Metaphysical Christmas Orphans

orphanI have a friend who works a counsellor at a homeless youth shelter. I was of the mind to offer to help at the shelter with time or money, so asked her what the youth she supervised were doing for Christmas. In my imagination, especially at Christmas, I tend to envision Edwardian-era orphanages while reading stories like The Christmas Orange  or anything by Dickens involving penniless children. My friend said that most of the youth at her shelter had extended family or similar places to go for Christmas lunch and though a few did not have places to go, they were generally well looked after. I was happily surprised by this and enjoyed learning about these amazing, driven, capable – yet homeless, youths.

This homeless/orphan idea led me to think about Christmas and General Conference stories. You know the stories; some fiction, some real, all aimed at reminding us of our privilege, thereby inducing a sense of brotherhood/patriotism/Christianity which is meant to spurn us into charitable and spiritual action. I have no issue with this; in fact, I seek it! I am blessed to live in a western county with a welfare system that could provide for my basic material needs if needed. My current position, although far from welfare, yet even further from being an eccentric millionaire, is a place where my cupboards are full enough that I am able to painlessly make Christmas donations. By all counts in the scale of global economy, I am materially rich.

Yet being spurned into spiritual action is harder to comprehend. Atheists can be just as materially generous as non-atheists. Just because we give time and material does not mean we are more or less spiritual than anyone else. As Claudio Costa reminded us in his October 2010 conference talk, the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich have the greatest spiritual difficulty. This means that in comparative terms of the dispersion of global wealth and education, I am but a prideful step away from spiritual devastation.

I don’t like to think about my (potential? actual?) spiritual decline at Christmastime, yet I do. Even more than usual. But why? Especially when men and women finally have a female role model in Mary to openly celebrate? But we speak of Mary because she is the earthly mother of Christ. Since I have not experienced typical motherhood, I find myself disassociated from celebrations of Mary, and as a result, disjointed from mothers or those who celebrate womanhood only through the lens of motherhood. This makes me consider myself a spiritual orphan, because I seek to relate, but deeply fear I cannot.

Another friend yelled at me for expressing my lack of maternal connection to other women through Mary. “You are a mother!” She had interrupted my tirade, “I hate it when you say you are not! You are a mother to me and my children! You have helped so many children! Don’t say THAT around ME! It is NOT TRUE!” As she is a powerful Maori woman, I refused to argue, thanked her, loved her even more, but moved on… still wishing I understood what mothers meant in traditional feminine kinship with Mary. But I don’t. So I question my spirituality, because at the end of the day of giving material goods away, I sometimes still feel like a spiritual orphan, and blame myself for my mortal failings.

I recall a few years ago when my workplace volunteered to help less fortunate teens. The teens supplied lists of items they would like for Christmas, most were predictable- electronic equipment, music, shoes (think Nike and Reebok for males). But there was one girl. She asked for shopping bags and a gift certificate to a coffee shop. She wanted to go through the mall with bags– even empty bags, and sit down for a coffee so she would look like everyone else did at Christmas. She wanted to give and to look like she could give, rather than being in a position where people were giving to her. Almost every time I recycle a specialty shop bag I think of her.  She was a new wave orphan; like me… our needs were met, but we desired and were seeking for something to stave off spiritual orphanhood.

My comparative privilege may remove my longing—and even my appreciation for basic food and shelter. My inability to relate to traditional motherhood may discharge me of embracing the divine feminine in Mary. My small contributions may only be included in a stack of a thousand others who also contribute time and money to different Christmas causes. But as my friend from the shelter, and then my Maori friend taught me, there is still a place for me. There is still a need for me and my tiny contribution.

My contribution is recognised and appreciated by those who know my heart, no matter how atypical, small or insignificant it feels. I am rich and poor, all at once. I am blessed. I am singular. I am unusual. My shopping bags may be lacking and understanding of Mary, of motherhood of you…. But mostly, even on my worst days, I consider myself a servant of Christ, even when I don’t feel like I am enough and cannot relate to others.  Even when I feel like a spiritual orphan, at least I am a servant of Christ. That thought keeps me for a moment. Then I am alone again. A metaphysical spiritual orphan… wishing I could do more, give more, be more, understand more.

Do you sometimes feel like a spiritual orphan? What helps you to not feel like a spiritual orphan? Does Christmas sometimes trigger a desire to offer help and understanding beyond your ability? How do you deal with that?  


Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

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12 Responses

  1. April says:

    Thank you for this beautiful piece. I also love the reminders to look outward that we hear at Christmastime. Although I happen to be blessed to be a mom, I don’t feel like a Mary, either.

    • spunky says:

      Thanks, April. DH said this post reminded him of our trip to India. Children on the streets with toothless grins– toothless because of malnutrition, who laughed, played– and looked so happy. Happiness is relative- perhaps spiritualism is as well?

  2. EmilyCC says:

    Before I read your posts, Spunky, I think I was like your friend. When I had friends without children (not by choice), I was quick to point out those they had mothered, thinking that was helpful. Now, I realize that was my own discomfort speaking–I wanted to explain away their (and your) pain. Make it all better. (Wouldn’t that be awesome? Explain away pain?!)

    These days, I try to listen to that pain and sit with it. It’s uncomfortable and makes me feel sad, but I think that it’s in listening to the pain of a spiritual orphan that I think I am best able to get a small glimpse of what it might feel like.

    Thank you for this beautiful Christmas reminder.

    • spunky says:

      You’re so sweet, EmilyCC! Explaining pain away would be awesome…. its funny, but I am not in pain, I am in a metaphysical place. You know– the “should” place… I should give, and that should make me feel closer to God, and when I don’t get a spiritual kick, then I think I am not doing enough…. This is what drives my sense of spiritual orphanhood; is there something that I am missing in my life? Whether it be a child, or a husband or an education or a significant bank account or whatever it is that appears might make me “better”. Like the girl who wanted the empty shopping bags. In her mind, she wanted for nothing, but because she was on the list based on her family income and life situation, all she wanted was the appearance of how she felt– and she felt fine. So she wanted to know what it felt like to walk through a mall with shopping bags, to see if it felt any different. So I guess sometimes I wonder– if I walked into a chapel with a child, would I feel any different? Would my testimony be changed? Would I suddenly feel like a “real” Mormon woman? Or is it all based in appearance? I think I would be the same person (feminism and all), but maybe not.

  3. Caroline says:

    This is so beautiful and personal, Spunky. Thanks for sharing it.

    I take it you don’t care for Sherry Dew’s assertion that all women are mothers? I never realized how off-putting that idea could be to women without children until my single friend said, “I am NOT a mother. I would KNOW if I was a mother, and trust me, I’m not.” She hated that her identity as a Mormon woman was tied to some role that she did not see herself as fulfilling. She found it damaging to her psyche.

    This is one reason that I really love Chieko Okazaki. She almost never emphasizes motherhood. It was almost always about discipleship and sisterhood. She was one of a kind — I’m still sad she’s gone.

    As for spiritual orphanhood, I feel a bit like one of those as a Mormon feminist. Thank goodness I have wonderful communities of online friends with whom I can relate and commune, but in my own congregation, I’m definitely an outlier. We had lessons today that touched upon the final judgement and millenium, and I was struck by how literal other Mormons were about it all. Thinking that there are real books where all our deeds for good and bad are recorded, etc. Maybe that’s the case, but that’s not where my mind automatically goes — I’m more inclined to take a figurative reading to a lot of these end of the world/final judgement ideas.

    • spunky says:

      Thanks, Caroline. The funny thing is, I really, really liked Sheri Dew’s talk. But in my experience, Mormon women who are mothers disregard that talk- or assume it is only addressed to childless women, which relieves them of empathy, or respect of choice. I don’t think this was Dew’s intention; I think she meant it as a unifier, yet … I have been within earshot of Mormon women congratulating new mothers for being “a real mother now” and struggle to comprehend why Mormon mothers seem to think that Sheri Dew’s advice should NOT be applied to them, as mortal mothers. That is what leaves me feeling marginalised and disassociated from that talk; the fact that the talk is “assigned” to me by women with children, when the the ones assigning it seem to not be bothered to seek to understand the concept for themselves. My Maori friend understood this — she even asked her 6 year old son if he thought that I (spunky) was a mother, to prove to me her thoughts. He answered yes (with full “duh!” attitude). He said that I had lots of children, including him! (LOVE the Maori family concept– wish I was Maori)

      So its the people who assign that talk to me — they think I am not a mother. That, for me, is what is wrong with that talk. I sometimes think the ones who assign the talk to me are the spiritual orphans, but I feel uncomfortable with that as well… an eye-for-an-eye judgement thing, I guess.

      And I agree, thank goodness for the online feminist community. I would feel as a complete spiritual orphan without this community.

  4. Deborah says:

    Thanks for this, Spunky. It made me think, particularly because (as you know) I do feel a connection to Mary. Interestingly (for me), this yearning toward her began before I had my daughter, at a time I wondered if parenthood was in the cards for me. And that devotion was nurtured in the walls of a monastery filled with women who had chosen a childless life. For me, it was not my own maternity that led me to her. Perhaps it was a need to have a woman of such raw strength on my team? I don’t know.
    The orphan archetype is a powerful one, though, and not just for Dickensian reasons. Seedbeds of superheroes.

  5. Alisa says:

    I haven’t ever thought about Abish in these terms as a professional and a woman. As a professional and a woman, I love it!

  6. Annie B. says:

    I have children but I don’t feel any special connection to Mary. I don’t really feel all that badly about it either. When I was a kid I remember thinking that all the lessons about “the real meaning of Christmas” were such a drag. I liked the meaning and I loved any of the service activities we did (our family was actually on the receiving end of several), but the solemn scriptural readings and nativity re-enactments I just had no patience for. I just think I identified more with the celebratory aspects of Christmas.

  7. I think we miss out when we don’t think about the women who are not mentioned explicitly in the birth story. I see learned women (subsumed into “wise men”), simple women (subsumed into shepherds), and supporting women (like the midwife and Mary’s mother). Won’t it be amazing to get to hear their stories? We should work to redefine the standard male-only nativity and make places for women to feel included in more places than as a young mother.

  1. May 8, 2012

    […] about being a new empty nester *April blogs about Primary’s best Mother’s Day songs *Spunky writes about trying to identify with Mary as a childless woman *Alisa’s poem about being a mother of a child with special needs *Deborah’s poem about […]

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