Acorn’s Passing: Animals and Mother God, Part 1

In the middle of the night, our rabbit, Acorn, who lives in the backyard, was mauled by a raccoon or two. We knew they’d been coming in sometimes. But normally they ate cat food, washed their hands in the cat water, and left. (Raccoons have hands more than paws in my estimation).

But last night there was no cat food available. The bunny was available.

We are all grieving and distracted. For about a half an hour, Marshall threatened us with death if we didn’t resurrect the bunny. He said, “I know God can do it if you pray!”

It was a twisted affirmation of both his faith and ours. But he didn’t know how the bunny died because I didn’t tell him. It was a judgment call; one of those mercy lies, I guess.

I am feeling overwhelmed because it is 2:17, in the heat of the afternoon, and forest fires are burning in Willimina, not far from here. The sky here is blocked from color and the usual brilliant summer light. I want to keep my kids in due to the pollution, but can’t. Sam is outside now with Joel.

I guess I am sensing that the animals are suffering there, too. I am (again) thinking through this thing called the Food Chain, theologically. When Marshall was 5, I bought him a gold painted lion and lamb ornament to remind him of the Not Yet. That things will be different some day. He’d cried for fifteen minutes when Joel told him that birds eat bugs. He loves bugs and birds both.

Now, at 9 and a half, he stuffs his tears away in threats and anger. It’s not right, the way things are.

Julian of Norwich’s famous prayer “All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well” is preceded by “Sin is necessary, but…”

And I’ve heard the Best of all Possible Worlds talk. Is this it? Could Mother God really do no better? No better way to control animal populations?

The adage “There is a reason for everything” seems hollow in the face of natural forces that destroy.

“There is a season for everything” might be more appropriate: pain and suffering occur, but they are not the final word. They are temporary.

And maybe my distress is partly due to the people-izing of animals. They aren’t people. A rabbit expects to be prey, on some level.

But people are predators, too, like those raccoons. Occasionally the Humane Farming Association sends me their magazines. Thankfully they don’t traumatize me with pictures of suffering. But I get the idea. Animals we eat live horrific lives before we eat them. I feel rather removed from it all, having gone to Fred Meyer’s to take out a pink slab wrapped in plastic and drop it in some boiling water. Organic yes, but the organically fed animals don’t fare better.

All I know is, whatever may have been the best Mother God could do, there’s better days ahead. And we get to help Her make them happen. We get to help Mother God make a new world for the lion and the lamb and the cow. And the bunny, too.

The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 11:9, NRSV

What bugs you about the food chain, or do you just not think about it? How would you have done it better if you were Mother God?

Do you get angrier at God when you call Her Mother, or less? Is God the Father more trustworthy when it comes to figuring out the mysterious ways of the Creator?

What part do we play in creating a new world for animals?



Attached to Mother God

“A mother can give her child milk to suck, but our dear mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and he does so most courteously and most tenderly with the holy sacrament, which is the precious food of life itself… The mother can lay the child tenderly to her breast, but our tender mother Jesus, he can familiarly lead us to his blessed breast through his sweet open side….”

Julian of Norwich


I was thinking today, as I was gazing at Sam asleep, that we should all be as attached to Mother God as Sam is to me. Even in his sleep, if he is not in the deep sleep phase, he arches his back and complains if I give him over to Dad to sleep on him.

It’s in the attachment to Mother God that I hear Her voice, and that I grow loyal. It’s in the attachment that I do not flinch when I say Her name to someone who I think might. It’s in the attachment that I move forward to create, with Her, even when it requires courage.

And as any one who has done it can tell you, calling God Mother does require courage. I know there are people who don’t like what I write. And I know hating ideas does morph into hating real people, into put-downs, into plots to sabotage.

It happened to Saul. He thought he was doing the right thing in putting Christians in jail, in murdering them. From Saul’s point of view, he was defending God and Torah. Jesus set him straight, but it took a lot. The bright light of God’s presence, Jesus’ actual voice, and three days of groping in the darkness.

But Saul-who-became-Paul got attached to Jesus, to Mother God, and nothing could stop Paul from being loyal to Jesus, after that (see 2 Cor. 11:21-33 for what Paul went through for Christ).

So, how does attachment to Mother God happen? How do we nurse at Jesus’ side (Julian of Norwich) so often that we can’t be without him, no matter what we go through?

Brother Lawrence called it “the practice of the presence of God,” and he did it throughout the most mundane tasks, like washing dishes. He washed a lot of dishes in his lifetime. Yup, me and Brother Lawrence. But he did the dishes with Jesus, and that changed him.

I will try today to keep remembering the sweet presence of Mother God, and the ever-available milk of the Word, even as I read the fifty-two board books I read every day, wrestle another clean diaper onto my son, and make more blueberry smoothies for my family.

And I will keep writing and prayerfully thinking of God as Mother, even when I know Saul is afoot. He could become Paul any day now.

Does thinking of God as Mother help you keep Her nearer? 

Is it hard to go public with calling God Mother?

Expanding the Mother Metaphor

I have traveled to the limits of the Mother God metaphor lately, at least as applied to God-in-me-as-mother. I want a new way to understand God. I want a vacation, too.

We’re actually at the beach now. But with kids, vacation is just work in a different place. I’m not complaining, too much. I’m just tired.

But more than that, I’m restless. I want to get out. I need to be more than Mama.

Which has led me to the question—what other feminine metaphors fit God besides Mama? Sister, Friend, Grandmother, Auntie….

A lot of feminine metaphors refer to relationship roles.

God as Wife

Including wife, which is another role I have. As crazy as it may sound, Wife is a natural expansion of Mother.

Though Jesus called himself a bridegroom in the gospels, and Paul implied that Christ is the husband of the church, I’ve never heard even a mainline feminist try on the God as Wife metaphor. Too much baggage about submission and weakness and old wives’ tales that goes with “wife.”

That would mean we, the church, are in charge, right, like we tend to think a husband is, in traditional marriages. Come to think of it, the church often does act like we’re the decision makers.

But God as partner, which is gender neutral, sounds more true to life. God never bullies, manipulates, or dominates. Listening to God is the highest form of wisdom. But She’s not going to force us. She’s going to work with us.

We should do away with the word “wife” due to its connotations of being subject to a husband-in-charge, but it’s very much alive. Since the word is not going away from the lives of married women and men, let’s explore the metaphor in relation to God.

Of course, there is no “husband of God.” But because we tend to look down on the role of wife, and all the activities associated with it, we should think carefully about the image of God in married women.

In what way do wives look like God, and might God look like wives? The servanthood implication of wife, the washing-dirty-feet kind of stuff that Jesus did (John 13:1-17), is a big part of the reign of God.

Jesus doesn’t hesitate to speak of God as a woman who lost a coin (Luke 15:8) and searched until she found it. The woman was likely married, a servant to her husband and children; a servant, in fact, to the lost coin. The coin is a metaphor for you and me. Or a metaphor for a child, a friend, or a husband.

Though God can do anything within the limits She has placed on Herself, Jesus came to earth to show us just who God is apart from human ideas about status, greatness and power. Jesus rejected violence and competitive scrambling for followers that some of the religious leaders displayed. Jesus did whatever He saw God doing (John 5:19), and “took the form of a slave” (Phil. 2:6-8).

God as Wife is something to consider, even with, or maybe especially with, the implications we don’t like about wives as the inferior, submissive, serving partner.

If that stretches you a bit too much, try on this passage instead, from Lauren Winner’s Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God:

“‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God Almighty. ‘But I also hate a man covering his wife with violence as with a garment.’

“Here too is an image of God: God as fierce advocate for abused wives. God as the friend who helps you pack up your car and leave. God as the person who helps you put together a safety plan. God as the voice at the other end of the phone when you call the crisis hotline. God as a battered women’s shelter. God as protector of women.”

Jesus, as the perfect reflection of God (Heb. 1:1-4), was among us as a servant (Luke 22:27). His image shines in every one who humbly loves.

Still Christian

I am re-reading The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine, by Sue Monk Kidd, and revisiting my feminist journey. I am (and am not) surprised that Monk Kidd assumes there is no way to stay Christian and be free of patriarchy. She seeks out what seems to be a different religion, one I may be accused of following as I explore various feminine metaphors that might be applied to God.

But, I understand the impulse to exit. I ask myself, Where do I go for community with Mother God? I stay within traditional Christianity (think Clement, Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Anselm) but perhaps on the outside of evangelicalism. To really stay firmly committed to referring to God in feminine terms (in addition to the masculine and neuter ones) means I may not belong in today’s evangelical church–yet.

But that’s okay: there’s a place I do have of both escape from incessant motherhood and to Mother God’s community: this nascent blog.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll start to comment so we can become visible to one another as a community experimenting with feminine metaphors for God.

Does “mother” for God simply not resonate for you, but other unusual metaphors do?

What do you fear in exploring feminine metaphors for God? 

Did God as Wife make you crazy? Why?

Is the Holy Spirit Feminine?

A few weeks ago, a pastor friend I grew up with told me on Facebook that the word for the Holy Spirit in Greek (pneuma) is masculine, not feminine. He was wanting to show me that God is “masculine in spirit.” Someone may have told him that the Holy Spirit might be viewed as feminine. The following is a reply to him and to every one who has wondered about this.

The nature of language means that a word can be masculine or feminine without any particular meaning attached to that fact. Still, cultures with a feminine word for the Holy Spirit are more open to feminine word pictures for Her. Language changes culture, as culture changes language.

Though my friend is right in what he said about the Greek word for the Holy Spirit being masculine, Semitic (Middle Eastern) languages do have feminine names for the Holy Spirit. Ruach and Shekinah feature in the Old Testament. This may be why Jesus said that you must be “born again” of the Spirit, to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5,6).

The early church mostly spoke Greek or Latin, but Old Testament scholar Tim Bulkeley notes that the church in Syria spoke Syriac, a Semitic language derived from Aramaic, which Jesus spoke. The fathers of the Syriac church at least sometimes spoke of the Spirit as Mother. They referred to the “womb of the Spirit” in their baptismal liturgy, as well as made other feminine references to the Spirit.

What is just as interesting is the way the Spirit is described in the New Testament. What are some stereotypical descriptors of women or a feminine nature? Wikipedia says gentleness, empathy and sensitivity. Another site says we view women generally as caring, compassionate, and emotional. Women are obviously associated with birth and giving life, as well.

And that is what we see in the New Testament associations with the Spirit. Here are just a few:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trust, gentleness, and self-control.” Gal. 5:22a

“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Romans 8:26

“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.'” John 3:5, 6

“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.” John 6:63

“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant–not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Cor. 3:6

Even though there are some good reasons to see a feminine nature in the Holy Spirit, there are equally good reasons to see that it belongs to each person of the Trinity, not just the Spirit.

Julian of Norwich, for example, saw feminine, motherly characteristics in Jesus. Julian writes:

So we see that Jesus is the true Mother of our nature, for he made us. He is our mother, too, by grace, because he took our created nature upon himself. All the lovely deeds and tender services that beloved motherhood implies are appropriate to the Second Person.

And because the Muslims are right that God is One (and paradoxically, the Christians are right that God is also three), we know that any characteristic we see in one member of the Trinity also exists in the others.

What do you think?  Do you have any examples or counter-examples of the feminine nature of the Holy Spirit?





God The Mother is For Non-Moms and Men, Too

I’ve written a lot of posts so far about being a mother, and what that teaches me about God as Mother. But Mother God is for every one–single and married men, with or without children, and single and married women, with or without children. (And children themselves, but that’s for another post.)

I recently re-read journalist Julia Duin’s Quitting Church (2006), especially the section about why women leave the church. She implies that feminine God images in the church would help women stay, during a conversation she had with David Wilkerson in 1998.

She asked him why there were no verses that use feminine pronouns–for human women, not God–in the Daily Calendar he published–like Luke 1:45 or Is. 54:1. He had no answer–nor did he change his calendar.

As a single, childless woman, Duin left the church after her offers to serve were repeatedly rejected. When later she adopted a child and went back, the church welcomed her participation.

People who are not in a typical nuclear family often feel marginalized both in church and out. I don’t want to do that.

So I want to know–single and married women and men without kids: Is Mother God a term you can embrace? What does it mean to you to call God Mother sometimes? I want to hear from men with kids, too, as I suspect a feminine God image can help men in general, yet is still somewhat taboo. I will post more on this, later.

None of us women will ever be fathers, yet we’ve all used the label Father for God. Not being a mother doesn’t need to make Mother God less meaningful as a metaphor for God. Even if, like me, one’s relationship with one’s mother isn’t perfect, and is maybe even painful sometimes.

Sixty percent of the U.S. population emerges out of childhood with a secure psychological attachment to at least one caregiver, often Mom. So most of us can think of “Mother” and “God” and feel the love.

Forty percent of us can’t feel that totally secure love when we think of a parent, but eventually most of us probably attach to someone, a friend or a spouse or a child or an animal. (Being attached only to a child can bring its own problems for the child, however.)

It’s the attachment need that makes the mother metaphor for God so relevant. Even if we didn’t get our needs met, they are still there, no matter our age. We are always going to need a Divine Mom.

With my occasional gripes about my mother as I relate to her as an adult, I know that when I was a kid, she loved me. She was my safe place in the world. And she does make the term Mother God make sense.

Our best notions of Mother are the characteristics of God: always present, always loving, always working on our behalf. There for us, with the spiritual equivalent of hugs, extra attention when sick or sad, special gifts when we least expect them.

Referring to God as Mother means I look for God’s love, expect it, like a loved three-year old child does. He crawls into bed with mom in the middle of the night when he feels scared, because Mom has compassion for him. He confidently asks, as I did, “Mom, play Candy Land with me,” (again) and Mom does.

Even if we have no experience or memories of affection from our mom, someone, sometime, has given us a taste of unconditional love. We can expect the same willingness to give from Mother God, whether it’s that just blooming fragrant lilac tree outside our office window, or, as Teresa of Avila wrote, the gift of a little daisy in the grass.

I often see Her living yet eternal gifts in the birds around me. One crisp day in February, I was walking with Sam in a baby carrier, and we saw dozens of robins flying in and out of a huge holly tree loaded with red berries. I stopped, astonished.

This is a gift of a loving Mother, if I have eyes to see it. It has nothing to do with me being a mother. It’s just Gift, and these gifts are there for each of us.

How about you? How does it help you to call God Mother?



Mother God in a Toddler-Sized Package

When we need something, sometimes the best thing to do is assume Mother God is giving us what we need, already. Then we can turn around to face what (or who) we think is taking something we need from us.

I learned this today. Sam’s sleep has been wonky the past few nights, as in, won’t be put down for the first part of the night. Finally, last night, I could at least sleep most of the night sitting up, with him sleeping on me. But, not well.

This morning, though, he wanted to nurse every ten minutes. I felt snappy and irritable. I wanted my coffee and muffin and to eat in peace for fifteen minutes. My sacred-coffee-space was being photo-1452882033718-1caccfcfe77f

I did get five minutes. But the little toddler hands holding my leg, the arms reaching up, the pattering of following feet, that all continued.

Finally, I gave up. When Joel showed up in the sitting room with Sam (now Joel was following me, too) complaining, “I don’t know what to do with him,” I said, with a tone, “Why don’t you read to him?” He responded according to my tone. I shot back something else that sounded perfectly rational and perfectly edgy.

I sat Sam down though and we read “Pooh’s Sunny Day.” I took him into the bedroom to nurse in the a/c. After a while of that, I realized I felt better. It occurred to me that Sam’s chasing me was good for me. My stress level from tiredness went way down due to all that good prolactin and oxytocin. I got my fix without coffee.

And Joel needed a break, too. His bruised rotator cuff is still hurting because he uses it so often. When he got to stop lifting a 25 pound-er, he cooked us a Chicken-Rice Paleo casserole, which was delicious.

Sam often delivers Mother God to me in a toddler-sized package. It was hard to see God’s gift this morning, but when I did, I could receive peace and give respite to Joel. Sam was meeting our needs, not standing in the way of getting them met.

What or who is chasing you that you’d wish would go away, but is actually Mother God’s gift to you? 


What Would Raffi Do?

The first song I heard by Raffi, the Canadian children’s folksinger, was “Biscuits in the Oven.” Tears gathered in my eyes as I danced with 1-year-old Marshall. I sensed this man was responding deeply to a calling to love, that can only come from God. The words were simple, but his voice and music fed my soul.

Recently, we found some of our old Raffi CDs we’d misplaced, and we play them daily. His are the only songs with lyrics that Marshall, my nine-year old Asperkid, will listen to. He, too, knows that Raffi is a mentor, a real presence in our lives calling us to goodness, truth and justice. When Marshall is upset, Raffi calms him.

When Raffi wrote a song called “In the Real World” on his CD “Love Bug,” Marshall said, “He can’t mean it.” But I explained that Raffi really does think the world of trees, flower, sky and sun is better than the online world. He got quiet.

I recently finished Raffi’s autobiography, written in 1998. I couldn’t help but search for a sign of a faith in Christ. One of his grandmothers was deeply evangelical and prayerful, though the pamphlet-giving type. As for Raffi, he wasn’t impressed with Christianity, nor the New Age or yogic philosophy he briefly explored. He was attracted to Taoism in college.

Now he talks about listening to The Creator in prayer and taking his life’s work as a calling. He strives for integrity. The value of caring for children comes first, over money.

It seems to me that Raffi has a sense of being a co-creator with God, and an understanding of the sacredness of children. He’s drawn on the feminine aspects of God intuitively, allowing the Spirit reign in his work and life. The idea for activism for children came to him in a vision. He clearly listens, stays open, to God. Can that happen without believing in Jesus? Yes, I think it happens all over the world every day.

It occurred to me that someone could start a WWRD movement, What Would Raffi Do? But he’d find that over-the-top. Nonetheless, I find great overlap in Raffi’s view of children and Jesus’s.

Raffi starts his autobiography, “Children are the most reasonable people I know.” Jesus said, “Unless you become like a little child, you will never enter the reign of God” (Matt. 18:3). I think Raffi was saying that the values of children right the world again, make adult reason seem paltry. And that they tell the truth when adults would prefer they didn’t. And this too was Jesus’ point. Children enter into the world of faith easily, and this, said Jesus, was the work of God (John 6:29).

Adults aren’t usually so good at taking cues from little humans who are supposed to show respect, more than be respected. But we’ve got a lot to learn. True, Raffi and Jesus are both childless men. But I think they give us tired, just-give-me-ten-minutes-alone-in-the-bathroom parents more objectivity.

In Jesus, we see both a Mother and a Father unlike any most of us have experienced. This divine parent welcomes children in the presence of adults–in a culture where children had little power. Then, in front of those same adults, praises the kids as examples of spiritual maturity (Matt. 19:13-15).

You never hear Jesus scolding a child. And, never a word to parents about discipline. No quoting of Proverbs about not sparing the rod. Just Jesus’ quiet insistence that children understand God and the way things should go, in ways his adult followers did not.

Raffi seems to get that. I have pasted his Covenant for Honouring Children below from his website. So when you get to a hard place in your life with kids–just ask, What Would Jesus and Raffi Do?

Victory in Life’s Mud Run

Mortals, join the mighty chorus which the morning stars began! Mother love is reigning o’er us; sister love binds hand to hand. Ever singing, walk we onward, victors in the midst of strife; joyful music leads us forward in the triumph song of life!

(from the hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” text modified by Marchienne Vroon Rienstra)

To sing the song of victory, we have to first risk trusting God, we have to move forward. Calling God Mother helps me with that, and being a mother does, too. Sometimes, love for my son Marshall will push me when I’d rather be at home.

Since we took Marshall out of school due to a child bullying him, he has wanted nothing but to stay on the computer. He used to jump for 3 hours a day on the trampoline. Now he avoids going outside much of the time.

But sometimes, in warm weather, he plays in the mud. We don’t know why; he hates even the feeling of soap on him due to Sensory Processing Disorder.

So I found a Mud Run going on. And he wanted to go. We planned it, but both Joel and I dragged our collective four feet. Who would do it with him? Neither of us are athletic or into mud. And would Marshall really enjoy it, be able to do it?

But finally at 12:00 on the day of the Mud Run there were no excuses. We looked up the registration and saw plenty of open spots for the 1:00 wave, the last of the day. Even the weather, overcast, made it a go.

We gathered towels, clean clothes, water, books for Sam for the ride. I even found our lost camera in a black save-the-earth Fred Meyer bag.

When we got to the farm, grown women with wet t-shirts and mud up to their necks were walking back to their cars with tired, dirty kids. The moms looked like they could do women’s professional wrestling.

I gave them my internal salute as I slathered on coconut oil and put the camera in my purse and Sam’s water in my skort pocket, grateful I had a stand-in for the mud wrestle. Joel was going to do it.

Joel, Marshall and Sam were already lining up to register for the 1:00 wave. Marshall saw the liability form and said, “Danger? This is dangerous?” but took his bag of complimentary gifts.

And we made our way down to the line. Joel looked serious. I said, “Don’t do anything you don’t want to.” Marshall had the same worried look on his face as Joel, but they stood side by side and waited as Sam and I watched.

Over the loud-speaker we heard, “Are you READY?” Lots of whooping it up followed.

And again, “Are you READY???!!!!” Ack. It might be a sensory nightmare if the loudspeaker woman kept it up.

But, no, with a “Go!” she kept quiet and the group of about thirty kids and parents trotted off.

Sam and I watched Joel and Marshall eventually slow down to a walk. Sam and I lingered by a grey bunny in a cage, and a man and woman who were chuckling over whatever was on her I-Phone.

The guy passed gas as we walked by, and I reflected on what Raffi said in his autobiography about the general spiritual malaise in North America these days.

But Raffi wrote his book in 1998. Today, I’d say, it’s more like spiritual gassiness. How could gathering around a screen in the great outdoors make us better humans?

Speaking of screen time, I’d gotten up early to find the Restrictions setting on the iPad, to turn off Safari and put every limit on troublesome viewing, including YouTube. We have to fight our spiritual battles locally, first.

But Marshall is fighting his own. Last night he happily told me the last chapter of his series about Marshall Land: “Every one does good because…well, no one wants to do evil.” This is the first time he’s been able to embrace this possibility, since being traumatized by repeated horror stories from the bully.

And during the Mud Run, Micah also embraced courage, the foundation of spiritual strength. He climbed over a rope structure, went through bubbles, took a rope over mud, and slogged through one last mud puddle. For a kid with Sensory Processing Disorder, this was trophy-worthy.

When he let go of the rope over the mud puddle, it hit him in the head and he looked disoriented. I rushed over to meet him to say, “You did it! I’m proud of you” with a lump in my throat.

When he finished all the obstacles, he smiled so big that his dimples showed. “I’m proud of myself!” he said.

We washed Marshall off at the outdoor shower and talked about lunch. Marshall wanted to eat at our old favorite Mexican Restaurant, from when life was safer, The Manzanilla.

We relished our food. Marshall was living in the Real World again. This was his victory moment, at least the beginning of victory.

And this is our victory moment, too—the Mama’s and Papa’s. This is the day I’ve been praying for, a living into the light and the earth, for all of us. Marshall free from the pull of the Internet, able to choose what to do and not staying on the couch all day out of fear.

But it took some risk taking on our part. It was hard to put our shoes on and go out the door, not knowing what we were doing or if Marshall would get through it.

Is that how God feels when She takes us on, when She chooses to run with us, climb obstacles with us, and try to get to the end of the course together?

Maybe She is always risking. Maybe that’s just Mother God’s life with us, and when we are growing, our life with Mother God.

But just like Joel and I wanted Marshall to have fun and grow more than we wanted out own comfort, so does Mother God want to take us into adventurous new places of joy and love, even when a rope hits us in the head on the way or when we are slathered with mud at the end.

And we know She will be there at the Finish line, with a “You did it! I’m so proud of you!”

What metaphorical Mud Run are you afraid of? Does calling God “Mother” help with risk-taking?

Mother God’s Parenting: Blame vs. Grace

As I try to understand the gospels, I like to think about what rabbis normally said and how they said it. I imagine that listening to one was a bit like hanging out on the streets of New York City. They were hyperbolic, extreme, to make a point.

In Luke 3, which is what I read today, I get the impression John the Baptist thought his listeners were a rotten bunch. He calls them vipers, and demands they begin to bear good fruit in their lives. John was a prophet, not a rabbi, but he knew how to get people’s attention on his metaphorical street corner.

He isn’t as hard on them as it would seem though. When the people ask, “What should we do?” his response is simple: Share what you have, and don’t steal, or cheat, or accuse someone falsely. John isn’t really asking for much. Grace was woven into what he said, like silver threads.

This whole issue of blame and punishment is a big one though, not only in the Bible, and religion, but in families.

It’s hard to imagine God as Mother being all that blame-y, though Father God, or even just God, can conjure up images of wrath, endless fire in hell, and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

That’s partly because of Old Testament prophets who spoke of punishment from God, but also because Jesus talked like that when he taught. Rabbis everywhere spoke of hell sometimes, of course. But Jesus was doing something different. He was explaining a new, love-based morality to people who felt like they could never go to hell because they followed all the rules.

Paul’s take on Jesus is that trusting in Jesus wipes out punishment. You can escape God’s justice against sin, through faith in Jesus (e.g. Rom. 5:8,9). And faith can start small, like a tiny seed, or melded to unbelief that we cry out to God about. Jesus, long before Paul, said that the work of God was to believe in Him (John 6:29) and John said that Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17).

Relationship. Holding God’s metaphorical hand. Receiving forgiveness and unconditional love. That sounds like God as Mother.

So, my question is, how might Paul’s view of punishment and grace translate to mothering and fathering?

Blame and Grace in Families

In my house, blame is the undercurrent we are either being swept along by, are surfing, or swimming against. It’s huge, though we work against it more and more often these days.

On bad days, we blame the dog for peeing again on the floor. I think blameful thoughts about Joel not remembering things I’ve said. Joel might blame Marshall for not turning off the computer or for refusing to go to a certain store.

Words are hardly needed. Just a tone, a huff or sigh, a slight inflection of a word. Since Marshall was 5, he too has played the blame game. It’s not hard to pick up from your parents.

Since at least that many years, I have tried not to be blame-y. Only a year ago, however, did I begin to occasionally use the word “grace” around the house. It struck me then how very absent it was, in word and deed. We ignored things, and attempted forgiveness, but didn’t run to grace.

Grace is unmerited favor, I learned in Sunday School. You don’t earn it, don’t have to deserve it. It’s favor that is a gift. It’s a favor, one you can’t repay. It’s love that keeps going, when it could stop to punish.

This is Mother God’s heart, to bestow grace, and for us to give it to each other as sisters and brothers. There is a book I’ve read parts of called Grace Based Parenting. I love the title. This is Mother’s God call to parents, and spouses.

Just how hard is it in our culture’s parenting climate to give unmerited, unearned favor to our kids? Aren’t we supposed to deliver Love and Logic?—as in, give the most natural consequence with the most loving tone. “Uh oh! Looks like you go to time-out again, Milo. So sorry!”

That’s good-intended but it’s not grace. I don’t give consequences in a sweet tone of voice, anyway, no matter how many Love and Logic books I’ve read and seminars I’ve been to.

How do we want Mother God to discipline us, Her kids? How does She actually do it?

I think none of us want to suffer for what we do, even if it’s justice. Suffering’s a bit random, anyhow, not always connected to our actions. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is a perennial, painful question, Job’s and Rabbi Kushner’s.

But we kind of expect bad things to happen when we do something bad.

Yet what we hope for is a God who keeps believing in us, no matter what we’ve done–again. We want a Mother who draws us close to Her when we’re feeling ashamed. We want a Mother who never turns her back on us because we’re supposed to be in Time-Out.

And that’s Grace, a gift we can receive from Mother God to give to our own kids, and each other. Right now.

What ways do you receive grace and give grace in your family?


Divine Breasts

For from those divine breasts where it seems God is always sustaining the soul, there flow streams of milk bringing comfort to all the people.

–Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, p. 179-180

Recently, a fed-up dad posted a video on Facebook of him trying to eat and drink at a restaurant while wearing a white blanket over his head. He wanted to point out how ridiculous it is that our culture pressures women to entirely cover up their breasts and babies to feed their children.

My son Sam is 18 months old and loves to nurse. Worldwide, this is normal. Developmentally and biologically, this is normal. In the United States today, not so much. (Most babies wean by age one).

Breasts-on-the-loose are scary in our culture. They are objects of sexuality that are never proper to expose in public every day places.

But for my toddler, Sam, breasts are his safe place. He has always just thrown himself sideways knowing I’ll catch him, when he is ready to nurse. He gets tired or upset, and then gets to sink deep into soft mama, who gives sweet, warm milk and the chance to suck, which rights the world again.

In many countries around the world, it is a given for moms to suckle their children as they grow older and fully develop their immune systems, which doesn’t happen until age 4 or 5.

When mothers allow their children to grow out of breastfeeding, on their own terms, kids will wean anywhere from age 2 to age 7, typically. The same with bottles, or thumb-sucking. Kids need to suck for comfort. Weaning before a child is ready is always a sad event for both mom and baby.

The Healing Power of Mama-Milk

I tried to wean my oldest child, Marshall, when he was two, and had tooth decay, due to pressure from a dentist. It didn’t take me long to hear my son’s voice through his tears, reflecting feelings of grief and rejection. I decided then to follow my own instincts about what was best for my son. (It turns out that breastfeeding protects teeth, and that changing diet will work wonders for dental health.)

Marshall started to naturally forget about his “morning mama milk” just after his fifth birthday. It was about that time he began to show the more potent symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Inflexibility, crying often, and hitting. That was all new, post-weaning. Mama’s milk had been protective.

GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) author Natasha Campbell-McBride says post-weaning is often when kids start to show symptoms of underlying conditions. There is powerful stuff in breast milk, so protective to the immune system it can stop cancer growth.

Due to the false advertising of formula companies, many in the U.S. don’t know about the healing power of breast milk. But some cultures understand without necessarily having done the studies. In Mongolia, for example, the women express milk for adults to drink, as well as breastfeed their children indefinitely.

Breastmilk and God

Mother God knows about it, too. It was Her idea, to create a drink so potent with life that it could, on its own, nourish a baby until she walks upright.

So it’s no wonder that God, or Her people, chose the name El Shaddai, which can be translated Breasted One. The apostle Peter also uses the metaphor of breastfeeding in speaking of God (I Pet. 2:2, 3):

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Mother God is the safe Person who always welcomes us into the softness of Her center, who offers us the sweet milk of salvation. Sozo, the Greek word for salvation, also connotes safety and healing.

We can throw ourselves sideways and rest in Her as She holds us and rights our inner world again.