Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Mothering God

This week I want to highlight one phrase from the gospel text (Luke 13: 31- 35). Those who know me well may already have guessed which phrase it will be.

“I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”

I cannot lose the opportunity to re-imagine God. And here we have this lovely, feminine, protective image of God as a mother.

Mothering images have largely been overlooked as patriarchal culture has given us a male god. So it is important that we lift these images from the text. That we savour them. That we allow our mind to be full of them. That we let them permeate us and help us re-imagine a female imagery for God.

Of course, God is God. All language about God is metaphorical. In a sense any images we have of God is only to help us on our spiritual journey. God is not a literal woman, but neither is God a literal man!

Sadly, centuries of seeing women as property, weak, unimportant, insignificant, disposable, to be used by men have led to an unbalanced view of God. This is reflected in Bible interpretations, art works, even in more contemporary movies. The pronoun for God has always been “he”.

It is time to start re-imaging God. At this point I throw out the challenge that I, and others before me, have done. Spend the next three to six months only referring to God as she. It is only when one is as comfortable using “she” for God as using “he” that the female imagery can really start to be appreciated and, more importantly, that the male image is becoming less dominant.

For all of us I think this is a journey. I can only speak for myself, but from early childhood God was always spoken of as male. I grew up with a male God. It is hard to leave behind thoughts and images that have been with us all our lives, images that are part of the predominant culture. It has to be a conscious choice, a determination to leave behind the exclusive, male God.

With that there may be a need to put aside also the traditional male/female roles and see a more rounded, inclusive view of humanity (but that discussion is not for today).

One thing that I have found helpful is to pounce on these female images in the scriptures. To give them special attention. To make sure that we are mindful of the lovely references to God as a mother.

Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) highlighted this need to see the feminine in God. A passage from her writing is included in our Way of Living (pg. 174-5). One of the lines says, “This grace is for all the world because it is our precious mother, Christ.”

I think it is really important that we don’t ignore the references to God as mother. That we find and note the imagery of God as female. There have been many excellent books by feminist theologians on the subject, well worth exploring.

I hope everyone within our community will rise to this challenge. It is a crucial one. It is an important part of who we are as a community.

I will let the final word go to Elizabeth Johnson who speaks to the far-reaching effects of this challenge. By challenging the bed-rock assumption of this arrangement, naming God in female images promotes change or, in religious terms, conversion of a community's mind and heart to the true equality of women” (2000, Boardman Lecture in Christian Ethics).

(The image depicted is the mosaic in Dominus Flevit, a chapel on the Mount of Olives)