Last week, we heard Jesus teaching his disciples from the Gospel of John,
“On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:20-21)
God as Father language can be difficult to hear especially for those whose earthly father-figures are or were less than ideal. God the Father language also reinforces patriarchal message of male dominance and female oppression. However, if we do not project our images of man onto God and then allow that image of God made in man’s image, then we can glean an understanding of what John’s Jesus might have been trying to reveal with this language. Jesus calls God the Father as a relational aspect of the divine for us and between us. Jesus is in God, and in us, and we are all united in Him. God is One who makes a home and dwells within us- that’s up close and personal. God is a homemaker. God is OUR Father, meaning we are all related, one family, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for ALL.
God the Father is an image, a metaphor. Metaphors attempts to convey meaning by comparing the unknown to something we do know. Another lesser known or referenced metaphor for God found in scripture is that of Mothering God.
Isaiah speaks: “For thus says the Lord: I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you. and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” (66:13)
Thus says the Lord, “as a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”
The word “comfort” appears three times in verse thirteen, and it is here that the application of the maternal metaphor switches from Jerusalem as mother to the Israelites to God as mother of Her people. The comfort that Mother God provides for Her people is the comfort of home; restoring the people to the place they belong, rebuilding their ruins, and providing them in riches and security. Under God’s nurturing care, the very bodies and spirits of God’s people receive restoration.
This indwelling, intimate, very personable God is described as making our home within the circle of God’s own arms, and in that place the tired old bones of humanity flourish again. Deep within our bones we are weary and broken, and deep within our bones God’s nurturing love reaches in and restores.
This is not the only place in scripture where God is imaged in feminine possibilities. God births and nurses and teaches Her children to walk. God births creation and as the authors of Genesis wrote, “said, Let us make adam in our image, according to our likeness… so God created adam in the image of God, male and female.” (Gen 1: 26-27)
The Greek word “sophia” literally means “wisdom.” The Hebrew word is “hokmah,” also translated as “wisdom.” Because of the feminine gender of these words and because of the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 8, Sophia became an image of the divine feminine in Hebrew teaching. Sophia is the essence of divine wisdom and a copartner with God in the work of creation.
The word Shekhina, in Hebrew, is derived from the Biblical verb shakhan, meaning “the act of dwelling”; it’s in the feminine form. Therefore, at the beginning of the Talmudic era, the word Shekhina meant the female earthly aspect of God that dwelt among people.
What do these feminine images of God reveal about God? And us?
God birthed us – God created us – we are good. God is the giver of our life. There’s a certain amount of gratitude due to our life-giver. God is nursing, feeding, providing, sustaining. From that notion evolves conversation about the Providence of God… the ways in which God sustains us, and feeds us body and spirit.
Modern science teaches us about DNA; we carry DNA markers of our mothers and our fathers. Scientists have also discovered that in birth, a mother’s blood and baby’s blood intermingles. Cells from a developing fetus cross the placenta allowing the baby’s cells to become part of the mother’s body. These cells persist in a woman’s body into her old age regardless of if or how long the baby survived. Fetal cells you contributed to your own mother can be found in her blood, bone marrow, skin, kidney, liver, and brain.1
These scriptures imaging God as Mother were written a thousand years before Christ. Three thousand years ago, these authors did not know about DNA and fetal stem cells. But we do, and it makes the metaphor all the richer. We hold markers of our mother’s DNA; it shapes who we are. So in this Mothering God metaphor, we hold markers of God’s DNA; it is who we are. We are ‘infected’ with the divined from conception.
Our womb life further mixes our cells. Our mothers carry our cells – in her brain, in her body, and we carry some of hers. We become the bearers of the divine in the world.
The Mother God image reinforces the important lesson that we are made and we continue to carry the divine imprint within our beings – always. It’s part of our cells. Nothing we do changes that. Cell markers of who we are lasts our whole life as reflections of God’s love.
Metaphors help us to make meaning and share ideas. They have their limits.
Your earthly Mother might not have been able to provide the nurture, care, love, and give you the affirmation and blessings that you needed. Perhaps we can see Our Mother God as all the best – in what we might have hoped for in a Mothering figure whether or not we experienced the warmth and tender love of a biological mother – maybe particularly if we did not or if we did but no longer have our mother with us. Then the Mothering God image can meet that longing that resides with in us.
“The Psalm of My Whereness” by Edward Hays says it well.2
The question “Where have I come from?”
rises up and hunts me;
lingering, it floats like a flower
in the backwaters of my mind.
From somewhere deeper than I know,
in the place where I am head to the divine breast,
the voice of God echoes in reply:
“You were the dream of my delight
before the Earth was born
of the dust of long dead stars.
“Before I shaped a single star,
I nursed you with the essence of my life.
“In my great lap I played with your infinite childlike form
and gazed with love upon your original face,
the mirror form of my own image.
“I laughed with delight at the marvel of your being,
the flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.
“And you laughed with glee as I winked
as the four winds sprang to life
the suns like dandelions
lit up the dark lawn of space.
“Where did you come from?” O my child,
you in whom live all my hopes and loves,
you came from me.”
Maybe in our prayer time, we can be like the children Jesus teaches us to imitate, and climb onto a divine lap of tenderness and care and feel God’s Mothering arms hold us close and hear God’s Mothering message whispered into our soul, “you are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased.”
1 Robert Martone. “Scientists Discover Children’s Cells Living in Mothers’ Brains. December 4, 2012, ScientificAmerican
2 Edward Hays. Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim. Forest of Peace, Notre Dame, IN.