“Because Margaret is my Mother”

Easter VII – May 8, 2016


“Because Margaret is my Mother”

A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.

My son Cameron entered the world on this day, May 8th, in the year 1997. It was the day that I became a mother, though it was a woman named Linda who gave birth to Cameron. It is also the feast day of my favorite saint Dame Julian of Norwich. So for me, this day is full of spiritual ponderings about the meaning of mother hood and relationships, loves and losses, and even death. Mother’s day is a time when we remember our own mothers, birth mothers, adoptive mothers, and those who have been like mothers to us, giving thanks for the nurturing that we have received, but also remembering that motherhood, nurturing and families… come in many forms and are not always played out in idyllic visions of mid-20th century the Norman Rockwell America. Kinship does not always imply blood connections. Life can be messy. Mothers come in all temperaments and with varying gifts and aptitudes. Mother are human and no mother is perfect. On this Mother’s Day we remember the blessed and good as well as the challenging and broken aspects of family and relationship. Grief is also present on this day as we remember mothers and daughters who are absent in body or spirit… those who suffer from dementia and those who have crossed over from this life.

I would like to share with you a story about my own mother Margaret who passed onto her eternal peace in November of 2012. Mom was a gentle and creative soul who loved children and became kindergarten teacher. She stopped teaching at the end of the school year when she was pregnant with me. Mom adored being a first time mother but the second time around, after the birth of my brother, Mom had her first psychotic break. This was not how life was supposed to go for her, or for my father. Dad took a month off work to care for Mom while my brother Roger and I were sent away to be cared for by relatives. Mom got better, but after the birth of my sister Barbara, Mom crashed again. This time she was hospitalized for 10 months with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and depression. The pattern became one of ups and downs that moved in a two-year cycle. We would visit Mom in state hospitals. We would sometimes find her in a medication stupor or in a haze from an electro-shock therapy treatment. In those days, electro-shock therapy was much harsher than it is today. It can be a very helpful treatment for some. Medication, therapy and ECT treatments would help Mom and, when the time was right, she would return eventually return home.

I remember the many “if onlys” from well meaning family members and neighbors… “if only” Margaret would get out more… “if only” she would make some friends… “if only” my dad would do something differently, because clearly he is doing something wrong… and, when I got older: “if only” the children would pay more attention, or take Mom to the movies or just try harder…then things would be better… because, “obviously” not everything is being done that could be done to make Mom better… The situation made people feel uncomfortable. Even the well meaning but uninformed input from others, was fodder for my learning.

As I grew older It was helpful for me to learn that mental illness is an organic disorder, a disruption of brain chemistry, that comes in a variety of forms and manifestations. They are disorders that are very often genetic in origin and complicated by life circumstances and stress. Afflictions of the mind and spirit can often lead to alcohol and substance abuse in an effort to self-medicate, in an effort to ease the discomfort. Profound fear and paranoia are real and disturbing experiences for some. When Mom was at her lowest she might see spiders on the ceiling. One time she ran out of the house in a panic to chase down a fire truck that was driving by because she wanted the flames, that were engulfing the house, to be extinguished. My mother did not self-medicate, but she did suffer profoundly at times and we, her family, often felt helpless even as we did our best to get her the treatment she needed.


During college I worked weekends as an EKG technician in a community hospital in Sacramento. I loved this job that allowed me the opportunity to visit patients in all parts of the hospital, in all sorts of conditions as I recorded their electrocardiograms. It was a formative experience for me, as was life with Mom. One time I had learned that Mom had been admitted to the psychiatric unit of that same hospital. I was grateful that she was getting help but planned not to visit her for a few days, as visits from family could be upsetting when she was in such a tender state. But late in a Saturday shift I got a call from the psych unit to do a “STAT EKG on a Margaret Peterson.” I was not alarmed as I knew that the psych unit overused the STAT order, (“STAT”meaning that the test was medically urgent). I didn’t feel that Mom was in a life threatening situation, though I could have been wrong. As it was the end of the day I thought, for a brief moment, about whether or not I should hand the order over to the respiratory therapists who were the ones to record EKGs in the evenings. But the respiratory therapists were in the midst of their report at the change of shift. So I decided simply to make the long trek to the other end of the hospital to see Mom.

When I got to the unit I went to the nurse’s station and told the clerk, “I am here to do an EKG on Margaret Peterson.” The clerk jumped up out of her chair to hand me the order slip and, with a somewhat gleeful voice said, “Oh, you are going to have real fun with this one. Margaret is bouncing off the walls in the Quiet Room…” the Quiet Room being another term for a padded cell. For a split second I had the thought that I would say nothing and just go ahead and do the EKG. But some force came shooting up through me. I could feel “the truth” of the situation coming up through the soles of my feet, up through my body, and out through my mouth. I looked at the clerk and said, “I don’t think I will have any problem… because Margaret is my mother.” It was one of those rare moments when the right words come at just the right time… I will never forget the sight of the unit clerk’s jaw drop open as it headed for the floor. This experience spoke of the truth that people… in all sorts of conditions…. are mothers, and daughters, sisters, fathers, sons, brothers, friends, and neighbors. It spoke to the wrong-minded thought that “they” are somehow different or “less” than we are, “we” who seemingly “have it all together.” It was a powerful moment that, to this day, makes me smile. I left the nurse’s station and went to find Mom. She was no longer in the Quiet Room but pretty much doped up and lying down in a regular hospital bed. I went to her and said, “Hi Mom, I am here to do your EKG…” and that is what I did. Mom got better was eventually able to return home again. Mom knew times of great suffering, but a her core she was a gentle and gracious soul. Happy Mother’s day Mom. Thank you for doing your best. Thank you for all that you taught me, even when you didn’t know that you were teaching me. Be well. I love you.

In John’s gospel we hear about the bonds and connections that we have in Christ and with one another…

Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.

…that we may know that we all belong to God and to one another…

In the Book of Revelation, the last book of our Bible, Saint John the Divine, wrote down his visions of the end times as he sat in a small room on the Island of Patmos, in a time in which the menace of the Roman Empire was continuing its oppressive ways, and bearing down on a young church. In the midst of impending doom and death, John heard, saw, and felt… the living Christ, often in visions that we find somewhat crazy. John wrote down his vision of Christ’s words and steadfast presence : “I am… the alpha and the omega. The first and the last, the beginning and the end.” This is an image that is often recalled at funeral services. It speaks of the living God who spans all eternity… yesterday, today and tomorrow… The words illustrate the open ended brackets that invite us to live in the present moment knowing that, in God, life is both now and for all time, no matter what our circumstances, no matter the challenges and hardships… ours is the God of life and love.


This is also the feast day of Dame Julian of Norwich, the 14th century English mystic and author who lived most of her days as an anchoress, a type of hermit who welcomed and consulted with visitors who came by the window of her home that was built into the walls of the Norwich Cathedral gardens in England. Julian had a housekeeper, but the primary companion in her solitary life was a cat. In her devotion to Christ, Julian prayed to experience Christ’s passion, his suffering on the cross, and she prayed to come as close as possible to sharing the experience of Christ’s death. Julian’s desire was granted and she wrote down her account of this experience in a book entitled “Revelations of Divine Love,” a work that is considered to be the first book written by a woman in the English language. Julian lived in a time in which bubonic plagues scoured the land in waves of massive death. The topics of “sin and redemption” were thick in the spirituality of the time. As I remember Julian on her feast day I think of her greatest gift to me. In highly anxious times… when suffering and death were a constant presence… Julian’s life of prayer and her relationship with Christ left us with the words “All shall be well… and all shall be well… and all manner of things shall be well.” The poet T.S. Eliot used Julian’s words in his poem “The Four Quartets.” Eliot wrote amidst his own ill health and as the explosive thunder of German bombs were menacing the land. Eliot’s poetic ponderings on the meaning of life and death… beginnings and endings… are a gift and a legacy, grounded in his own deep faith, and rooted the work of a woman who had lived many centuries earlier.

The end of the Fourth Quartet, “Little Giddings” reads:

Through the unknown, remembered gate When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river

The voice of the hidden waterfall And the children in the apple-tree Not known, because not looked for But heard, half-heard, in the stillness Between two waves of the sea.

Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity (Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

The Book of Revelation ends with these words of John the Divine:

It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”

And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

This is how the bible ends- not with a whimper but with the water of life… water whose source is eternal… flowing water in which we are blessed and baptized… a dynamic movement of creation that is whole, containing all life, all of the substance of life, all time and all space… the flowing constancy of God, on this day, forever and for always.


Happy Mother’s Day…


Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20-21 John 17:20-26