YHWH as Mother

have you ever thought of God as Mother?

strangely this isn't a controversial question. over the church's history, many, like clement, aquinas, even augustine, but most famously, julian, have spoken of God as Mother, in quite fleshy and graphic ways - christ has breasts and the Father gives birth. it's not very surprising that this concept has been present in the streams of history, after all scripture is full of this kind of imagery.

the God who creates the humans, who clothes the man and woman as they leave the garden, or who carries them to another land, a land where they will be nourished with milk and honey (the food of newborns), the God who defends children, or who cleans (from sin) - this is a God who does a woman's work.

to miss these actions of God, which are traditionally associated with women, is to miss the God who values work that is denigrated, and who validates those women (and men) who choose to do that work.

i have to say that i've never really found the concept of God as Mother particularly inspiring. the insipid images that it brings to mind, and probably for the very reason that it does generate every stereotype that i would react against, have generally meant that this is not an image that has appealed. not that i think it wrong you understand...i am a feminist christian after all....and thinking of God as Mother, as i've mentioned, is both biblical and traditional. but still, never appealed.

that is...it didn't.

but then i had a very interesting 'picture' that came to mind one morning when i was praying. in my picture God was a Mother Bear and was clutching me to her belly with one paw, whilst growling and swiping away any attackers with the other paw. i think you'll agree that this is an interesting picture of God. it's a comforting picture...for me....but it's not a serene image of perfect middle class motherhood by any stretch of the imagination.

on sharing this with one of my wise guides, he pointed me to virginia mollenkott's reflection on hosea 13:

hosea 13
'when i fed them, they were satisfied
when they were satisfied, they became proud
then they forgot me
so i will be like a lion to them
like a leopard, i will lurk by the path
like a bear robbed of her cubs
i will attack them and rip them open
like a lion i will devour them
a wild animal will tear them apart.'

mollenkott says of this 'Understandably, Hosea’s image of an infuriated female God has never achieved the popularity of the gentler, more sentimental imagery of God as a loving and self-sacrificial Mother. Male writers have almost always associated female God-images with stereotypically feminine nurturance and supportiveness. It is in female mystics, especially Gertrude of Helfta, that we find female God-images associated with discipline and authority as well as with tenderness.... Precisely because the image of God as a savagely angry Mother Bear breaks all our stereotypes of how a woman (especially a mother) ought to behave, it is an important image for our time. Many women are struggling with their anger at a society and a religion that do not appreciate the full range of their gifts and relegate them always to a supportive, secondary or self-sacrificial role. Yahweh’s anger at ingratitude may be viewed as a biblical authentication of their anger.'

when israel becomes complacent and well fed, ungrateful for the things offered, the gifts given to the people of God, by YHWH, then YHWH is angry. her cubs are being mistreated, her babies are precious and she is not going to put up with it.

this is a mother-image i can get on board with!

i'm also very thankful to God for giving this vision to me. i need a Mother God like this.


Dan H said...

Posted with some synchronicity on the same day as Asbo Jesus #999!

radical disciple said...

Oh yeah...that's pretty cool.

jonbirch said...

very interesting and i have to say enlightening post. i totally grasp the point you are making and find myself utterly understanding why this image of a female god would be very helpful. you've made me think for the first time about the powerful and prepared to battle for love type of femininity that this passage evokes. it's all throughout the animal kingdom and is something to be in utter awe of. don't get near a swan when she's looking after her eggs or her little ones... she'll try and bite your finger off! makes me think though... what is it that the men actually do?!... seems the women do it all!
aslan is the odd one out in lion land, because the women in the pride do everything and none of it is easy and a lot of it is full on fighting for the family.
love the post... love your thoughts... thanks! :-)

ps... the jumbled letter word verification i have to type in to comment on this post is 'basms'... seems rather apt! :-D

radical disciple said...

jon, thanks, it's been an important image for me recently - and, as i said, a surprising one, i hadn't really expected to need to/want to identify with God as Mother.

it helps me to cling onto God at the moment too. sometimes we all need a bit of defending....


ps. basms...lol :D

Tim Goodbody said...

this is cool
not your average writing on God as mother.
Tangentially it fits with a conversation I had this morning after prayers. We'd read from Jeremiah about the 2 baskets fo fruit (ch 24 I think) and we were relfecting on how some people don't cope very well with "pictures" etc that come into our minds when we pray or seek God, even though the prophets appear to have this happen to them. Some will say "pictures" are unbiblical in that they present knowledge about God that is in addition to Scripture, yet Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah seem to function prophetically in this way, and one might argue that Jesus' constructive use of people places and things in his environment to get his point across make suse of the same approach.