Last week, a friend on FB sent me a picture of a swan and her cygnets (babies), with Psalm 91:4 attached:
He will cover you with His pinions,
And under His wings you may seek refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. (NASB)
My friend added, “All the translations use a male pronoun, but this is clearly a female.”
Clearly a Female
Virginia Ramey Mollenkott agrees in The Divine Feminine: Biblical Imagery of God as Female. She says there are two mother-bird types of images in the Bible. One is the covering protection of the hen’s wings (Ruth 2:12; Ps. 17:8, 9; Psalm 57:1; Psalm 61:4; Psalm 91:4; Matt. 23:27/Luke 13:34). The other is the empowering, adult-making wings of the mother eagle (Ex. 19:4; Deut. 32:11-12; Is 40:31).
Ramey Mollenkott points out that the King James Version and a few other translations use feminine pronouns, but, like my friend noted, all the others use masculine or neuter pronouns.
Here is Deut. 32:11-12 in the KJV: “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead Jacob….”
The birds in all the verses show the protecting, teaching behavior of the hens or mother eagles. They are not likely male birds. So, the Old Testament writers identify God with a mother hen or eagle. It’s a whole new category of feminine imagery for God. (And so I’ve augmented my page, Feminine Images of God in the Bible).
This matters. It mattered, to Jesus, too, when he used hen imagery for Himself (Matt. 23:27/Luke 13:34).
I especially appreciate understanding better the kinds of God-mothering that the two birds represent. We may have pictured God protecting us under-wing as a hen or other bird, but perhaps we haven’t thought about the way an eagle mothers her young.
It’s been said that an eagle mother actually drops her fledglings so they can learn to fly. If they flounder, she catches them on her wings. Those are the images we see in the Bible. But as this blogger writes, if you watch eaglets and their parents, you’ll see that eaglets who are big enough to fly are way too big to be dropped or caught.
In fact, the mother eagle nurtures her babies according to their needs. Some take a few weeks to fledge, others a few months. She simply stays with them as they practice hopping, flapping and landing. And she keeps feeding them even after they know how to hunt, as long as they are still in the nest.
Like Mother God, the mother eagle patiently teaches and waits. And the end goals are the same: competence and maturity.
The Eagle Empowers
Virginia Ramey Mollenkott notes that in this role, God (the eagle) is female and humanity (eaglets) is male, if given a sex (e.g. Is. 40:31-32 NIV). This reverses what women often hear, that women represent a feminine humanity that should submit to a masculine God, and so therefore, women should submit to their husbands.
And, says Ramey Mollenkott “…the mother eagle images depict a God who is actively trying to create equals by empowering the eaglets to take care of themselves. Hence these images do not encourage dominance and submission even in our relationship with our Creator, let alone our relationships with other human beings!”
Time to Travel
In August 2015, when The Mother God Experiment was still embryonic, we went to Siletz Bay, Oregon on vacation. We rented a house that only required a walk through the back yard to get to the bay. I wrote in my journal:
I was coming back (from a walk) and looked up to see a bald eagle landing on a branch above me. I heard my husband cry, ‘That’s a bald eagle!’ We gathered under the tree as it adjusted its wings in the wind and watched us and the land around us.
I took the eagle’s landing as a sign. Of what, I don’t know yet. Later, back at the house, thinking about the eagle I saw a sign that said “Endeavor” with a sailboat underneath. It seemed significant. I thought about my metaphor of discovering Mother God as safe harbor, a place to launch from, to go out and explore and take risks.
So, I know it’s time to move The Mother God Experiment to a new level. It has existed in my mind and on these notebook pages…but it’s time to move further into the ocean of people needing to know Mother is a fine metaphor for God, that it can lead to new heights of trust in God.
I hear the eagle’s high-pitched call now as I write.
It’s time to travel.
The Eagle Speaks
When I got home, I did a search for what eagles symbolize. I mostly read that eagles represent the stereotypical ideas we have when we see them: power, strength, domination, masculinity.
Perplexed, I didn’t think much more about our eagle-sighting or how important it seemed at the time. Until my friend wrote her FB post about the swan/cygnet picture and verse, and I began to think about this post. When Biblical writers used the eagle as a stand-in for God, or Her children, it was a symbol of nurturing empowerment.
Mother-Eagle-God was, indeed, telling me to fly.