What Happens When God Can be Mother Too?

Learning to Trust God

God and Happiness: Not an Oxymoron

The best part of learning to call God “Mother” has been that I now believe God wants me to be happy. Somehow I got that wrong a long time ago, believing God the Father always had some personal agenda (His glory, the salvation of every one around me, and when I was a teen, to marry some guy I didn’t like who’d save the world with me) that would overlook my happiness.

Now, God’s will and my own fulfillment are intertwined. She cares about me like a Mother and so is not looking out only for Herself.

I can look back and see how wrong I’ve been to mistrust God throughout decision-making points in my life. She was always speaking through my intuition, to avoid this setting, or go toward that one. But I couldn’t trust that voice.

Healing Through Calling God Mother

I started the Mother God Experiment two years ago. My book of feminine-language psalms lies open on my desk now. Today I read:

“Allelleluia! It is fitting and delightful to sing praise to God.

For El Shaddai builds up Her people, and gathers the outcasts in.

She heals the brokenhearted, gently binding their wounds.

She counts the stars and calls them by name!

How great is God, abundant in powerful love!

Her wisdom is beyond telling.”

–Psalm 147, Swallow’s Nest: A Feminine Reading of the Psalms, Marchienne Vroon Rienstra

I realized today that feminine renderings of verses like these, along with a fuller picture of God as Love and Light through reading about Near-Death Experiences, have healed me. When I think about taking risks that I feel Her directing me to, I feel afraid but willing, like my 11-year-old son who is learning to swim.

Trim Tab and Trust

I like to come up with a word or phrase for each new year. (This was another blogger’s idea, whose name I don’t recall, but the website My One Word has the same idea). My phrase for 2017 is “Trim tab and trust.” To trim tab a boat is to direct a boat with very little actual physical effort. I now see little movements as capable of changing my entire life direction, as big as that seems.

And the trust part is that the little efforts really will change my life. I’m not alone. I have a huge amount of power behind me in Mother God and Jesus, the Life and Light of the Universe. And so do you.

I’m Sailing with the Mother

So, I’m moving forward, with little efforts to follow through on my ideas and intuitions and desires, like starting a Facebook group for my neighborhood to break down walls between people living near each other. And I had a “Love Your Neighbor” Valentine’s Day Party on Sunday for the neighborhood. It wasn’t hugely attended, but all the same, I am trim tabbing, and trusting Mother God that something good will come of it.

Now instead of stalling in harbor, when I see an opportunity, I listen for Her voice, that inner sense of direction. And if all is well, I set sail knowing She is with me.

And, so, what about you? Has calling God Mother been a trim tab leading to bigger changes in your life? I’d love it if you’d take a moment to tell me about what this metaphor means to you and your ability to trust Her.

Parenting Like God

Meet a Motherly God

I’m reading a book called God and the Afterlife: The Groundbreaking New Evidence for God and Near-Death Experience by Jeffrey Long, M.D. I tend to be a believer, since science has not caught up with Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) yet and there is no conclusive materialist evidence for why they happen. The NDEs often change people; that much is undeniable.

And, though the gender of God is variable in people’s NDEs, the most salient characteristics of God seem motherly. In fact, the understanding I’ve gained of God through reading about NDEs can inform my life as a mother, and can help all of us parent better. So, what can we learn from Mother God from the people who have had NDEs, and how does that translate to how we parent?

Mother God Loves

The first thing we can learn is that She is love. When people go to heaven in their NDE, that’s what they often first realize: God loves me unconditionally. One says, “I have never felt loved by someone on this earth the way I felt loved by this being,” and another reports, “I felt someone was carrying me very lovingly–an unconditional love.”

Is this what our children know about us? Do they get that we love them and understand them, and accept them as they are? Is this what my kids feel about me?

When my oldest son was about 5, he reported to us, “You don’t love me like you did when I was first born.” And he was right. As he grew, love became subtly more conditional and based on his behavior, less and less freely given.

The priority of showing love to our children seems obvious, but it counters the popular wisdom about kids. We’re told, and often believe, that the most pressing thing they need from parents is discipline. They need not to be one of those kids that cause the problems.

But it’s acceptance, understanding, love and mentoring that help children grow up well. It’s not time-outs or losing video game time or even feeling cold at school because she forgot her jacket–again.

One NDEer recalls, “I understood the major superior being of love to be God, and I sensed God’s love for me and for all….I sensed that we are all on a path to that love and to God.”

Parents are on the path to learn how to turn our hearts to our own children (Mal. 4:6; Luke 1:17), to see from their perspective, to have empathy, and then to gently help them grow into all they can become. We are not on a path to learn to control their behavior.

She Doesn’t Condemn

The second helpful parenting wisdom I learned from NDEers is that God is fundamentally forgiveness. She doesn’t judge or condemn us. We judge ourselves. Another NDEer says, “The Light also knows everything that I’ve ever done and will do but loves me unconditionally….There is no fear, no judgment, punishment, blame, or shame. No ledger of good and bad deeds. Only warmth, peace, joy, happiness, forgiveness, and love in the Light.”

Most say they do review their lives with God, but God doesn’t stand beside them with condemnation. Instead, others’ perspectives become more obvious than they were, such as how someone we hurt felt when we hurt them.

How painful will it be to feel the exact emotions our kids felt when we punished them or threatened them or sent them to their rooms? And to realize they learned nothing but to mistrust us and to put up barriers between themselves and us? Feeling those feelings now through empathy, and remembering our own most painful moments as children, may help us stop hurtful acts that we normalized as child discipline.

Quantum Energy Requires Respect

The third NDEer-truth we can apply to parenting is that we are all made of the same stuff, all connected in love and sibling-hood. As one NDEer says, “I also had this knowing that the essence or spark of the Highest is in everything–every mineral, vegetable, animal, and human.”

For parents, that means we should see our children as fellow human beings first, with differing needs based on development. But basically deserving all the respect (if not freedom) we would give an adult friend.

We wouldn’t say to our BFF in the typical nasty tone we reserve for our kids, “How many times do I have to tell you, take your shoes off at the door?” No way. We’d have no more BFF.

Our kids feel the same way, but they can’t get rid of us. They’re powerless when it comes to enduring disrespect from us. And eventually, they come to feel, deep down, that they are bad. That they deserve our negative voice tones and many corrections throughout the day.

And later, as teens, they realize that we’re the ones at fault and get angry and shut down. We start to lose them, sometimes permanently. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Made in Her Image

When we want to become better parents, we can draw our inspiration from Mother God. She loves us (John 3:16), She doesn’t condemn us (John 3:17), and She sees our value and respects us (Gen. 1:31; John 10:34), no matter our age.

She’s the Mother we always wanted. And, made in Her image, we can become more and more like Her.

 

 

Bathsheba Only Wanted a Bath: Exposing Power-sins in the Church

Bathsheba Wanted It

Bathsheba was a favorite subject for Renaissance painters, because she should obviously be painted naked. She was an adulteress, after all, right? Surely, she knew David was watching her do her monthly ritualistic bath from above. No, Bathsheba was a survivor of power-rape and a woman made a widow by her rapist, King David (Check out 2 Samuel 11 for a reminder of the story).

Why don’t we think of her this way, however? Because many of us, deep down, believe that sexual sins against women by big-name religious men don’t matter that much. We assume Bathsheba was all for it, too. Don’t women automatically fall for powerful men who approach them?

Bathsheba’s Opinions Not Recorded

The Bible doesn’t say what Bathsheba felt or thought. It does say she “mourned” the dead husband that David murdered, whom she had only recently married. What mattered to the author of 2 Samuel was David’s sin against Yaweh, and the prophet Nathan’s view of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, as David’s victim. David had stolen Uriah’s property. And from the author’s way of painting Yaweh, to kill David and Bathsheba’s first child as punishment was only hurting David. Ironically, Bathsheba was hardly seen at all.

King Yoder’s Sins

The same dynamic continues in our culture and time, perhaps unconsciously justified by misreadings of Scripture like this one. This week, I found out that John Howard Yoder, well-known pacifist author of The Politics of Jesus, made a practice of attempting to manipulate Christian women to entertain him sexually. Most of the women resisted him, but were scarred by what he did. The Society of Christian Ethics recently held several sessions in their annual conference to discuss the issues involved when a well-known leader like Yoder harms many people.

Yoder twisted theology to try to convince women that sexual play and even intercourse between them was morally acceptable. He used his personal power in the Mennonite church due to his social justice, pacifist writings. Yes, his social justice theology.

John Howard Yoder died 20 years ago. 20. years. ago. It’s not that no one knew what he was doing back when he was alive. The president of the college where Yoder taught tried to get him to change but ultimately protected him. One theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, even praised him in an aside and in his 2010 memoir, for how he handled the situation. (For the full story, see a 2013 New York Times piece and a recent one by feminist scholar Grace Yia-Hei Kao). Only since 2013 have Mennonite leaders been talking and acknowledging the injustice toward the women who live on, with their memories.

History Redux

An isolated situation, right? I think not. Historically great religious men have gotten away with a lot when it comes to misusing power with women. Ghandi was much like Yoder in aligning his religious beliefs with his abuse of women for his sexual pleasure. Martin Luther King was nothing like Yoder in using bad theology to get women to do what he wanted, but he did mistreat his wife with his affairs, with no accountability.

We all flinch when we hear Ghandi and King’s names linked with sins against women. But this is the exact problem I’m talking about. And it happens on even the domestic level, where no one wants to expose a Christian family man even though he is beating his wife and/or children. This is a big problem no matter how well-known, or not, the male abuser is.

Learning from Nathan

We can learn how to confront injustice toward women by powerful, and not-as-powerful, religious men through the prophet Nathan’s example. When Nathan heard from God to rebuke King David, he didn’t let fear deter him from speaking out what he heard from God. We can also learn from David, who didn’t go to self-defensiveness and pride as Yoder repeatedly did. David admitted that he was wrong.

We have to also start facing squarely the sins of the famous authors that we read, and not toss their personal lives off as an aside, as this particular theologian would like to argue we should. What Yoder did is a fact, not an allegation. It matters. I would feel physically sick to teach his work at all, especially when there are other good theologians who teach pacificism, such as Walter Wink and J. Denney Weaver.

We have to acknowledge and discuss the tendency for great thinkers to separate their minds from their emotions and bodies. That kind of split isn’t the Christian life. Following Jesus is not about having the right answers or ideas, no matter how interesting. Nor is it about keeping a perfect façade. King David understood that following Yaweh meant he would be accountable for sins he committed, even if he thought the only sin was against Uriah.

Though neither David, Nathan nor the author(s) of 2 Samuel 11 understood that David had sinned against Bathsheba, you know that Mother God did. And during all those years no one took seriously that John Howard Yoder was assaulting women, Mother God did.

She wants us to use the next four years to practice speaking out when we see power abused, especially in the church. Now is the time to learn from Nathan.

 

 

 

 

Why Gender-Neutral Language Is Not Enough

Why Not Just Stop Calling God Father?

God is spirit, Jesus told Photina, the woman at the well, in John 4:24. I’ve been reading snippets of Near Death Experiences, and consistently, people agree that God is spirit, electric with light and love. Not human, not male, not female. So why do we need to call God Mother? Why not just do away with Father and all the other masculine language for God, including masculine pronouns, and call God, “God”?

“I Hear The Word ‘God’…as Male”

Lauren Winner, author of the excellent Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God, addresses the masculine-God-language problem by mostly avoiding gendered pronouns and nouns. She writes: “About four years ago, I made a conscious decision to try to set aside third-person singular pronouns for God, except when they appeared in prayers and hymns written by someone else or scripture translated by someone else.” That “except” would mean she would not be setting masculine pronouns aside very often.

However, she says this small act of curbing her own speech heightened her awareness of how her “community’s prayers, hymns, and sermons are saturated with masculine language.” She also noticed that “I tend to hear the word ‘God’ not as somehow beyond gender or as betokening the diversity of divine life; rather, I hear it as male.”

Winner almost thinks out loud in her book, as she suggests that the “antidote to this formation is…to sometimes use feminine pronouns and sometimes masculine pronouns.” It’s uncomfortable for her, she admits, but she tries it out now and again in her book, because she believes “the uncomforting is holy and blessed.” Good for her! Enduring the discomfort is the first step in changing the male God image to become female, too.

Like Winner’s gradual and subtle conclusion to her “Short Note on Gender and Language for God,” I, too, think there are good reasons for why we humans can’t keep God unbound by gender, despite the fact that She is a spirit.

The Personhood of the Trinity

First, God is a person. For example, Sunday School theology tells us not to call the Spirit an It, but rather a He, though it’s tempting because the Spirit seems neuter. And the basic reason we use a personal pronoun is that God is a person not a thing. And persons have a sexual distinction.

We don’t have a way to relate to a person who is a Spirit without also referring to that person with a gendered pronoun. Even if we manage to say God and Godself several times in a row instead of saying He or Him, the echo of the masculine pronouns we have always used speaks of an ancient man behind the scenes, like the Wizard of Oz behind the big voice and curtain.

We Reflect God

Secondly, sexed people reflect God. (And I am differentiating here between having a sex, which is the mechanics of being a woman or man that lead to differences, and having gender, which is all the societal stuff we take on making all girls like pink and fluffy stuff and all boys prefer blue and mud.) The author of Genesis (1:27) tells us that men and women alike are made in God’s image. God didn’t have to create a man and a woman. She could have found another way. The two sexes inform us of Her very being.

Bringing Down a False God

Third, we’ve already made God thoroughly male (and white, but that’s another post). It’s simply too late to neutralize the word, God. Thousands of years, and most religions, give God a basic masculine identity. It’s time to chip away at that false image, that false God. We have simply got it wrong about God. Jesus’ appearance on the scene was, in part, supposed to enlighten us to the feminine within God, but we didn’t get it.

It’s only taking the uncomfortable, unpopular stand that God can be a She, God can be Mother, or any number of feminine metaphors, that will begin to pull down our false male God and put up the True One before us, the one who is represented well by both female and male.

What the Mother Metaphor Reveals about God

Why call God Mother?

Mother God bugs people. She rocks the church-boat. She downright infuriates some. So, how can calling God Mother help us?

The loving, safe associations we often have with Mother change our inner image of God, or feelings and attitude toward God, sometimes dramatically. The mother metaphor helps us form a truer picture of God than using only the father metaphor. I’d like to explore three ways it does this.

With You Always

The first is immanence, which refers to the nearness of God, as opposed to God’s transcendence, or greatness in comparison with creation. Jesus showed us that He is Emmanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:23). He said He would always be with us, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). In the Old Testament, God first named Herself as I AM, conveying presence with the Israelites and Moses (Exodus 3:14). Jesus identified Himself with the Present God when He said, “Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am.” (John 8:58).

But most of us have a Jesus/Father God split, at least to some extent. Jesus is the good guy, interceding for us, and Father God is the distant, enthroned one. He is the final authority with the power to punish.

Jesus came to undo that thinking, because He and God are one (John 10:30), but it persists for most of us. Calling God Mother allows us to finally understand that Jesus really did come to show us who God is, that God is near, God is present, God is tender and loving toward us. (Of course, God is “other” too. God is still transcendent, but most of us have that deeply embedded in our psyche already and it trips us up as we try to relate to God.)

Embodied

The second reason has to do with the first. God is near, and God came to meet us in human flesh. Calling God “Mother” reminds us that God came in a body. Being a Mother can never be ethereal; it is always an enfleshed experience.

And it’s crucial we see God through the lens of the Incarnation, that God came to feel and experience many of the things we do, and that God came to relieve our physical pain. Jesus healed, Jesus delivered from spiritual oppression.

Jesus didn’t just show up and say I’m God, worship me. He lovingly cared for our bodies, like a mother.

The Image of Woman

Thirdly, calling God Mother reminds us that God made women in Her image (Gen. 1:27). This means that within the Trinity, there is the image of woman. Birth, nurture, love-poured-out, and whatever else is commonly thought of as feminine, is within God. The Bible depicts this, though we tend not to see its importance due to our belittlement of women within the church and in society.

The word pictures usually depict the motherliness of God, because that was the common reference point for women at that time, but the image of God is in all women and girls, not only mothers. Even the Bible includes comparisons between God and non-mothers. God as midwife and God as “mistress” (see verses below) depict a woman who was usually unmarried. The writer of Proverbs describes Wisdom as being birthed by God, putting Wisdom in the role of divine daughter.

The Biblical images below powerfully claim that God made women, too, in Her image. And so does calling God Mother.

The God Who Gave You Birth

“You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.” Deuteronomy 32:18

“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?– when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band. Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew? From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?” Job 38:8-9, 28-29

“Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.” [God as midwife]. Psalm 22:9

“As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God.” [God as mistress]. Psalm 123:2

“I [Wisdom] was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no oceans, I was given birth [by God], when there were no springs abounding with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth.” Proverbs 8:23-25

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb, even to your old age I am he, even when you turn gray I will carry you. I have made, I will bear; I will carry and will save.” Isaiah 46:3-4

“For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.” Isaiah 42:14

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” Isaiah 49:15

“For thus says the Lord:…As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” Isaiah 66:12-13

May we all come to know God, who is our Mother as well as our Father, more closely.

See these and more feminine Biblical images here:

Feminine Images of God in the Bible

 

Four Ways to Get Closer to Lady Wisdom This Year

A Voice that Resembles the Lord’s

“Listen closely, for what I say is worth hearing, and I will tell you what is right…” (Prov. 8:6).

Wisdom shows up as a woman in Proverbs 1-9 and other wisdom literature. In the Hebrew, she is Chochma. Scholar Roland E. Murphy writes of this unusual personification: “Justice and peace may kiss, and alcohol may be a rowdy, but only wisdom is given a voice that resembles the Lord’s (Prov. 8:35, ‘whoever finds me finds life’)” (italics mine).

I briefly explore the mystery of her female identity in this other blog post. (Though, since reading Virginia Ramey Mollenkott’s chapter on “Dame Wisdom” I have changed my mind about who Wisdom is. I now believe Biblical writers equate her with God, as Jesus did, which you’ll see below.)

But now I want to talk about having a relationship with Wisdom. How do we get to know her? I’m going to center in Proverbs 8 and draw on other sources as well, focusing on four ways to have a relationship with Wisdom.

1. Show Up and Listen. Proverbs 8:1 talks about the omnipresence and ubiquitous voice of Wisdom: “Does not wisdom call, and understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, on the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out….” It’s easy to find Wisdom. One only has to stop ignoring her.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro writes that despite the personification of Wisdom, she is not someone we can objectify and know that way. We know her through doing what she says, and this is why Wisdom is not often enough sought out. She requires our time, our internal hospitality, to hear what she is telling us to do. Come on over Wisdom, and let’s have tea and cranberry scones. Let me listen to you a while. (Wisdom offers bread and wine in Proverbs 9:5, which sounds good too).

We can make an internal silence in our hearts daily or repeatedly through the day, as we pause to read Scripture, quiet ourselves after speaking or writing our heart to Mother God, or ponder after seeing a pointed quote on Facebook. Then we go toward that nudge and don’t reconsider. It’s easy to talk ourselves out of Wisdom’s ways.

In fact, I’m going to stop and listen now. I’m going to stop writing and pause to hear the Wisdom that was with Mother God at the birth of creation (Prov. 8:22).

2. Value People over Performance.  

“I was…rejoicing in the whole world and delighting in humankind” (Prov. 8:30b, 31).

Is Wisdom the Creator Herself? you might be asking yourself by now. Yes, Wisdom is Mother God as she is at work in our world, illuminating and re-creating it. Wisdom is, as Jesus said, vindicated by all her children, her actions in and for the world. Wisdom is the feminine image of God.

But that’s for another post. This one is about how to get closer to Wisdom.

After I took time to listen today, as I was preparing to write again, my husband came up the stairs to my desk, carrying our two-year-old son who wants to see me about every ten minutes. That was Wisdom calling, again, to get me to see people as more important than the finish line and the deadline and the line of the written word.

Beyond just people, children head the list of valuable people in Jesus’ eyes. There is no following Christ or Wisdom without respecting and loving kids. So, I stopped that urgent, there-is-no-time feeling within me and played with my son. (Not that it’s always easy; I also turn on my son’s favorite DVDs sometimes).

It may have been the supposed lack of time that caused the two religious people to pass by the wounded man, before the good Samaritan stopped to help. Or why we, too often, pass up the email telling us about Syrians and Haitians who need our help more than we need the next month’s worth of lattes.

That feeling of “I won’t have enough” “I will never get this done” “I will never be successful” “I will never live my Best Life” is an obstacle to Wisdom, who is always going to make time for people and the rest of creation.

3. Focus on Facts Not Fear. In the new age of Trump, it is easy to stop delighting in humankind and take up lip biting. What I heard from Wisdom was: make life decisions based on facts, not fear. It’s like a parenting mantra I use, “What you focus on, you get more of” (Becky Baily).

Proverbs 2:10 agrees with this message: “When Wisdom enters your heart and knowledge delights you, good judgment will protect you, and understanding will guard you.” Knowledge, good judgment and understanding protect, not fear.

Rabbi Shapiro writes, “The Way of Wisdom is study, observation, and clear perception…She is the way of God manifest in the world….” She will not tell you the whys of life, he writes, only the whats.

And we obtain knowledge through the study of Scripture by what Rabbi Shapiro says is the Jewish notion of “open mind” (mochin d’gadlut)  vs. “narrow mind” (mochin d’katnut). We read the Bible through the lens of open mind where people and their needs come first, not our own need to be right.

It is “narrow mind” that causes us to distort Scripture into a set of rules. This was Jesus’ point in the gospels when he spoke against the pinching mindset of the religious leaders that resulted in injustice to the poor. And “open mind” is how we will continue to see clearly, if our laws and our society start to crumble over the next four years.

4. Play and Create. We’ll need to keep our joy and wonder, too, which is also Wisdom’s way. Her work is play, resulting in the beauty and diversity in nature. “When the foundation of the earth was laid out, I was the skilled artisan standing next to the Almighty.” (Prov. 8:30). Job, another wisdom book, goes on for three chapters (Job 39-41) about the wonders in each wild animal, from crocodile to hippopotamus. The wild is Wisdom’s work, who has birthed all of nature (Job 38:8).

Humans can’t create a hummingbird on the first go, however. We have to allow ourselves to make mistakes in the messy work of growing up into the self that has found its most joyful task in life. Child development educator, Joseph Chilton Pearce, said, “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” Ridding ourselves of fear means we will leave our narrow mindset of perfectionism and move into the spacious place where love and creativity go hand in hand.

Happy Plowing in 2017. I leave you with this quote from Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach 6:18-19:

“Come to her as a farmer comes to the soil: Plow and sow and wait for Her to arise. Do not try too hard, for there is a naturalness to Her coming and you will eat of Her fruit at the right time.”

Enjoy.

 

 

The Christmas Story Vs. Evil, Part 2

After Goodness Saves Jesus

The other night I walked into my mom’s apartment in the back of our house and the news was on. I never watch the news. We don’t even have cable. For good reason. What I saw was flashing lights from ambulances, in Berlin, Germany, due to a Christmas market attack.

Reading Matthew 2:16-18 is like walking into a news story you never wanted to see. In fact, it’s so horrific that usually I gloss over it as I read. Last year, for the first time, I lingered on what happened after goodness saves Jesus from Herod.

“Then when Herod saw he had been tricked by the magi, he was very angry, and gave orders to kill all the male children in Bethlehem and all the surrounding countryside who were two years old and younger, according to the exact time which he had learned from the magi. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:

A voice was heard in Ramah,

lamentation, weeping and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children;

she wouldn’t be comforted,

because they are no more.”

It’s probably one of the most painful, evil acts in history, still remembered yearly by the Catholic and Orthodox churches at the end of December. Herod acted in a wild rampage of destructive power. There was no reason to murder the younger babies, too, since killing two-year-old Jesus was Herod’s aim. He knew the exact time of Jesus’ birth (Matt. 2:7).

Herod also believed the prophecy was true about the coming of the Messiah (Matt. 2:4). He was a man of faith who had turned his back on it and embraced his own reign, instead. He sought to kill the awaited Jewish Messiah of God.

So, he sent his reluctant soldiers to take these crying children from their stunned, sobbing mom’s and dad’s arms, as their sisters and brothers watched.

Getting Close to the Story

I can’t feel this story without my temples throbbing. I can’t go face-to-face with the emotions of these parents, these mamas, these sisters and brothers, and yes, the men ordered to commit the deed. This was not a one-time event for them. They lived with it for the rest of their lives, and it remained a backdrop to Jesus’ growing up years, something he likely heard about again and again.

Mother God was looking out for Jesus, but what about these families?

And underneath is the question we live with still: why people suffer from others’ evil actions. Our impulse is to blame Mother God (and in such circumstances the metaphor of Mother works only too well).

Or we want to explain the suffering away, soothe it away with reasonable words like Job’s friends. Yet, there are no words to bring comfort, like the prophecy foretold.

Even so, I found three things that I imagine Jesus learned from hearing the story of his father’s dreams, and from the stories of the massacre of the Bethlehem children. We can learn these things, too.

1. To Listen

We don’t know if Mother God or the angel of the Lady warned all the parents in some way. I do know how hard it is to give the Mother any authority to speak.

Joseph and Mary had mastered that one. Three times in Matthew 2, Mother God sends a dream or an angel in a dream to give a warning to Joseph (2:13, 2:19, 2:22). Every time, the he listens, and avoids tragedy. Jesus likely learned from the stories his parents told, to take time away to listen to God for encouragement, direction and warnings (e.g. Mark 1:35).

Likewise, I believe that we as Jesus’ followers can learn to listen to Mother God’s voice through dreams, visions, prophecies, and our own inner knowings. We can learn to defeat evil by strategic listening, like the wise men and Joseph did.

2. To Value Children

Did these empty families of Bethlehem teach Jesus to value each child, to welcome each baby like she was the last on earth (Mark 10:13-16)? Maybe their stories inspired Him to reflect more deeply on the core of repentance which is about “turning the hearts of the parents to their children.” (Malachi 4:6; Luke 1:17).

And I wonder if He thought of Herod when He said, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matt. 18:6).

We can see Jesus’ heart toward children better through the lens of what he personally suffered through hearing the stories from the families of the murdered babies. And we are called to follow Jesus in his welcoming heart and deep respect for children.

3. To Confront And Forgive Evildoers

And maybe Jesus thought of Himself, and the evil He would someday face. It too would fulfill a prophecy. He would have to prepare to forgive those who hated him, as the parents and siblings of Bethlehem may have struggled to forgive Herod and his men, all their lives. Jesus never backed down on the need to forgive and love our enemies (e.g. Matt. 5:43-48).

But He also told the truth. He took every opportunity to expose evil, whether from well-meaning Peter or from duplicitous Judas, but especially from the scholars and religious leaders.

The final word was “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34) But before that, he tried hard to show them what they were doing. Some listened, most didn’t.

We, too, need to learn to speak truth to power that perpetuates evil, and when our enemies hurt us, to (eventually) forgive them. We will need this lesson more than ever, perhaps, in the next four years, if Trump remains president.

Final Word

There is no way around the pain of evil but through it, with “lamentation, weeping, and great mourning” when we or someone else has lost someone or something to its destruction. But we must also remember the truth of Leanne Payne’s practical words in her book, Listening Prayer, that evil “has an illusory nature. It attempts to win through bluff–through puffing itself up to horrendous size.” As with physical pain, evil magnifies itself through fear. One of the first ways to defeat evil is to repeatedly shift our focus away from it and from fear, to Jesus.

Jesus’ birth is the beginning of the story that permanently defeats evil. We have a long way to go, but every year, we learn again that no news story, no matter how painful, can stop the hope of resurrection and the new reign of God.

“The baby will play next to the den of the cobra, and the toddler will dance over the viper’s nest. There will be no harm, no destruction anywhere in my holy mountain; for as water fills the sea, so the land will be filled with knowledge of YHWH.” Isaiah 11:8,9 The Inclusive Bible

Come, Lord Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Christmas Story Vs. Evil, Part 1

Tiny and Helpless

Matthew 2 reminds me that the beatific Christmas story did not stay that way. It erupted quickly into a murder plot. King Herod hoped to use the worshipful wise men to kill the baby Jesus, so He could never grow up to replace Herod.

Jesus was called Immanuel, God with us. Yet having God-with-us meant fear and worry for Mary and Joseph as they rushed away to Egypt with a tiny baby.

Egypt? It was like a horrible do-over. When would they be able to leave Egypt, the place of slavery for their ancestors? Who would be their Moses?

I wonder if they asked themselves, Did God come down and leave His power behind? I’m sure they felt as tiny and helpless as the baby Jesus Himself.

Herod’s fearful immoral grasping is what I sometimes think of as power, too. It’s what my 11-year-old son sees as power, two years after a bully took apart his childhood, word by word, image by image.

It is likely how Trump sees it, and perhaps how the warring factions and the struggling refugees in Syria think of it, too.

It may be how those who cannot think of God as Mother view power. Could Mother God ever be the Almighty Mother? For many, God must ultimately be Someone who destroys His enemies.

Goodness Saves Jesus

Maybe Mary had questions like I do, when she sequestered herself with Joseph in Egypt with a beloved baby to protect from the malicious King Herod. Alone. No family, no friends. Maybe she wondered, Just who is the most powerful here–God who could create a quiet divine conception, or a King who could uproot a family and destroy a growing child?

And I have asked, who has the most power, a cruel special education teacher and disturbed student, or a mother and father working and waiting for their child’s healingProbably the hardest part of parenting or mothering is a feeling of powerlessness in the face of our children’s pain or danger. Goodness never seems enough. And, yet it is.

The goodness of El Shaddai is enough. 

And the goodness of the wise men was enough, who had trained themselves to listen to their own dreams. And Joseph’s goodness was enough, to respond to the angel’s message once again, when he may have had his doubts about listening the first time.

The story gets worse, but for now, goodness saves Jesus.

The Good People Disobey

The Swallow’s Nest reading for today parallels the story about the wise men foiling King Herod’s murder plot. The men simply don’t go back to Herod. They don’t obey.

And in Exodus 1:13-23, Pharoah tells the midwives to kill all the Hebrew baby boys born in their care. They refuse. And when confronted, they lie, saying the Hebrew women give birth too quickly to discreetly kill the infants.

The strength of the midwives is in their moral refusal to listen to authority, even at the risk of their own lives. The Scripture names these blessed women: Shiprah, and Puah, and says God gave them families due to their powerful acts of goodness.

Sometimes I still think goodness pales in the face of evil. But when goodness chooses to stay good, no matter who is telling it to bow, and no matter the personal cost, Jesus wins. 

“God is a stronghold for the oppressed, their protection in troubled times. All those who know Her goodness trust in Her, for She has never forsaken anyone who put confidence in Her.” Ps.  116, p. 6, Swallow’s Nest

Part 2 next week. Jesus and other babies being saved by good people is not the end of the story.

The Price of Being Mary

Holy Chutzpah

Mary is big lately. This week, I read a blog post about Mary by a woman trying to discover a Mary to identify with. She writes, “it’s exactly the kind of feminine archetype I don’t really relate to — the kind of person about whom people say, ‘oh, she’s really nice’ as if yielding compliance and non-offensiveness are her primary attributes. The kind of woman who fades into the background, whose worth lies only in her utility to the patriarchal narrative.”

Throughout this year, I have often noticed Mary at the beginning and end of the gospel of Luke and pondered in the light of my focus in The Mother God Experiment. One of the things I’ve seen is a very strong person who bucks her culture to be what Mother God calls her to be. That resistance has a hidden cost that the Bible doesn’t record directly. On this side of history, she appears singularly submissive, but to the people around her it was likely a very different matter.

For example, In Luke 1, after Mary receives the angel’s message to her, Mary takes off to see her cousin, Elizabeth, who is likely a lot older than she is. Apparently, she goes alone.

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

Alone? What woman traveled so far alone at that time, pregnant, and young? But Luke does not record a companion for Mary.

Whether or not entirely alone, Mary sets out without parents or siblings to live with Elizabeth and Zechariah for three months, just based on what the angel Gabriel said to her. That’s more than submitting to God’s will. It’s running to it. That’s called chutzpah in some circles.

Bad Rap on the Way

Mary has just conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit when she travels to see Elizabeth, so the new, divine life within her is still secreted away. But when she returns from the hill country, she will soon begin to appear pregnant, as though she had gone away from her parents, gotten into trouble, and returned.

One can only imagine the uproar her pregnancy caused within her family and town. The idea we have about Mary being kind of milquetoast needs testing with this thought. Mary would have been regarded as a bad girl. Her parents would have been heart-broken over her. Yes, Joseph believed her, thanks to an angel in a dream, but who else would have?

“Do the math,” townspeople would have said to one another over the fence. “Isn’t that Joseph amazing, that he would marry her anyway?” Or maybe they never could figure out what happened, but talked endlessly about it.

When Mary gave birth to Jesus, no family or friends were near to hear the story of the shepherds, or see the angels ascending and descending, or to meet the wise men who saw the star and came with beautiful gifts for the baby-king. And the knowing, blessing Simeon and the prayerful prophetess Anna lived far from Mary’s home.

Mary, Interrupted

When Mary and Joseph returned, they were going incognito, as ordinary new parents. Yet, still, they stood out. Mary was seen as having soiled her purity, while people may have whispered about Joseph as a kind of hero. Or, maybe folks assumed they had both sinned.

Perhaps all that could be forgotten over time. But how much time? I wonder if Mary could forget the rejection she had faced from the other girls and their families, the whispering, the stares. Did the devout introvert keep to herself ever after?

When Jesus dies, Mary is mysteriously absent from the group of women who vigil at the tomb (Luke 24:10). Though she stays with Jesus until he dies, she disappears from the Biblical record until Pentecost (Acts 1:14). When she emerges, however, this time it is “along with the women.” Once Jesus’ followers really understood who He was, her own reputation and dignity began to bloom again within her new community, and she could look other women in the face fully.

Look for the Back Story

Perhaps the sword piercing Mary’s soul, that Simeon prophesied about in Luke 2:35, was not only Jesus’ death, but her own isolation due to gossip. Like so many other history makers, it was only after her death that Mary was venerated. And so, she is not really the painted white face that history has turned her into. She is not “the Episcopalian country club Mary….Very serviceable, polite, nice….kind and inviting without edges.”

Maybe we can think about Mary this Christmas season when we see others going it alone, or who don’t fit in, or who seem to have made a terrible mistake. There’s always a back story, and sometimes only the angels, shepherds, wise men and prophetesses know what it is.

 

 

Fabulous Photina (The Samaritan Woman)

Have you ever wondered about the back story of some of the Bible’s women and men? Like what happened before, or after, a certain conversation with Jesus? Sometimes there’s a story right in front of us, hidden in the text. Or just beyond us, in the history kept through the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

A New Angle on the Samaritan Woman

I’ve read the passage about the Samaritan Woman of John 4 many times, and even written a fictional version of it. But only through the focusing practice of The Mother God Experiment have I been able to see her apart from all I learned about her in church. And then that new light led me to find out the Samaritan woman’s baptismal name, Photina, which the Orthodox and Catholic churches have kept sacred.

We all tend to think of the Samaritan woman as having lived a sinful life, since she had five husbands and was not married to her current man (John 4:18). Martha Pearl is the author of three works of fiction based on the historical Photina. She reminds us that after the church merged with the Roman Empire in the third century, the church began to see women as inferior to men, including Bible women of the first century. So this is the negative lens we tend to use when we read Scripture.

However, during my last reading of John 4, I realized that the Samaritan woman was not what she has always seemed. For example, she had no control over the number of husbands she had. Women did not have the legal right to initiate divorce–almost never, anyway. Each of her husbands either died or divorced her. And if the latter, her children were likely taken away to live with the father. That was the law.

The Decisions of a Leader

It’s not too hard to imagine why she finally decided to make her last relationship outside the bounds of marriage, though it likely cost her socially. My guess is she decided any new babies, and any property she had, would not be taken from her should this man leave her. She would not marry again.

Despite her choice, she was a leader in her community. For example, when she told the people in her town about Jesus, they believed her story (John 4:42) and came out to Jacob’s well to see Him. Without having even heard him speak, “many…believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” and they “asked him to stay with them” (John 4:39a, 40b). It was only after he had stayed two days speaking with them that they also believed because of Jesus’ message (John 4:41).

Based on the Bible text and history, she was a smart, knowledgeable, initiating woman. These qualities may have irritated the men she married. Perhaps her husbands left her for more docile, submissive women, characteristics more highly sought after in a Middle Eastern wife.

Finally, A Man to Believe In

Note that she did not ruffle Jesus. On the contrary, He showed His trust in her by revealing His true identity to her (John 4:25, 26) and His mission, which was to make true disciples who could worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24) and not only through religion.

When she met Jesus, she knew she had met the Real Thing, the one to give her life to. Martha E. Pearl writes about scholar Carlum Carmichael’s fascinating reading of John 4:18. Carmichael believes that Jesus was speaking of himself as the Samaritan woman’s final man when he said “you have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband!”

Carmichael’s argument goes that Jesus was differentiating between the woman’s previous relationships and theirs, reinforcing that this relationship was not sexual. If this reading is correct, Jesus wasn’t exposing the woman’s immoral relationship. He was merely revealing that He knew her history and that the relationship He was beginning with the woman was different from the ones with her abandoning husbands. Very different.

The Rest of the Story

And she got it. Right away. The enthusiasm and leadership she showed in witnessing to her city carried over into her life following Christ.

The rest of her life? How do we know anything about that? Well, believers like me typically don’t, but our sisters and brothers in the Orthodox and Catholic tradition do.

The Eastern Orthodox tradition is the oldest one within Christianity. The Holy Martyr Photina is one of the most common early icons, or sacred pictures of saints, among the first churches. Martha Pearl whittled down the history about Photina that is most likely valid and not hagiography. She writes, “…certain central facts remain that seem credible historically.  These are:  she had five sisters; she had two sons who went on missionary journeys with her; she was present at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was received; she was sent by the Apostolic Council as a missionary to Carthage and North Africa; she spent the years 62 to 64 AD in Rome, spoke before Nero, and died during or shortly after the Neronian persecution in 64 AD.”

I have always been afraid I was squeezing the text to use the word missionary for the Samaritan woman. I was gladly mistaken. Jesus sent her to her town, and then the Apostolic Council sent her to not only Carthage but all of North Africa.

Photina was a respected leader in her community. Her husbands may not have appreciated that. But Jesus did. She went on to share her experiences with the Messiah until her martyrdom. The Holy Martyr Photina would be called “Equal to the Apostles”.

More To Come

Intrigued by Photina, I did a search for first century female saints (in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions) and found there were many, some mentioned only briefly in the Bible. I hope to find out more in the weeks to come and share what I find!