I’ve been a Christian feminist since college, but it was only about ten years ago that I started seriously thinking about my image of God. I had a spiritual director who noticed that I wasn’t so good at trusting God. My God image was missing something. Could it be I needed to explore the metaphor of “mother” for God? Would this give me something I couldn’t tap from the “father” metaphor?
I resisted in my prayers, thinking I was remaining true to the example of Jesus and the church. But learning a few things could have helped me in my journey.
Several years ago, I discovered a book called Is It Okay to Call God Mother? Considering the Feminine Face of God, by a Baptist minister, Paul Smith. Seeing from the perspective of women, he noticed and grew tired of all the hymns and Scriptures addressing only men and referring to a seemingly male God. He concluded that Sundays are the most sexist day of the week. And he began to research and write his amazing book.
Smith gave me good arguments for using the metaphor of mother for God in the 21st century. For example, Smith pointed out that in first century Palestine, mothers were legally the property of their husbands, always second in place. Jesus prayed to Father in part because fathers were first in the hierarchy in Jewish society. It would have been culturally out-of-place to do anything else. Jesus’ point, though, was to startle: he used the term Abba to change the game about prayer. It’s not about religion, it’s about relationship. Mother fits perfectly with that aim, in today’s world.
Another thing I didn’t know was that the Biblical writers and early church leave no record of actually praying to Father (though they did refer to God the Father). They preferred Lord, and God, to directly address divinity in prayer.
Though I was growing in openness, I still didn’t privately pray to Mother God for some time. But I did push myself in public worship. Or, was pushed. My husband regularly taught a feminist philosophy class. A student, Abigail Rine, wrote a “Mother” version of the Lord’s Prayer (Abby is now a professor at George Fox University). Joel led a little Episcopal home church at that time and we not only used Abby’s prayer in worship, but also alternated the Father/Mother metaphors in liturgy.
In making myself at least use this new, awkward word for God in public worship, I carved a door that would allow Mother God to bring me to this blog.
When my toddler pulled Smith’s book off the shelf a few months ago and handed it to me, God unfolded this experiment in my mind, a way to finally begin to embrace God as Mother in my personal prayer life. I would put down my masculine Bible for a few months and read devotional literature that used feminine pronouns and metaphors for God. And I would journal about my own experiences as a mother and a woman. I would see what would happen to the God image in my mind: could I really embrace God as Mother, and not only Man Upstairs? And what difference would it make? Would I become less Christian?
Honestly, that last question is in there for some of you. Paul Smith had already convinced me there was nothing to worry about. Feminine names and metaphors abound for God in the Bible, especially the Old Testament (e.g. Deut. 32:18; Jer. 31:20; Is. 42:13,14; Is. 46:3, 4; Is. 66:12-14; Job 38:8, 9, 28-29). Mother is a much more common metaphor than some other culturally favored ones. For example, Lily of the Valley was used only once in the Song of Solomon, and is now happily applied to Jesus (Song of Solomon 2:1). Yet Jesus compared himself to a mother hen, longing to gather her chicks under-wing (Luke 13:34).
But Jesus is no chicken. The nature of metaphors is that they are limited. No one metaphor can say it all; we need many.
So, there was no risk here of offending God–just more to learn about myself as a mother and daughter, about Mother God, and about my faith.
Are you ready? Read on.