Thursday, May 5, 2016

God Our Mother

How many times have we heard children praying in their sing-song fashion, "God our Father. God our Father. Once again. Once again. Thank you for our blessing. Thank you for our blessing. Amen. Amen?" Would this change in our conscious and unconscious minds if "Father" was changed to "Mother?"

We are so familiar with the concept of God as Father but are we as comfortable with the image of God as Mother? Scripture supports both. The prophet Hosea spoke of God in this motherly image, "Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with the chords 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).

In a culture where one of the biggest problems is the lack of a father in a child's life, how much more would someone whose grown up either without a dad or has a negative experience with their father, respond to God not as a Father, but as a Mother?

If one looks at statistics, they will see that 85% of youth in prison grew up without fathers. With such a predisposition against the concept of father, they might find themselves more drawn to a God who is presented as, ". . . a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you . . ." (Isaiah 66:13). 

63% of youth suicides come from fatherless homes.

90% of homeless and runaway children come from fatherless homes.

If they cannot experience the love of an earthly father, how will they be open to the love of a heavenly Father? We cannot love what we do not know. 

And what of those who have experienced physical or sexual abuse at their father's hands?  Can they then even begin to open themselves to the hands of an unseen Father who is reaching out to them?  

The novelist Shusaku Endo wrote his book A Life of Jesus to present Christ to a Japanese culture that rejected the idea of a heavenly Father. Their perception of "father" was their "Emperor." Because of this, they could not accept a "stern father" but preferred "gods and Buddhas" as a "warm hearted mother." In his book he sought to present the "ind-hearted maternal aspect of God revealed to us in the personality of Jesus." That's why he tends to stress the merciful, compassionate side of Christ. As he writes of Jesus as being "well aware of something, also, namely, love's futility in the world of material values. He loved the unfortunate ones, yet he also understood that once even they came to know love's futility, they too would be turning against him. When all is said and done, the hard fact remains that human beings are on the lookout for practical and tangible results . . . Yet love is an act which in this visible world bears no direct correlation with tangible benefits." 

Endo is presenting a Jesus who is not there to promote his political and economic dreams but to love without ulterior motives, to love as a mother loves her child. In Japanese culture, mothers are seen as self-sacrificing, rejected, and suffering (hence Endo's connection to Christ the suffering servant). Fathers in Japanese culture are often reviled and mocked. They are viewed as stern and absent. Isn't that how many of us see God?

If throughout scripture, especially in the prophets, God is presented as a mother figure, why don't we see that within the Church? Is it do to the patriarchal structure that has been set up within the Church itself, even to downplaying the role of women in the very creation of the Church itself?  Are we afraid of the strength of the feminine within Christian culture? 

Yet from the beginning, in the very creation story itself, we are told that God made both man and woman in His image. The feminine is as much a part of his identity as the masculine. Too often we are presented with this image of a tribal, blood-thirsty God who is constantly angered and wrathful, but we forget those of his nurturing, tender motherly side. As Isaiah wrote of God, "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" (49:15). He is even more maternal than earthy mothers and cannot ever forget His children. 

In this culture that both praises mothers for breastfeeding and then shaming them when they do it in any type of public setting, are we comfortable with the image of God nursing us like a baby at his breast? Yet is there a more loving and gentle image of God than that? There's even the term the "milk of grace." How many wince at this? David didn't. I love how he wrote in the Psalms, "But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the child that is with me."

Those believers in the Middle Ages embraced this idea just as they were the bodily realism as Mary bearing Christ in her womb. Do we think of the unborn Christ who relied solely on his earthly mother to survive? She carried the creator of the universe in her womb. That ia a mind-blowing reality. As Saint Basil wrote of Mary, "Your womb He made more spacious than the heavens."

How can we not see how this stresses the importance of mothers. God could have chosen another way for His son to come into this world, but instead, He showed the sacredness of motherhood through Mary. 

Yet I think that is why we have too often focused on her as holy mother instead of God as this. We are more comfortable with an earthly mother than a heavenly one. Also, if God can be represented as mother, then we have to reevaluate how we esteem and value the role of women in this world.

Perhaps we do not value the image of God as mother in our churches because we, too often, do not value the role of women in them?  Which is odd since women make up 61% of church goers, to only 39% of men. 

If Christ, who we claim to follow, embraced, exhorted and raised up the role of women in his ministry, then why should we not do the same?  Why do we not embrace the mother-side of God? Even Jesus himself showed this when he lamented, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing" (Matthew 23:37).

As we are approaching Mother's Day, I hope that we, as believers, take the time to stop and truly consider this image of God as mother so that we can see a God who is loving, nurturing, caring, vulnerable and tender towards us, but also so that we can ask ourselves, "How do we treat the women in our congregations?"

If we find ourselves uncomfortable with the image of God as mother, then we must ask ourselves how much we really value them?

If we are willing to embrace God the feminine, God the Mother, then I think we will find a healing within ourselves, within our churches because we will not split what was never meant to be split. We will find wholeness when we accept the wholeness of a God who is more gentle than a mother with her child, who loves us more than a mother does her child because God's love is unconditional and without end.

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