Be truly glad. There’s a wonderful joy ahead. – Peter 1:6
Oh Peter. The fisherman with the shoes. The guy tagged by Jesus as the rock on which to build a church. How about that Jesus, the punster? I have to wonder how he saw Peter, how ironically he might have been saying to Peter, hey, you’re the rock on which this church will be built. After all, he knew this guy well enough to say, yeah, sure, Pete, but you’ll deny me three times before morning. Maybe that wasn’t so much supernatural vision, as the clarity of real friendship, real love that accepted that he might not like what lay ahead from this guy.
Maybe he just knew Peter, push come to shove, was weak.
Church history vaunts Peter, exults him unironically as a true rock. The idea that Christ stuck with him despite any illusions about his steadiness is somehow more appealing, today. It’s more like a mother’s love.
Mom never required us to be perfect. Mom was sometimes vocal in her disappointment with us; more often, she’d tune her silence to a frequency that radiated a clear sense that, while she might not agree with us, might think we’re letting ourselves (and her, but mostly ourselves) down, it was most important that we live our decisions.
Sometimes, that tone of silence was frustrating, when I might sense she had decided to steel herself against the worst possible interpretation of events, and accept me as I was. That kind of silence is hard to combat. How do you easily say, Mom, I sense you are silent because you worry that I’m capable of x, and x is such a short-coming, but your love requires you not to accuse me, to just accept it. Please stop. I would never do x. Don’t you know me at all?
It’s a double bind, that kind of acceptance. In a way, it’s utter security, because you are loved no matter what manner of asshattery you get up to. In another way, it puts you at a disadvantage. If you feel compelled to protest an unspoken assumption of judgement/forgiveness/acceptance, your compulsion reveals you as an attention seeker, insecure, justifying what nobody has asked you to, explaining something that ought need no explanation, bewildered that your own mom…
… and you stop, and you realise, she might simply know the darkest possibilities of the heart, because she has lived through them herself, made decisions that look simple, inevitable, strong and good, but might have cost many a fearful, doubtful moment when she almost chose another way. You realise you don’t know her sins and shortcomings.
You wonder again about Christ, piercing Peter’s pompous declaration of loyalty with such devastating judgment. No, Peter, you’re not that strong. You’ll give me up. I don’t expect more than that. You decide that Christ – this punster Jesus, this put-upon, defiant, been hassled all his loud-mouthed life son/not-son of a carpenter whose played his hand of articulate passion for all its worth and sees the chips about to fall – might be a more palatable avatar.
At least, today, you decide he might better be understood if we dare to imagine that he could only skewer Peter with such accuracy because of having entertained thoughts of disloyalty himself, having lived a normal life of choices, shortcomings, betrayals and struggle to live up to your mother’s love.
He defied his parents as a young teen, stayed behind to argue with priests. Did he catch it for that, when his folks caught up to him? How much might the half-brother endure from his siblings? From a father who has had to summon the repeated courage and dignity to say, no, I’m not a cuckold, this is the son of God, a gift of the Holy Spirit? From a mother who was pregnant out of wedlock, and had to make ‘son of God’ stick, when ‘evidence of unsanctioned female sexual agency’ would’ve been the label first to people’s lips?
You sit pondering this iteration of Jesus of Nazareth, mouthy little, defiant little bastard claiming his right to live up to the call in his heart, always with something to prove, and always with a bit of nothing-to-lose. You think about his pals, the sort of men who were open to being led, and who, in the crunch, couldn’t take the heat of the police state’s final escalation of suppression of this wild card.
You think about his mother. You wonder, did she really see him blameless up there on the cross? Or did she weep because she saw him as an earthly mother sees, flaws and all, loved despite whatever he might have done or failed to do? Had she warned him? Or simply seen what lay ahead and vowed to love him, simply love her son.
Did she remember all the struggles of his childhood, wonder did she do the best she could? Did she rage with a burning pride, to see that her own defiant championing of this first-born, this technical bastard, had been borne out in the magnitude of the threat he respresented to the oppressive status quo? Or wish she’d ever once told him to sit down, shut up, take up the respectable tools of carpentry and run his hands, not his mouth?
Did she marvel at how much people loved him, or seethe at his lousy friends for betraying him? Did she contemplate murdering that blowhard Peter? Did she recommit to her own activism on behalf of her people?
When she died, did she go in trust that she’d done all a mother could do, not just with him, but with all her kids? Did she hope that her mother’s love was enough now, to see them all onward? Did she look forward to reuniting with her flamboyant eldest son, in the realm beyond?
Did she have any idea that that son would be worshipped in long ages ahead, and that she herself would be lifted up to a throne, her spirit entrusted with the most heartfelt of prayers and cares of millions?
Did she feel weary from a mother’s great labours, or truly glad, trusting in great joy ahead? You wonder, and you love.
*This year, I am honouring my mom’s passing by writing throughout the Advent season, following as prompts the daily quotations cited in the free online calendar put out by the Catholic Medical Mission Board Mom was a lifelong Roman Catholic, and I was raised with the Church as a contentious part of our family life, given that my Ojibwe dad’s family was so affected by the church. Nonetheless, her faith was important to Mom, so this is a tribute to her. It’s also a reflection on how religions influence in many ways.
If you like these posts, please also consider donating, in the memory of Albina Sewell, to Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton; her chosen charity for memorials is not religiously affiliated, but serves all children.