virgin mothers and barren women

So some of us have navigated Mother's Day again this year. again, a bit like Remembrance Sunday, this is one of those services that feels a bit tricky, to say the least.

often we talk about how those women who have experienced infertility might feel, those who have wanted to be mothers, but are not, but I think that the difficulty goes a bit deeper than that.

The Biblical images that are being invoked are the 'thesis and antithesis' of womanhood - the virgin mother or the barren woman. These images have followed us through history and are embedded in our culture in a way that is quite oppressive. Firstly, women are expected to want children, and if they don't then they are somehow 'odd' or 'unwomanly'. In our culture a woman without a child is as incomplete as a woman without a husband (note the first questions people wish to ask you: are you married? do you have children? I recently experienced the almost physical pain of someone who was desparate to ask this question, but knew that it was inappropriate - and I refused to help them out by offering them the information.... at first before I felt sorry for them....).

For those of us who do want children, some of us will experience infertility and heaped on top of the pain of not having a child, is the shame aspect of not being able to have a child, when our culture tells us that, as a woman, that is really what you are *for*.

But what about those of us who are mothers? Surely Mother's Day is for us, and that is okay - to celebrate those who care for and nourish us? Yes, we should be sensitive to these issues, but surely it's okay to thank those who have been our mothers? Well the answer to this is 'yes, but....'

Enter, the Virgin Mother.

By all means, be grateful for your mother - and lest you think I have mother issues, I sent my own lovely things to thank her for her mothering - but I think that too often at this time of year, we enter a state of ideals. Firstly, the ideal is that women have children, secondly, that if they have children, they at least do them courtesy of being a Perfect Mother:

- Be a mother firstly and foremost
- Do not let us think about you having had to have sex to procreate
- Diminish your own needs to the point of having none
- As this book says, Perfect Mothers, become Invisible Women

Mother's Day presents women with hobson's choice, a choice in which wherever we turn, our definition is dependent on our relationship to our children, whether they are actual or absent. Often it has a very human focus, our understanding of Motherhood coming from what we have been able to generate ourselves as human community, often built up in a very male dominated environment, where women are the answer to the needs of husbands and sons.

But there is a different way of looking at Mother's Day, or Mothering Sunday. And that is to look to God for our image of Mother. I wrote about this before but I think that it needs saying again. There are many images of God as Mother in Scripture. For us to entirely focus our celebration of motherhood on the human aspect is to miss the point of Christian discipleship. In church, of all places, we should be looking to God for our understanding of humanity and human role. To look to God, instead of at each other, or our own needs, for our image of Mother releases us in all manner of ways.

Firstly the images of God as Mother in Scripture are not always, in fact in most cases they are not, gentle kindly images. We have, as I spoke of before, the God as Mother Bear image, ferocious and fierce, a love that you do not want to get in the way of - beware the Mother Bear robbed of her cubs (Hosea 13.8). Or we have the God as Mother Eagle, leaving her children to fend for themselves as she goes for food, teaching them to fly on their own, giving them strong wings to make their own flight through whichever storms they encounter (Deuteronomy 32.11-12). Or, more obscurely perhaps, we have God as Mother Pelican, and image that has been surrounded by the myth of the Pelican - in legend the mother pelican, seeing its young dying through lack of sustenance, will break its own breastbone and pierce its own heart, and its lifeblood will revive the young. Not surprisingly this traditional image of God as Mother is linked with the sacrifice of Christ, who saves the whole cosmos (Psalm 102.6).

In these images it is not the insipid invisibility of motherhood that we are sometimes offered, certainly there is sacrifice, but it is the sacrifice which makes us all whole. It makes us the solid people we are made to be, rather than calls us to transparent ideals which are built on dominance and oppression.

And one of the most important things about transforming Mother's Day into a gaze at God, is that it includes everyone. All people are made in God's image and are called to be like God. So if God is Mother, then we are all called to be like that. The image becomes something which is for everyone, Women, Men and Children.

We are all Mothers, because God is Mother.

1 comment:

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