Mother God

This past Mother’s Day I worshipped at the church in which I grew up in Abilene, Texas. This is not a perfect church by any stretch of the imagination. It is not even a church that I agree with on issues that I may consider primary. But the thing that struck me so significantly on this Mother’s Day was its speech about God.

Elizabeth Johnson says that our speech about God is “the ultimate point of reference for understanding experience, life and the world. Hence the way in which a faith community shapes language about God implicitly represents what is takes to be the highest good, the profoundest truth, the most appealing beauty.”

This faith community where I grew up and where I worshipped on Sunday easily, readily, and naturally spoke of, preached on, and prayed to “Mother God” as an assumed truth. This faith community invited the congregants to consider, worship, and honor this Divine Mother as a window into understanding the Mystery of God. But this is not true of all faith communities.

I have been in ministry for my entire adult life. And throughout this time, I have been told not to speak about God as a woman, as a female, or as a Mother. ‘It is too controversial. It will offend people. It is propagating feminist theology,’ they told me. My experience is not unique. Many women have been accused of being too liberal or having a feminist agenda when praying to, preaching of, or writing about God in any female form. It is highly offensive to consider God with a womb or breastfeeding a child. I have been told that speaking of Mother God is even heretical to some and smells like idol worship to others.

As are all symbols, Mother God is not a perfect one. God is not a Mother anymore that God is a Father. Mother and Father are merely words used in scripture and employed today to give the faith community insight into, an idea about, or a reflection of who the complete God is. God as a Father tells us something about the nature of God, just as God as a Mother tells us something more about the nature of God, both drawing on our own human experiences. They are symbols representing a reality and like all symbols, they are limited and informative. They are descriptive but they are also prescriptive. In other words, they form us and our faith communities.

Church and Church Leaders, there is a supreme and grave danger in excluding images of Mother God from our conversations, our preaching, and most certainly our prayers.[1] And the danger is highlighted in Elizabeth Johnson’s words above:  speech and symbols about God represent the highest good, profoundest truth, and most appealing beauty. In only choosing male symbols for our speech about God, our picture of God is incomplete — we are inadvertently claiming that the highest good, profoundest truth, and most appealing beauty is found only in male-ness.[2] And a church’s distaste for female speech about God exposes a deeply engrained and unexamined misogyny that needs to be called out and remedied as any other sin.

Speech about God is of the utmost importance because it forms an ethic, a mindset and a practice for the community. In utilizing exclusively male speech for God our vision of God remains woefully incomplete. It is from this incomplete place that patriarchy, misogyny and other sins reign in a community of faith. You cannot pray to Mother God and not value the contributions and gifts that women bring to the table. You cannot acknowledge God as Mother and still tell a woman to be silent in the church.

It is time for the church to remember the Mother God who gave her birth.

“You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,

and you forgot the God who gave you birth.”

Deuteronomy 32:18

[1] I am addressing “Mother God” specifically here. I realize that other female symbols are equally important. They just span beyond the scope of this article.

[2] I realize that this is not true of all churches. I am addressing ones in which speech about God happens in male only language.

5 Responses

  1. Despite the fact that I was physically abused by my mother, I respect mothers. My children have one. My grandchildren have mothers.

    On the other hand, I have more respect for God. And after reading ALL of Deuteronomy 32, I am wondering how in the world one can speak of “The Divine Mother.” God created, shaped the nation of Israel. Not in a feminine sense as “giving birth…” To read that into the text is imaginative – but not exegetically sound…

    1. Hi Rudy. Thank you for your comments. And thank you for your vulnerability in sharing your trauma. I am so sorry. I am not sure what you mean by “read that into the text.” Deut 32:18 speaks explicitly of a God who gives birth. Even the ancient text draws on female images and female experiences to describe the actions of God toward Israel. Feel free to expound if I have not understood what you have meant. Thank you again for reading and for responding. I wish these conversations could happen over coffee where we could listen and respond in real time.

  2. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

    1. Yes! One of my favorite images. The same hebrew words used here to describe God resonate from the Passover Story…God hovering, protecting. I often think about a mother mourning a wayward child and how it connects Her to God who has mourned the wayward children of Israel. And I love the avian imagery. Thank you for sharing!

  3. “So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.” – Gen 1:27

    What is the image of God? How is it represented by both male and female?

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