Growing up, I never realized that God spoke through my mother.
From her laughter to her love for singing, my mother cultivated in me a zestful passion for life. Her ability to raise my sisters and me first as a single mother, then as a full time working parent, showed me that hard work is an expression of dedication. As she raised us, she taught me possibilities of human creativity as a masterful drawer, home decorator, and gardener. She taught me to be grateful, to apologize, and to forgive. She even taught me how to shop frugally and make the best of limited resources. She taught me to take naps and enjoy the moment. But most truly, she taught me how to love others – in feeding us, clothing us, giving us words of encouragement in our lunchboxes, caring for us when we had the stomach flu, giving us extravagant scavenger hunt birthday parties. My mom taught me that mothers make the world go ’round, and God created mothers to be reflections of Divine Love.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we primarily refer to God as a patriarchal figure – a ruler of a Kingdom, a Father, a Leader of an army. As I have learned over the past few years of my spiritual journey, these images can be isolating, especially if our associations with masculinity are oppressive and condescending. Scripture points to maternal images of God that are often overlooked, such as:
“For a long time I [God] have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.” (Isa. 42:14)
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I [God] will not forget you!” (Isa. 49:15)
“As a mother comforts her child, so will I [God] comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” (Isa. 66:13)
“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; Luke 13:34)
What does it mean to believe that God can also be revealed through maternal imagery? As I heard in Quaker meeting this morning, the feminine divine acts in a cyclical, rather than linear, time; just as women’s bodies mirror the 28-day cycle of the moon and the seasonal cycles in maternity, the feminine divine reveals in cyclical patterns. The feminine quality of the divine also communicates through intuitive wisdom: the inclination to cooperate, protect, nurture, and empathize as demonstrated by females across the animal kingdom. Mothers give of themselves – in blood and in spirit – to give birth to their young.
Though I do not believe these qualities are at all exclusively feminine, I believe that the experience of motherhood is a paradigm of spiritual transformation. Mothers teach us patience and compassion through labor. They teach us to surrender to the life force at work within us. They teach us to trust in the slow work of God. I also believe that the social construct of “femininity” associated with gender roles is inherently different from the shared essence of a feminine spirit – the life force giving birth to all things.
What does it mean to worship a God with maternal and paternal qualities? Though the phrase “God the Mother” may seem off-putting to some, I feel that our overuse of paternal images has corrupted our understanding of God’s infinite love. God says, “I am who I am,” which means God surpasses any gendered language. I believe we need new images of God in order to reclaim God’s sacredness from the hands of culture. One powerful image offered by ecofeminist theology is God as the great womb: carrying us all in the Light of wisdom and compassion, birthing us into renewed cycles of life.
Right now, on Mother’s Day, what is God birthing within you?
At this time in my spiritual journey, I am nearing adulthood with my 20th birthday only a few weeks away. Within a decade, I could become a mother (that’s a radically new realization)! I also am transitioning to a new season of life in college, finishing my freshman year this week and preparing to spend my first summer almost entirely away from home. There is change happening all around me – and God is alive in every moment!
Since I began the healing process a year ago, God has nurtured me in a way that surpasses any words or earthly images. It feels like a flow of grace carrying me into unseen territory. Through the work of the Spirit, I have been learning to forgive myself and others through new eyes of compassion. God has been empowering me how to care for my body’s needs, set boundaries to protect what is sacred, and communicate from the heart.
In most of my writing, I realize that while transformation is wordless, it is reflected by water. Like in the womb, God holds us in an ocean of love. This morning in meditation, I saw myself as a child swimming in a web of glistening water, a healing balm penetrating the soul. It molded and transformed me into shining wholeness. Just as the ocean lives in the cracks between continents, God redeems our brokenness as it becomes the very site of our transformation. Our birthing pains become our praises of glory for God’s wondrous acts.
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God will help her right early.” – Psalm 46
This is a time that I feel called to learn God’s love for myself as a daughter of the Divine. Only when I can embrace and accept that love can I become a mother for my future children. And as Psalm 46 reveals, in that river, Love is unshakable. Love like that is like a mother’s love – steadfast, enduring, and never-ending.
Amen for all mothers in this world, and for a God (or Godess) who loves all children for all time.
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” – Psalm 139