- in my meditation garden -
On this Mother’s Day I am reflecting on the language we often use when talking about “God.” Obviously our words about “God” can never accurately “capture” or describe who “God” is because “God” is an utter mystery unable to be defined by ideas or contained in words. On the other hand, human beings communicate with one another through the use of words and symbols; and so we rely on words to develop our images and our depictions of “God,” images that somewhat help us to at least arrive at a vague idea of what we may mean when we use the word “God.”
As I think about the many and various depictions of “God,” it is also pretty clear that these images inevitably reflect the culture and society from which they come. I also reflect on the fact that all three major “Abrahamic” faith traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) all had their origins in highly patriarchal cultures where men were clearly in charge and women were relegated to a secondary role in the society. So, it is understandable that the images of “God” and language about God coming out of those traditions would be highly masculine - God is an everlasting King, a Father up in heaven, a Judge and a Ruler.
On this Mother’s Day it seems to me that, in our contemporary society, we would all do far better to “go beyond” all the masculine words and male depictions about “God” and add more feminine imagery to our theological lexicon. In fact, as I see it, feminine and motherly images of “God” may prove to be be far better in helping us grasp something of what may be the true nature of “God.”
When I am able to think about “God” as a Holy Mother, I conjure up images of tenderness, intimacy, warmth and compassion. When I think of “God” as a Holy Mother I think about the mom who “goes to bat” for her kids, always advocating for them instead of standing in judgment against them. For me, these “motherly” images are far closer to how I have come to experience who “God” is and what “God” is all about in my life.
I also see one other value in introducing more feminine imagery into our language about “God.” Our “God” images not only reflect the culture from which they come but they also influence the way a culture sees itself. Obviously, if God is a man, what does that teach women and girls about who they are and how they are to be treated?
In her book The Dance of a Dissident Daughter, author Sue Monk Kidd puts it this way:
The core symbols we use for God
represent what we take to be the highest good.
These symbols shape our worldview, our ethical systems
and our social practices - how we treat one another.
There is something infinitely sad about little girls
who grow up understanding (usually unconsciously) that
God is male because male is the most valuable thing to be.
Obviously “God” is neither a man nor a woman, but it seems to me that a more conscious effort at intentionally using more motherly and more feminine “God” language would not only be a better icon of “God,” but would also provide a more balanced view of the equal dignity of women as well as men in our society.
A few years ago, the popular musician, Bobby McFarin, rewrote the words to the 23rd Psalm, the Good Shepherd Psalm; but instead of depicting the shepherd as a man, he reimagined the “Good Shepherd” as a woman tending her sheep, a mother abiding with her children. It seems like such an appropriate poem for today:
The Lord is my Shepherd. I have all I need.
She makes me lie down in green meadows,
beside the still waters she will lead.
She restores my soul, she rights my wrongs.
She leads me on a path of good things
and fills my heart with song.
Even though I walk through a dark and dreary land,
there is nothing that can shake me.
She has said she won’t forsake me –
I am in her hand!
Happy Mother’s Day!