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Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Kelly Edmiston

After a decade spent ministering to students and families in domestic and international contexts, Kelly Edmiston has developed a passion to equip the church for works of ministry. Kelly, originally from Abilene, Texas, is currently the Student and Family Minister at the First Colony Church of Christ in Sugar Land, TX. She will complete a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University in 2017. Her areas of interest are liberation theology, spiritual formation and practical theology. She enjoys “suburban life” with her husband Ben and two sons.

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.

She is just like me, I heard myself say as I was describing my almost 2-year old daughter to a table full of male colleagues. She’s sassy and bossy and very opinionated. She runs the house. She tells her two older brothers what to do and I feel sure they will live their lives looking for her approval. She is also tender and nurturing. When my two boys (ages 6 and 4) have spent the last hour mimicking MMA fighters on the trampoline and the 4-year old comes in with a bloody nose because his older brother did a jack-hammer  on his face, she goes straight to him with deep concern on her little face and she gently kisses his cheeks and his hands. She tries desperately to stretch her tiny arms wide enough to embrace him, though he is three times her size. She loves people. She wants to take care of people. I went on describing the scene that I witness every morning to my table full of colleagues. The one where she comes in my bathroom and pulls open the drawers that contain my jewelry. There she stands and ponders the treasures before her for minutes on end, fingering every bead and mulling over each detailed strand of pearls. She carefully selects her earrings and necklace and bracelets. I have to explain to her every morning that she can’t wear mommy’s earrings, she doesn’t have her ears pierced yet.  My table crowd laughs jovially in response to my story and they begin to comment on the vast differences between boys and girls. There is just something innately different about those little girls, they say. It’s like they were made to be mamas. They are so “girly.” But I wonder if it is more than this. If you were to go to an orphanage or a group home in a third world country where little girls have been abused or neglected you don’t observe this kind of behavior. They don’t care for those around them with great compassion and empathy. They don’t naturally boss or sass their friends. And they don’t know to try on their mama’s jewelry set before them. These are not innately female qualities. It is my assessment rather, that this behavior is not so much natural as it is learned.

My daughter is not naturally “maternal” or naturally “girly.” She is mimicking the behavior of the parent that she sees herself in. That is me. She knows, even at her young pre-verbal age, that one of these humans giving me care and love is like me and one of them is not. She is identifying with me as a woman and dis-identifying with her dad as male. This is healthy and normal gender identification for her developmental stage.  She sees me and not her dad as the one she is to mimic. She sees me and she believes that this is who she is meant to be. She kisses the cheeks of her hurting brothers because she sees me do this. She bosses and sasses everyone because this is how I behave. She carefully selects her jewelry because she watches me get ready every day.

And this reality of my daughter mimicking me invites me to reflect on the Divine Feminine. The genesis account tells us that God created both male and female in the image of God. The fact that both male and female were created in the image of God means that when women look at God they should see their own unique female form. The Divine Feminine.[1]

In the evangelical church in the conservative South, there is a disconnect here. I don’t think most women see themselves in God. This could be for a variety of reasons but one is that we have been continually offered an image of God that doesn’t look anything like us. Our representations of God in the church, in art and music and stories are almost entirely male. Our church elder boards and ministry staffs and leadership teams who are making all the decisions are almost entirely male. Our religious leaders at nearly every level who represent God to the world are almost entirely male. And not just male. But white and old and male. As I look at this male image of God that I have been given I don’t see anything about myself. “He” doesn’t look like me, talk like me, or behave anything like me. “He” is something other than me. I don’t identify with this God.[2] And as a child who does not identify with the parent of the same gender as themselves will face developmental challenges, the same is true for Christian women who do not learn to identify themselves with the Divine.  They will face spiritual developmental challenges.

So I am inviting us, as Christians and as church leaders, to embrace the Divine Feminine. I am inviting us to look at God and see both man and woman. I am inviting us to look at God and see both mother and father. I am inviting us to look at God and to see both the lion and the lamb. I am inviting us to see God in our own reflection so that we begin to mimic and identify with this Divine Mystery of God. I am certain that this is essential for our own formation and for the formation of our churches.

Just like when my daughter looks at me, she can see herself, being created in the image of God invites me to look at God and see myself, one who is uniquely female.

Blessed is She who spoke and the world became. Blessed is She.

Blessed is She who in the beginning, gave birth.

Blessed is She who says and performs.

Blessed is She who declares and fulfills. …

[1] I am not defining “feminine” image in any particular way. I acknowledge that my experience with my daughter is not a universally female experience. Being female is entirely diverse based on one’s culture, geography, age, etc. Being female certainly does not mean we that all like to wear jewelry or we are all nurturing. I am simply reflecting on my own specific examples as a resource for theological reflection. I am  not saying that these characteristics are explicitly female. Instead my argument is that all females should see their own reflection in the Divine Feminine of God.

[2] My experience of God is as a Woman and a Mother. I am not reflecting on this here.

“In the green of the grass, in the smell of the sea. in the clouds floating by, at the top of a tree. in the sound crickets make at the end of a day. You are loved. You are loved. You are loved, they all say.” – Nancy Tillman, childrens’ book author

I have spent most of my life believing that my behavior made me worthy or un-worthy of love. As an enneagram 3, I learned somewhere early in life, that good behavior equaled success and success equaled love. So I pursued success and avoided failure at all costs. This is how we 3’s exist in the world.

The deterioration of this worldview began when I had my first child 6 years ago. For the first time in my life I was faced with my own failure in a continual head-on collision that wouldn’t stop. Failure was after me and it wouldn’t let me go. And don’t get me wrong, I did everything right. I read all the right books. I went to all the right classes. I talked to all the right people. I even interviewed parents at my church who were really “doing it right” when it came to sleep training and discipline. I studied everything from breast-feeding to home-made baby food and I was poised and ready to succeed as a parent.

My son came out fast. The doctor didn’t have her glove on as he shot into the world, literally kicking and screaming and he didn’t stop for the first weeks of his life. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get him to nurse, to sleep or to stop crying. For me, this was failure to the very highest degree. What mother couldn’t nurse or calm her baby? What mother doesn’t want to bond with her baby? I was depressed. And I knew that I had to find help. I didn’t know it at the time, but I see now that I needed another way of existing in the world. My currency of success went bankrupt. I couldn’t succeed. I couldn’t do this one thing right. It was during this time that I began participating in a spiritual direction group. Think group therapy for ministers. Then I began one on one spiritual direction. Think actual therapy for your spiritual life. The practice that my spiritual director gave me was silence. I was instructed to practice silence. Every day. I was confused but I listened very intently to her explain the practice to me. I had to do it right, of course. Our conversation went something like this.

Me (eagerly)-“Ok. What do I do?”
Director-“You sit in silence. Every day.”
Me-“Ok. And do what?”-
Director-“You sit there. In silence. With God.”
Me (confused)-“I just sit there?”-
Director-“Yes. And let God love you. You don’t do anything. You be.”
Me-“Hmmm….Ok. I can do that.”
Director-“You don’t do, Kelly. You be. Be. Loved. By God. Every day. In silence.”

It sounded dreadful but I gave it a try. She said that I should be prepared to feel frustrated or feel like I was wasting my time or feel as though nothing was “happening.” She was right. I felt this way many times. But I stayed with it. Mostly because I knew she was going to ask me about it the following month.

I have practiced daily silence for years now. And it has changed my life. Let me be clear, my circumstances haven’t changed. Today my son who came out kicking and screaming is still inviting me to face my own failure every single day. I find that I don’t know how to parent him. I don’t know how to love him best at times. I am impulsive when I should be calm. I talk too much when I should listen. I do it wrong. All the time. But practicing silence has taught me that I am loved. I am not loved for anything that I do or anything that I don’t do. I am loved because of who I am. I am loved by God in my inner being, deep down in my guts, in my essence, in the core of who I am, I am seen and loved by God. And every day, when I set my stopwatch for silence I am reminded of this. As I am still, as I let my lungs slowly fill up with air, I begin to believe that I am loved for my being and not my doing. I begin to believe that I am loved for who I am and not what I do. And this has changed everything for me.

A Reflection on Exodus 12

I remember that night in Egypt, our last night. It was dark and dreary, but it was mixed with a buzz of anticipation in the air. The buzz coursed through our camp like an electric current, finding outlets at every corner and bouncing onward gaining speed.

Bing. Bing. Bing.

Our leaders told us to use the blood from the sacrifice to draw an arch from frame to frame on the outside of our doors. I opened my door and quickly completed the task as the brisk desert wind rushed into our home. I tried to get it done before sundown. Heaven forbid I be confused as a victim of judgment and death, as the Egyptians would be.

Blessed souls.

Even the cruelest people do not deserve to grieve the loss of a child. But the destroyer was coming, they told us. He was almost here. We fell asleep that night, and I was abruptly awoken in a cold sweat by the shrieking wails. It was the Egyptian mothers. The children they bore from their own bodies now lay lifeless in their arms. Begging the hearts of their babies to go back to beating, they buried their faces in ashes and beat their bodies in shame. They would never be the same. I ran to my son, frantically hoping that he was spared. I checked his breathing, held my fingers over his pulse. Breath. Warmth. Deep inhale in. He was peacefully resting as his lungs filled up with air. And I began to mimic his breathing to calm myself down.

He’s ok. He’s ok. He’s ok. I told myself over and over again. And then the singing came. It was coming from outside. It was coming from our people. First it was a low hum, and I looked up in anticipation as it grew louder and louder, almost drowning out my heavy anxious heart. Light was coming. This meant it was time to move. It was time to go. I gathered the children and woke up my husband. We already packed all we could carry, and the animals were loaded.

Off we went, and I clung tightly to my first born as if he would be ripped out of my arms at any moment. I buried my face in his hair as my husband pulled us onward. Good-bye to Egypt, we all said.

I often wonder how tightly the Hebrew mothers clung to these words from Moses. I imagine them listening intently, leaning in and staring Moses down as he gave those sobering instructions. And then I see them repeating the instructions to their neighbors over and over to make sure they got it all right.

“The blood will be a sign to you on the houses where you are and when I see the blood I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.” Exodus 12:13

 “…it is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.” Exodus 12:26

The Passover was more than just the last plague. It was more than just a sparing of the “home” of the Hebrew people. It was a moment in history where God showed God’s people where God dwells in the midst of the darkest night. Consider the verb “to pass over” used in these verses.

It has been noted by many Hebrew scholars that the word to “pass-over” found here is an inaccurate translation of the verbs describing God’s action. While the destroyer “passes over” or “passes through” the homes, it is YHWH who does not “pass over.” Instead YHWH “hovers over” as the verb “pesah” indicates in its most accurate translation.

The verb here, “pesah” translated “pass over,” parallels the verb we see in Isaiah 31:5 “to hover” or “to cover” or “to surround”:

As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver [it; and] passing over he will preserve it. Isaiah 31:5

According to Meredith Kline and others, this verb “pesah” is more accurately understood as an “abiding shielding presence” similar to the eagle hovering over her young in Isaiah. Therefore, a more accurate translation of the verb used to describe God’s action in Exodus 12 would be to “cover over” or “hover over” or “surround” instead of to “pass over.”

Imagery for God as a bird or eagle (avian imagery) is common throughout scripture. (Ps 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 91:1, 4; Is 31:5).  In fact, it is the first metaphor we see for the Spirit of God at creation.

“The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.Genesis 1:1

God is hovering over the chaos at creation.

In Isaiah, we see a God who is flying over, hovering over, and rescuing God’s people. This is the same imagery used in Exodus 12. The Divine Presence is hovering over each Israelite home as an eagle hovers over the nest of her young when an attacker is out to destroy them. God is hovering over the chaos of death and destruction to stand in its way. The protective agent symbolizing this glorious and abiding presence is the blood of the lamb. The destroyer is seeking to take the treasured child. But the Hovering Over God stands in the way of the destroyer. The people of God are protected from the destroyer by the blood of the lamb.

Why does this distinction “hover-over” instead of “pass-over” matter so much to me? Because finding God in the midst of the darkest night has been my journey. I have experienced God as aloof and distant as I have faced a near death experience myself, and the near-death experiences of two of my own children. I saw only God’s backside, until this little verb. And as I sat before my Hebrew text and this word was explained to me, I wept.

I wept because I need a Hovering-Over God. I need a God who I can see more than the backside of in the midst of my own chaos and turmoil, trauma and grief. I need a God who does not move on but who moves in. I need a God who protects and does not destroy. I need a God who stands between me and the pain all around me. And this is the God that I find in Exodus 12. YHWH hovers over and stays close during the darkest night. In the moment of deepest despair, when all seems lost, when fear and anxiety have had their way and all that is left is wailing and desperation, God hovers over. This is who God is.

“In a desert land he found them, in a barren and howling waste. God shielded them and cared for them; God guarded them as the apple of God’s eye, like an eagle that stirs up her nest and hovers over her young, that spreads her wings to catch them and carries them on her pinions. The Lord alone led them; no foreign god was with them.”

 Deuteronomy 32:10-12

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the First Colony Church of Christ.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the First Colony Church of Christ.

Have you ever been a person who just doesn’t get it? I have. For instance, I have sought the counsel of many middle school students over the years in order to understand the game Minecraft, and I must admit that even after many explanations, I still don’t get it.  What is the goal again? I ask them over and over again to a host of sighs and eye-rolls.

I have also tried in vain to become interested in various TV shows and movies that people tell me are popular. Yet I don’t understand, for example, how murdering other teenagers in a giant game of hide and seek called “The Hunger Games” can be entertaining.

As a parent, there are things I will not ever understand about my children. As a wife, there are things I will never understand about my husband.

Mark’s portrayal of the disciples is right in line with those of us who just don’t get it, no matter how hard we may try. The disciples give blank stares, scratch their heads, and feel confused.  Consider the following example.

14 The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

16 They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.

20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”

21 He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

Did they still not understand? No. They didn’t. Did they see who Jesus was or what Jesus was up to? No. They didn’t. Were they confident that Jesus could handle their next meal since he just finished feeding 4,000 from seven loaves and 5,000 from five loaves? No. They weren’t.

Can you blame them? I can’t.

How are mere fishermen supposed to see and to understand the infinite greatness of the Kingdom of God?

And how are we, mere mortals, supposed to see and understand the infinite greatness of the Kingdom of God?

The words of Jesus speak fresh to us today. “You have eyes but don’t see, ears but don’t hear.” We just don’t get it.

Kevin Diller sums up what he calls “theology’s epistemological dilemma” like this: the problem for Christian theology is a seemingly unavoidable tension between a high view of theological knowledge and yet a low view of the independent capacities of humans to receive this knowledge.[1]

Christians have a high view of who God is. We believe that God is a self-revealing God. God is independent of us, and yet God makes God’s own self known to us.

And on the other side of the dilemma is the human reality. God reveals God’s self to us, but we have a low and mortal capacity to receive, accept, and understand this knowledge from God.

Even in the presence of the incarnate God, the disciples were confused and could not see. So how then can we possibly see?

Look at what miracle Mark describes right after the disciples failed to understand who Jesus was:

22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”

Mark is saying loud and clear, “It is only through the touch of Jesus that we are given eyes to see.”

Diller says it like this: “Knowledge of God is only possible by means of the transforming gift of faith.”[2]

The disciples are the blind man.

We are the blind man.

So, let us follow in his footsteps. Drag ourselves to Jesus and beg Jesus to touch our eyes. It is only through this touch that we will get it. It is only through this touch that we will be able to see the world with the eyes of faith. It is only through this touch that we will be able to love our enemies. It is only through this touch that we will receive healing, wholeness, and redemption.

So follow me. I am going to be led by Jesus outside the village to get some spit on my eyes.


[1] Kevin Diller, Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response, Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2014)

[2] Ibid.

After a decade spent ministering to students and families in domestic and international contexts, Kelly Edmiston has developed a passion to equip the church for works of ministry. Kelly, originally from Abilene, Texas, is currently the Student and Family Minister at the First Colony Church of Christ in Sugar Land, TX. She will complete a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University in 2017. Her areas of interest are liberation theology, spiritual formation and practical theology. She enjoys “suburban life” with her husband Ben and two sons.