One of my favorite things to do when I teach and develop curriculum is to open avenues of thought that make people consider their faith in a new light. It makes my heart sing when someone who’s grown up in the church experiences a new dimension of theology and says, “wow, I never thought about it that way before!” It’s why, in my study on the Apostles’s Creed I weave in examples from church history, contemporary culture, and personal experience that make us really think through what the Creed is asking of us.
One of the things I love having people consider is in the first line:
“I believe in God the Father, the almighty"
Why is God called Father? What other images of care do we see in the scriptures? How is it helpful or harmful to refer to God as a father?
I don’t expect people to suddenly refer to God as mother or toss out all masculine imagery; I want them to stop and think about what they believe and why, and to consider other options from other perspectives. This is my rule of thumb when I’m teaching or writing anything!
This past Mother’s Day, prompted by this great post on The Junia Project, I spent some time reflecting on maternal images for God. One thing I don’t always love about examples given for God’s mothering characteristics is they tend to be called “mothering” because they’re aspects that we understand as traditionally feminine. (Though not always - in Hosea 13:8 God is a mother bear, attacking those who stole her cubs.)
I often don’t resonate with expectations or examples of the “traditionally feminine” so while I like drawing attention to the femininity of God, I sometimes don’t love the ways used to get there. As I contemplated this cognitive dissonance I came to understand that these are traits of a well-rounded care-taker. I may not be naturally nurturing, for example, but this is a trait God exudes over me and is calling me to develop in emulation. I don’t need to divide attributes along the lines of gender to determine that God does, in fact, have aspects of femininity and masculinity.
Maternal images for God are helpful for - my favorite! - getting people to see things from a different angle. But they’re not the foundational reason for my belief in the divine feminine. I continually go back to the creation story, where we’re told that all people are made in the image of God. That means God encompasses more than just masculinity.
I know this is uncomfortable territory for a lot of people. I have mastered the use of gender neutral language for God, but it’s still difficult for me to break old habits and refer to God using feminine language. I still remember when my spiritual director in seminary had me pray for the first time to “mother God.” It was hard! It was outside my comfort zone for sure!
Some feminists may argue with me on this, but I don’t think we need to change the language of the Lord’s Prayer, or the Apostles’ Creed. I do think that we need to become aware of our inclinations and preferences toward a masculine expression of God, and honor the feminine right alongside. I’ve never even sung the above-pictured hymn, but I was overjoyed when I found it in our church’s hymnal. And every week in the bulletin there’s an asterisk that says the use of “God” may be substituted for the use of “he” in the communal aspects of worship and liturgy.
These are just a couple thoughts on how we can make ourselves aware, corporately, that femininity is equally honored and represented in the God we worship.
And maybe today you’ll even lift up a prayer to “Mother God” ~