Mother’s Day 2007

Mothers’ Day, 2007
Salem Presbyterian Church

My mother, Carol Jeanne Parsons Shafer, was a member of this congregation from 1960-1968. While she was here, she was a wife, a mother of three including two teens, a homemaker, a “minister’s wife,” an occasional organist, the director of the Children’s Choir, a university student working on her teaching certification and later her master’s degree, and an elementary teacher, among other duties. The word “multi-tasker” describes her life; she was busy. She was an equal partner with my father in all of her duties. When I read the following scripture, I think of my mother and the devoted care she gave to her family, her church, and her students.

Just as we know from the Parable of the Good Samaritan that everyone we encounter is our neighbor, we also know that we are all mothers and fathers to each other, husbands and wives to those we love and to the institutions we serve. I invite you to listen to this ancient scripture— those who are mothers, those who mother others, and those who have been mothered—and to think of how these ancient words describe a woman who is the CEO of her home and family, the administrator and manager of her life and the lives of her extended family—- a woman, single, married, divorced, or widowed—any woman who uses her skills to be the creative source within her home and her world, watching over, nourishing, protecting, caring, and mothering those who come within her realm.

Proverbs 31: Verses 10-31 are an acrostic poem, each verse beginning with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Proverbs 31:10-31

“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
She gets up while it is still dark; and provides food
for her family and portions for her servant girls.
She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable; and her lamp does not go out at night. 
In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. 
When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. 
She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom and dignity, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.
‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 
Give her the reward she has earned and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”
“This is the Word of the Lord”

The Proverbs 31 woman is charitable, entrepreneurial, fashionable, financially astute, healthy, industrious, loving, managerial, productive, prudent, resourceful, responsible, reverent, self-confident, skilled, trustworthy, virtuous, wise, praiseworthy as a wife and mother. She represents the essence of womanliness and is the mother to us all.

Breaking the Rules

My mother loved rules. She would say, “I’m going to make a rule.” and she would. She had all sorts of rules, such as how to properly lay a table for a meal, the selection of music for an event, what should be said in a thank-you letter. Perhaps Miss Manners consulted Mother on various rules; they would have liked each other. When she retired, Mother made a rule to arise at 6:00 a.m., as usual. No slacking off and sleeping until noon for her. Since she was an elementary teacher, making rules fit right into her job description. Rules keep Third Grade in order.

She was also a minister’s wife, and a gracious lady; therefore, she had rules about an orderly house, proper behavior in various rooms, suitable times for meals, proper clothing to be worn, how to behave in church, and such. Being a minister’s family required that the living room always be presentable for callers and guests. In practice, that meant we children could only walk through, not sit there, and walk at a suitable pace, no running. It also meant that the family never used the living room. We lived in large old church manses, so we children had rooms of our own to use; occasionally we had homes with dens or family rooms, which we children could use. The kitchen was the room in which the family most often gathered if the house had no den. When I was a teen, we lived in a smallish house in Knoxville, not as big as the larger manses we were used to. My father used the living room as his place to write and no noisy children were allowed. Later, when we lived in a lovely old house in Salem, he claimed the back parlor as his study and we children, by then two of us rambunctious teens, were relegated to the large, enclosed, side porch. I don’t think my mother thought through the ramifications of this “off limits” living room concept until it was too late. A family that has no place to gather, has no place to be a family. Finally, by the time my parents bought the condo in Columbus where they lived for the last thirty years of their lives, the family was allowed to sit in the living room—a little late, but nice.

I carried on the same silly formal living room concept when I had small children. I say silly, because my husband and I did not entertain formally and had no reason to not use the largest room in our home. But, we were both raised on the formal living room concept—and could not let it go. I did let the boys spread their toys out to play in the living room, but they were not allowed to climb or sit on the furniture. I did not realize how this offended my children until one son retaliated by taking that much-loved [by me] furniture to college, where it was soon trashed. We solved that “no place to be” dilemma by building a large family room where we had room to breathe–and enough recliners and sofas for everyone.

Some rules I broke recently, that I can mention in public, include moving the TV into the living room, putting a recliner in the living room, putting pictures [instead of portraits—who has those now days??] into the living room. Obviously, Mother’s rules about a formal living room were straight out of the Victorian era and British manor houses—and straight out of her mother’s home, where the formal living room concept also prevailed. The formal living room, an unused living room, in our house is gone, replaced by family room casual; now I am just trying to find enough seats for all the big men in the family. The six-footers look extremely uncomfortable in Aunt Francie’s dainty apricot velvet occasional chairs which are basically made for people 5’2”—knees on chin sort of thing. Our living room is rather small, but I am looking for some real men chairs somewhere—what with five six+ footers and two other good-sized men to seat.

Mother-the-rule-maker’s children, an uncooperative lot, resisted all the rules, although all three of us succeeded in rule-dominated occupations–teaching and nursing. Even so, learning to break those rules has been difficult. In countless decisions, some daily, others not, I have to think myself over the hurdle of breaking mother’s rules. It’s sixty years later and I am making some progress.

The Gift of Giving

President Daisaku Ikeda, the leader of Soka Gakaii International: SGI, is a man I greatly admire. From the ashes of WWII, he took an organization called Soka Gakaii (Value Creating Society) and became the third leader, rebuilding after the wartime imprisonment of the first two leaders had devestated the group. Through Ikeda’s leadership, this Buddhist society, which works for world peace, has spread around the globe.

My introduction to SGI and President Ikeda came through my beloved daughter-in-law, Shinobu, a native of Japan, who has given me many books by President Ikeda and who has also taken me to the Florida Nature and Culture Center, the SGI conference center in Weston, Florida. It was at FNCC that I first heard the story below from Shinobu, a “fortune baby,” or birth-right SGI member. 

Shinobu’s parents, Tadashi and Yoneko Arai, who lived in Nagoya, Japan, grew up during the suffering of WWII. Following their marriage in 1957, they raised a family of three daughters and together built a prosperous business. Mrs. Arai, a loving mother and a dedicated member of SGI, loved the sound of the koto harp.

After Mrs. Arai’s untimely death in 1991, Shinobu and her two sisters presented a koto to President and Mrs. Ikeda during a visit they made to Nagoya, as a tribute to them and to the memory of Mrs. Arai. The koto was given to honor Mrs. Ikada, who, though not a public performer, often plays the koto for her husband in their home. Some time later, President and Mrs. Ikeda presented the koto to a visiting scholar of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism from India named Prof. Lokesh Chandra, Director of the International Academy of Indian Culture

In 1992, Shinobu came to United States as a “study abroad” student. Jim and Shinobu met in a Sanskrit class, which was part of the Buddhist Studies program at the University of Wisconsin, and married a few years later. After Jim received his Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies in 2001, he took a teaching position with Antioch College’s Study Abroad program, escorting a group of students to Bodh Gaya, India for a semester of study. Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment, is in Bihar, a remote part of India, a ten hour train ride from the capital of New Delhi. Jim and another young professor taught the classes and accompanied the students on tours to various holy sites and cities. [Jim is on the left in the mauve shirt].

On their return journey, the group stopped in New Delhi. Before they left the U.S., Shinobu had written to Professor Chandra, telling him the story about the koto that she had given to President Ikeda, which eventually went to Professor Chandra’s institute, and mentioning that she and her husband would be visiting in India. Remembering meeting with President Ikeda and receiving the koto from him ten years before in Japan, Professor Chandra invited Shinobu and Jim to his institute. They spent several hours discussing Indian Buddhist history and iconography. Jim was able to take many photographs of Buddhist and Hindu artwork, including statues and paintings, greatly adding to his knowledge of 10th and 11th Century iconography. 

The part I love best about this story is the way the gift itself, the koto, travels and creates energy that brings people together over time and great distances. The memorial gift and President Ikeda’s giving of the gift set in motion a series of events in which eventually three scholars met in a far away land to share knowledge and fellowship, a meeting that Jim and Shinobu will always remember. Shinobu’s mother would have been overjoyed to know of her daughter’s journeys and of the happiness brought by the gift given in her name. This story is also a metaphor of how President Ikeda has sent in motion the energy and activities that have developed SGI into an international organization, empowering people to work for world peace.

After accompanying her husband to India, which interrupted her studies somewhat, Shinobu returned to the University of Wisconsin, completing her Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies in 2003. Her dissertation, Value of Simple Practice: A Study of Tiantai Zhiyi’s “Liumiao Famen,” was highly praised by her major professor, Professor Charles Hallisey, of Harvard and UW. In my family, there is a refrain repeated when a child or grandchild accomplishes a major educational or other goal, “Mamma Jeanne would be so proud!”, referring to my dear mother and her deep love of education and of her family. With the completion of her daughter’s educational journey, I think the same refrain would fit Yoneko Arai—she would be so proud!