As we’ve been approaching Mother’s Day, I’ve been pondering.
First of all, of course, I’m pondering and giving thanks for the gift of my own precious mother, her sacrifice to carry and birth and feed me, her prayers, her hugs and listening ears through all these years. As I watch her lovingly mother many who are not her blood children, I’m grateful to be one of the three who are most deeply hers, carried within her, born through her, always her children.
I’m also pondering again the way my mother, and other mothers around the world, image God in their sacred work of participating in the creation and carrying and tending of new life.
God’s mothering is not something I thought much about until the last decade or so. In Scripture, God is so prominently Father that it’s easy for God’s mothering to get lost. But God’s mothering is there, written into Scripture right from the beginning when God declares that both men and women are made in the image of God, each reflecting some beautiful part of who God is.
God’s Mothering in Scripture
God, of course, is genderless, and though God in Scripture is not addressed as Mother, God frequently describes himself using images of mothering, often side by side with the male name or pronoun or images of fathering. Deuteronomy 32, for example, asks, “Is he not your Father . . . ?” and later pictures God as a (presumably female) eagle stirring up its nest and hovering over its young. Verse 18 brings the images of Father and Mother together by using one verb which can refer either to giving birth or begetting, and a second which speaks specifically of labor pains: “You deserted the Rock who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”
“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God,” God begins when he proclaims his name to Moses (Ex. 34:6). Compassionate: that first word God uses to describe himself is the Hebrew rachum, sister to racham, or womb. At the heart of God’s character is a love so gentle, so patient and attentive, that God pictures it for us as womb-love, the love of a mother for her newborn child. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?” God asks. “Though she may forget, I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)
Also in Isaiah, God compares himself to a laboring mother (42:14). John teaches us that our birth into being children of God happens through the Spirit’s birth-giving (John 1:12-13; 3:5-8). And in Acts, Luke reminds us that, as a babe lives in her mother’s womb, so we live our whole life in God, “in [whom] we live and move and have our being. . . . We are his offspring.” (17:28).
Our Need to Be Mothered
We need God’s mothering. I need it. On days when I find myself tired and unwell, or sad, it’s a mother’s arms I long for, and her love. The picture of God’s commitment and gentle compassion—God’s womb-love—helps me be gentle with myself. I need to keep living in this picture, to remind myself again that, as God’s beloved child, I was loved before I did anything, loved even before I had any awareness of myself or God. And I am still loved. I need this picture with its reminder that dependence is a normal and healthy part of life, and God is even more all-sufficient in providing for my needs than a mother who responds day and night to the cries of her newborn.
I’ve been pondering the many other ways that mothers reflect God’s image as I’ve been sitting with Allison Woodward’s profound poem, “God our Mother.” Reflect with me, will you, and sit in awe at the profound way God not only fathers us but also mothers us?
God Our Mother
To be a Mother is to suffer;
To travail in the dark,
stretched and torn,
exposed in half-naked humiliation,
subjected to indignities
for the sake of new life.
To be a Mother is to say,
“This is my body, broken for you,”
And, in the next instant, in response to the created’s primal hunger,
“This is my body, take and eat.”
To be a Mother is to self-empty,
To neither slumber nor sleep,
so attuned You are to cries in the night—
Offering the comfort of Yourself,
and assurances of “I’m here.”
To be a Mother is to weep
over the fighting and exclusions and wounds
your children inflict on one another;
To long for reconciliation and brotherly love
and—when all is said and done—
To gather all parties, the offender and the offended,
into the folds of your embrace
and to whisper in their ears
that they are Beloved.
To be a mother is to be vulnerable—
To be misunderstood,
For the heartaches of the bewildered children
who don’t know where else to cast
the angst they feel
over their own existence
in this perplexing universe
To be a mother is to hoist onto your hips those on whom your image is imprinted,
bearing the burden of their weight,
rejoicing in their returned affection,
delighting in their wonder,
bleeding in the presence of their pain.
To be a mother is to be accused of sentimentality one moment,
And injustice the next.
To be the Receiver of endless demands,
Absorber of perpetual complaints,
Reckoner of bottomless needs.
To be a mother is to be an artist;
A keeper of memories past,
Weaver of stories untold,
Visionary of lives looming ahead.
To be a mother is to be the first voice listened to,
And the first disregarded;
To be a Mender of broken creations,
And Comforter of the distraught children
whose hands wrought them.
To be a mother is to be a Touchstone
and the Source,
Bestower of names,
Influencer of identities;
What touches you most deeply about God’s mother-love today? I’d love to hear!