Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We will continue to post these weekly until we are able to meet again in person for worship. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.
We start by listening to two scripture verses that refer to mothers. The first is from the 10 commandments in Exodus:
“Honor your mother and your father, so that you may have a long life in the land that Your God has given to you!” [Exodus 20:12]
The second is from 2 Timothy 1:5:
“I’m reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois, then in your mother Eunice, and now, I’m certain, in you as well.”
Performance artist Marina Abramovic may be best known for her 2010 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. As part of that exhibition she performed “The Artist is Present.” From March 14- May 31, (something like the time frame of our corona lockdown) she sat, all day, every day, in a hard chair in the atrium of the museum with an empty chair across from her. The public lined up, for hours, out the door and down the sidewalk, to sit in the chair opposite Abramovic and to look at her, for as long as they wanted to. There was no speaking involved. She sat down in the morning and got up when the museum closed.
Abramovic physically trained for this exhibition. She ate and drank certain things in specific amounts leading up to and during the exhibit. She did exercises so that her body would hold up to the stillness. She trained her body to a certain schedule that involved not using the bathroom during the entire time she was seated in the atrium each day. This exhibit was very taxing to her body as well as to her psyche.
But Abramovic is no stranger to physical discomfort and pain. In one performance, she placed a collection of 72 objects on a table and invited the public to do what they wanted to her with the items which included a knife and a gun and a bullet. [Rhythm 0, 1974] She did another piece involving laying down in the middle of a burning star-shaped fire. The fire ate the oxygen within the space and Abramovic passed out and was saved from death by a doctor who happened to be in the audience. [Rhythm 5, 1974]
There are many such episodes in the life of Abramovic. According to an article in the Guardian, she is known as a Yugoslavian-born provocateur, and as one of the most significant artists of the second half of the 20th century. [See https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/may/12/marina-abramovic-ready-to-die-serpentine-gallery-512-hours%5D
Whatever you think of her, Abramovic is certainly a person of note. Last month she was featured in a Microsoft ad for HoloLens 2. But given a recent accusation of alleged satanism surrounding Abramovic, Microsoft pulled the ad. She is also known for mentoring Lady Gaga and other celebrities. Abramovic has certainly gained world wide notoriety.
For a variety of reasons, I got interested in Marina Abramovic. I find her a fascinating person. Where does she get these ideas? In her own way, she is marvelously creative.
But this is about Mother’s Day, so I want to say something about Abramovic and her relationship with her mother. This is another interesting part of her story. Abramovic was born in Belgrade, now Serbia. Her parents were partisans in World War 2. Her mother saved her father’s life during the war. Both were celebrated national heroes after the war. But Abramovic grew up in a physically and emotionally abusive household. She was beaten. She suffered from mental torment. She was made to wear sturdy unattractive clothing. When she went to bed at night, she was to sleep straight, in the middle of the bed, with the covers pulled neatly over her. When her mother came in to check on her in the night, if she was splayed across the bed, and the sheets were awry, her mother would wake her up and beat her and make her get back into the bed properly. The mother ran the household like it was the army.
As Abramovic grew into adulthood and became an artist, her mother continued to dominate and criticize her daughter. Her mother considered the performances involving her daughter’s naked body to be exhibitionist. She did not express any approval or support for her daughter despite her burgeoning career and fame. As her mother reached the end of her life, Abramovic was a mature adult, an artist of worldwide acclaim. She visited her mother regularly and saw that her mother was properly taken care of. Abramovic continued to show filial devotion to her mother despite their difficult relationship.
After her mother died, Abramovic was going through her mother’s things and she found a box under the bed. And the box was filled with articles from newspapers and magazines about Abramovic and her art. Abramovic realized that her mother did love and respect her. In her own way. This was such a gift. Such a relief. And Abramovic came to see that from her mother she had learned the discipline and focus and strength that had enabled her to carry out her performance art which was so incredibly demanding physically and emotionally. Her mother had actually contributed to her success as an artist. So Marina Abramovic came to be filled with gratitude for what her mother had given to her. What I think is beautiful about Abramovic is that she evolved to the point where she could see a fuller truth about her mother.
Sometimes difficult experiences can help us to learn and grow and to become our best selves. And sometimes this process involves our mothers.
We don’t know what life will bring. Certainly these corona days are filled with uncertainty and suffering. But maybe there are things we can see, and learn, and come to understand from this experience that will benefit us. What are we finding in the box under the bed? Maybe we are learning things that will help us to face future challenges. Maybe we are becoming more aware of all we have to be thankful for. Maybe we are being given gifts through this experience that are difficult to receive but that we will benefit from in some way.
This Mother’s Day, I encourage us to think not only about how we may have been blessed by our mothers or those who have been mothering figures in our lives, but also about how we have been blessed by difficult times in our lives and how we may be being blessed by this corona time.
Divine Love is a mystery. Life is strange. If our hands and hearts are open, we may recognize the gifts we are being given even when they are not candy and flowers. Amen.
As you listen to the music video prepared by Hilton using the pictures of mothers contributed by the church family, you are invited to notice the thoughts and feelings and that arise for you around Mother’s Day.
(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)