Complicit in Mothering
May 8, 2016
-by Mary Wright Baylor
West Rose Window, Washington National Cathedral
Today marks the secular celebration of Mother’s Day. It is also the Holy Day commemorating the mystic Dame Julian of Norwich. In addition to her well known writings about her “showings,” she is probably best known for her very popular expression, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” But on this Mother’s Day, it is most relevant that Dame Julian is one of the first to describe the feminine identity in God and spoke of God as our Mother and Father.
At the risk of thoroughly dating myself, I grew up in a progressive Episcopal church, St. Alban’s, Annandale, Virginia. Although we frequently provided housing for those involved in protests against the Vietnam War or supporting the civil rights movement, as a young girl, I was not allowed to be an acolyte, however. That movement was yet to come. Therefore, I looked on in delighted awe as one of the very active members of our parish, Alison Cheek, went on to break convention as part of the Philadelphia Eleven and became ordained as one of the first female priests in the Episcopal Church, the family of God and the Body of Christ.
Since then, the role of women as leaders in the church has slowly expanded as they have been consecrated as bishops and finally, as presiding bishop. Never able to light a service candle as a young girl, I stood utterly overwhelmed and weeping with joy at the magnificent service installing the Most Rev. Dr. Katherine Jefferts Schori at the Washington National Cathedral. What resulted were some painful schisms within the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion; but slowly, healing and resurrection are taking place throughout the world and we are making progress toward understanding God as Mother and Father, feminine and masculine, and the vital role of women in ordained ministry.
Many of my best friends are women priests. Funny, creative, thoughtful, irreverent, faithful, and other-centered, I connect very easily with them. Whether or not they use the title “Mother,” my friends and other women priests may daily encounter bias or at worst, misogyny, but they rise above such prejudice and are diligent in their priestly vows.
One of my best friends, a retired Episcopal priest, visited Norwich many years ago. She brought me a beautiful calligraphy of Dame Julian’s famous expression that now hangs by my bedside. Every morning upon rising and every night as I close my eyes, no matter what personal or worldly crises are swirling, I give thanks for all the mothers before and around me who have assured each of us that All Shall Be Well. I believe this pleases God the Mother and the Father.
- Think about this. Do you see lingering gender bias against women? Are you complicit in perpetuating it? If so, what are you doing to change that?
- Go out and make that change so that All SHALL Be Well.
Mary, I did not even realize that girls were not allowed to be acolytes at St . Alban’s and was myself so self- absorbed that I would not have cared anyway. Some women have presence, their fingers on the pulse of the world. Allison Cheek was one of those women, you another.
Mary Wright Baylor