~God Our Father, God Our Mother~
“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”
Dear Members and Friends,
May is a busy month at the church. May is when we batten down the hatches for those long summer absences, which are sure to start in June. The choir always sings for the last time on the second-to-the-last Sunday in May. (They’ll be back on the second Sunday in September.) Same thing for Adult Education. We try to get our new teams of elders and deacons in place before folks begin their summer travels. The seven weeks of Easter continue into May. Ascension Day comes and goes, largely unnoticed. Pentecost, one of the great holidays of the church (the only one that is completely unsullied by consumerism) falls this year on Memorial Day weekend. What am I forgetting? Oh, right. Mother’s Day. How could I forget that?
In some congregations, the attendance sees an uptick on Mother’s Day due to all the folks who want to make their moms happy by accompanying them to church. This is not really the case at Bower Hill. I never know how to observe Mother’s Day at church, aside from giving thanks for the women in our lives who make us who we are, whether they gave birth to us or not. We’re used to hearing God referred to as our Father, but did you know that the Bible frequently refers to God our Mother, too? In fact, “Spirit” is a feminine word in the Hebrew Scriptures. And the Psalms and Hebrew prophets were using maternal language for God many centuries before Jesus gave us the notion of “Our Father, who art in heaven.”
In Ruth and at least three Psalms, we see God sheltering God’s beloved beneath her wings, like a mother hen. Jesus reuses this image in Matthew and Luke when he grieves for the fate of the Holy City: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how I have longed to gather your children as a hen gathers her chicks!” Isaiah offers at least three examples of God speaking as a human mother, either giving birth to God’s people or else breastfeeding them. Exodus and Deuteronomy depict God as a mother eagle, building a nest or carrying her young–which I’m not sure real eagles do, but the Bible is hardly a book of ornithology. Then you’ve got God the protective mother bear in Hosea. One of the most common Hebrew names for God, “El Shaddai,” has often been translated as “the destroyer.” But recent studies show that a better translation might be “the one who nurses.” Since the Bible usually uses “El Shaddai” when referring to God as a nurturer, many scholars are now opting for the latter.
These images rely on stereotypical gender roles, for sure. But you get the point. Surely our parents (unknowingly) give us our earliest understanding of who God is and how God acts. It does not diminish God’s role as our Father–our protector, provider, and guide–if we also call God our Mother. Since the Bible celebrates the motherhood of God, we are free to do the same. As you give thanks for all that is good and holy in the women who have given you life, and the women who have made you who you are, do not hesitate to name the divine nature in them. All that is good in human beings is God in human beings–God’s nature and presence within us. Happy summer to you.