In Search of My Mother's Garden | Sojourners

In Search of My Mother's Garden

My mother's offering of her gifts invited and cultivated my own.
A hand is holding a pen made out of a bouquet of flowers.
Illustration by Matt Chase

THIS SPRING, MY mother and I did something we have not done together since I was in junior high school: a creative, collaborative liturgical project. Starting when I was about 4 years old, my mother and I would make Christmas cards each year to give to our family and friends. She provided the text, usually in the form of her own biblically and seasonally inspired poetry, and I, an avid drawer, would illustrate her words. We continued this tradition for more than 10 years.

When the church I now attend invited contributions for a crowd-sourced congregational Lenten devotional booklet this year, my mother came up with an idea. She was, as she wrote, “A mom inspired by a thought—as Paul wrote letters to his beloved children and friends in faith ... so could I write a letter to my daughter.” Following the model of the Pauline epistles, my mom wrote me a letter of spiritual encouragement and advice on navigating wilderness, a key feature of both Lent and life. I decided to respond and thank her with a letter of my own. Together, the individual expressions of our relationship became a communal project.

In contemplating our project, I see a creation whose significance is more than the sum of its parts, so to speak. The joint submission of correspondence between my mother and me is not simply a nostalgic return to a lapsed family tradition. Rather, it is a reflection of a profound theological aspect of our relationship: the cultivation of selves in the space of love.

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