Wednesday, May 09, 2018
One God Who Mothers Us All
One of my preferred ways of speaking the trinitarian formula is this:
In the name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit
One God who is Mother of us all.
This is a favorite now but but when I first began to imagine God as Mother it felt really weird. It made me feel squirmy and wrong when, in my prayers I began to experiment with female images. I think this may be the case of many of us who grew up in traditional churches. It's likely true even in non-church culture, where 'the man upstairs' is universally understood to mean God and with a couple of notable exceptions (Alanis Morrisette or Octavia Spencer for example) God has been portrayed in most art and media as an old white, bearded dude in the clouds.
Yet mothering imagery for God - even for Christ - has ancient roots. These are words from Julian of Norwich in the 14th century (and from our Hymnal #482):
Mothering Christ, you took my form,
offering me your food of light,
grain of life, and grape of love
your very body for my peace.
Who else but a mother feeds and nourishes and sustains her children from her very body? This Christ-like action that we all experience when we share at Christ's table and that I understood in a new way as a nursing mother.
And way, waaay before Julian, the Biblical writers understood the mother-ness of God, although we haven't always read it that way. Hosea writes in the voice God:
I taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms;
yet they did not know that I healed them.
I pulled them along with humane restraint, with ties of love.
And I was to them like those who lift babies to their cheeks,
I reached to them and fed them.
Sure, dads can do that stuff too (thanks be to God). But for the prophet and the culture and context in which he wrote, he was imagining the Mother.
When I was in college and spent a summer as a camp counselor in Alberta, I butted heads often over theological issues with a particular counselor who was much more conservative than I. But I found on the matter of gendered God language he was completely on board with Mother God. For him it was a matter of having had a father who was emotionally and sometimes physically abusive, who was anything but the nurturing and tender parent that we long for in the God. To imagine God as Loving Father was painful and difficult and difficult for him, when for me it was comforting and tender because I have a dad who was comforting and tender. Hosea's image could easily have been Father in my eyes, just as it has so often been understood by so many.
The naming and understanding of God is going to be as nuanced as the ones who name and call on Her. For those of us who parent, we can understanding a parenting God through the lens of our experience of parenting. Calling on Mothering God can be meaningful both in our experience of mothering and in our longing for one who provides the comfort and tenderness of a mother's arms in our time of need when nothing will do but Mama.
Finally, if you have not heard it before (or even if you have!) I recommend Bobby McFerrin's adaptation of the 23rd Psalm. His hymn of praise to God our Mother is transporting. You should put it in your ears RIGHT NOW. Happy Mother's Day all you who mother, who have mothers or who need our Heavenly Mother to give you rest.
Image of Julian of Norwich by Br. Robert Lenz. Click on it to learn more about Julian (and her cat).
Image of hands by Jon Warren, taken about 10 years ago of my hands with my daughter.