a parent) is learning how to express our anger without doing harm. Another task is learning when our anger has roots that are toxic, like the desire for vengeance or retaliation, and so is better either left unexpressed, or redirected completely.


God is angry, and God is angry with very good reason. God looks at God’s own children, and all God sees is unfaithfulness, and violence, God’s children hurting one another, God’s children killing one another.


God’s heart is broken. God is longing for us to return. God is waiting for us to come home.


But hear what happens when the heartbroken, angry mother speaks. She says:


How can I give you up, my children?


How can I hand you to those who would harm you, my people?


How can I make you like a nightclub in Paris, like a funeral procession in Baghdad?


I see the suffering you bring upon yourself, and my heart shudders.


I see the horror, and I feel not my anger, but my compassion, warm, welling up inside me.


I do not lash out in anger, even when I am angry.


I do not respond to wrath with wrath.


I do not combat violence with violence.


I am God, and no mortal.


My heart is broken. I am longing for you to return. I am waiting for you to come home.


You shall sleep secure with peace;

Faithfulness will be your joy.


Long have I waited for your coming

home to me and living deeply our new life


Long have I waited for your coming

home to me and living deeply our new life


Yesterday, as the news came in from around the world, of course our hearts turned towards Michelle Smith Wahila, Jack and Carol’s daughter, and her beautiful family, living in Paris, and serving the American Church there. Michelle checked in with us on Facebook, to reassure us. But I think her words did more than that. I think she spoke with the wisdom of the mother who speaks in today’s reading.


“Thank you all for your love and concern. Our family is safe and sound but our beautiful city is most certainly not. The city has been (mostly) at a stand still today with a state of emergency and curfew. There is still fear that "it's not over" (as the day after Charlie Hebdo saw more violence). While everything was cancelled in the city today, tomorrow we will worship - three times. We will stand together and we will pray, for our world, for our city and for peace. Most of all we will remember - Love Wins.”


Love wins. God’s heart is broken, but violence is ours, not God’s. God waits, patient and heartbroken, for all her children to come home and live, deeply, our new lives.


Thanks be to God. Amen.


[1] Gregory Norbet, O.S.B., "Hosea," from the album "Listen," copyright The Benedictine Foundation of the State of Vermont, 1971, 1994.