Sunday, May 10, 2020

God as Mother

The Fifth Sunday of Easter / Year A
John 14:1-14

Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.”  Show us the Father?  On this day, as a preacher, why couldn’t he have said, “So, Jesus, tell us some stories about your mother.”  Now, that would give me something with which to work!

Surely one of the marks of the spiritual life is a desire to know God, to understand something of the nature of the One who is Holy Other.  But God is incomprehensible and unknowable, save for what God chooses to reveal to us.  As we experience the unknowable God we compare what we sense to what we do know.  “In some ways God is like a good shepherd.”  “In some ways God is like a father.”  These metaphors, while helpful, have their limitations.  Your experience of father may be very different from mine, so are we saying God is like your father (who may have been cruel and overbearing) or like my father (who may have been kind and nurturing)?  And what if your father had a beard, but mine did not.  Which is God like?  Push it enough and you realize God is neither bearded or clean shaven because God is not like a father in this way.

Genesis 1:27 states “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  This tells us we should be able to look at men and see in them something of the image of God.  It also tells us we should be able to look at women and see something of what God is like.  And if we can see something of God in our fathers, then it follows we should be able to look at our mothers and find the same.  What we see of God in our fathers most likely will be different from what we see of God in our mothers, still, by exploring God’s mother-like qualities we will come to know God more fully and more completely.

There are several passages in the Old Testament that speak of God as being like one who gives birth:

You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.
(Deuteronomy 32:18)

For a long time I have held my peace,
    I have kept still and restrained myself;
now I will cry out like a woman in labor, 
    I will gasp and pant.
(Isaiah 42:14)

Can a woman forget her nursing-child,
    or show no compassion
    for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
(Isaiah 49:15)

The prophet Hosea likens God to a mother who tenderly nurtures her child:

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them. (11:3-4)

Isaiah draws on a similar image:

As a mother comforts her child,
    so I will comfort you;
    you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.  (66:13)

The 22nd Psalm compares God to a midwife:

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
    you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
    and since my mother bore me
    you have been my God.  (9-10)

In the Book of Deuteronomy God uses the image of a mother eagle to enlarge our understanding:

As an eagle stirs up its nest,
    and hovers over its young;
as it spreads its wings, takes them up,
    and bears them aloft on its pinions,
the Lord alone guided him;
    no foreign god was with him.  (32:11-12)

Jesus himself invokes the image of a mother hen as a self-description: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” (Luke 13:34 and Matthew 23:37).  We tend to think of the paternal protective figure going off to do battle with the enemy and the maternal protective figure as the one who gathers the children and shelters them from harm.  Here, at least, Jesus longs to be a maternal figure in the lives of the people of Jerusalem.

These are just a few of the biblical verses I could cite.  They reveal God as being one who gives birth to new life, who nurtures, feeds, cares for, and watches over us.  Surely you have experienced God in these ways.  Perhaps you did not know portions of the bible think of these qualities as being motherly and ascribe them to God.

Yolanda Pierce, a professor at Princeton University, writes this about why, in addition to Father, she experiences God as Mother:

Long before I became familiar with the academic debates concerning calling God “Mother,”... I was being raised in a household where I instinctively understood that the divine presence was manifest in the loving hands and arms of mothers, and most especially in the life of my grandmother who raised me.  My grandmother’s kitchen was a theological laboratory where she taught me how to love people just as naturally as she taught me to make peach cobbler and buttermilk biscuits. I watched and listened as she ministered to the sick and the lost, with a Bible in one hand and a freshly baked pound cake in the other, despite having no official ministry role.

I knew that if God was real, if God truly loved me as a parent loves a child, then God was also “Mother” and not only “Father.”

Maybe you can relate in some way to Dr. Pierce’s experience.  Now try on this poem by renowned author and pastor Jacqui Lewis:

My God is a curvy black woman with dreadlocks and dark, cocoa-brown skin. 
She laughs from her belly and is unashamed to cry. 
She can rock a whole world to sleep, singing in her contralto voice. 
Her sighs breathe life into humanity. 
Her heartbreaks cause eruptions of justice and love…
My God is an incarnate feminine power, who smells like vanilla and is full of sass and truth, delivered with kindness. 
She’ll do anything for her creation; her love is fierce. 
She weeps when we do 
and insists on justice. 
She is God.
She is Love.

Now, I want you to relax and take a deep breath.  I am not going to make you begin the Lord’s Prayer by saying “Our Mother, who art in heaven…”  What I do what to do is expand your ability to conceive of God and to understand how God continues to reveal God’s self in diverse ways.  God as Mother is merely one window allowing us to see some aspects of the Divine Mystery.

So on Mother’s Day 2020, you might want to ponder how God’s nature has been revealed to you through the mother figures in your life.  Use this day as an opportunity to expand your understanding of God and to give thanks for the mothers you have been blessed to know.