A Mother’s Love Rev Dr Durrell Watkins In the Acts reading today, we notice (as we did last week) that people can be unfairly judged because of their bodies. “How could uncircumcised people know God?” The reason for the ancient practice of ritual circumcision isn’t something I care to explore today, but I am left […]
A Mother’s Love
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
In the Acts reading today, we notice (as we did last week) that people can be unfairly judged because of their bodies. “How could uncircumcised people know God?”
The reason for the ancient practice of ritual circumcision isn’t something I care to explore today, but I am left to consider how unfairly we judge, dismiss, overlook, exploit, or harass people because of their bodies:
bodies with AIDS,
bodies with pain,
bodies with cancer,
bodies that are under nourished,
bodies that are overweight,
bodies that long for physical touch from other bodies of the same-gender,
bodies that don’t match one’s personal gender experience…how much exclusion and injustice continue because of our fear and judgment of bodies? The question is actually a fitting one for Mother’s Day.
The first Mothers Day in the US was in 1908 in West Virginia when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother. Anna’s mother had been a peace activist who cared for both Union and Confederate wounded soldiers in the Civil War. She knew war was a clash of human bodies, and human bodies were hurt and often killed as a result. Anna Jarvis’ mother did what politicians too rarely do…she saw soldiers as people, and she committed herself to easing the suffering of those people, whoever they were.
Anna was proud of her mother’s peaceful, healing efforts and so, she honored her mother with a special memorial and campaigned to have a national holiday to honor mothers, which in fact happened in 1914…the year that World War I began.
Mothers Day then is rooted in a mother offering a mother’s love to many mothers’ children simply because they were in pain. Unconditional, unearned, compassion offered to as many people as possible was one woman’s mission. We forget that in the commercialized holiday we have inherited, but it began as a celebration of selfless, extravagant, unconditional love.
We all need a mother’s love in our lives. Sometimes, that love comes from a mother (birth mother, foster mother, step mother, adoptive mother). Sometimes the love comes from another mothering figure…a grandmother, a sister, a mentor, a friend. Sometimes a nurturing man in our lives might prove to the mommy we needed.
The Apostle Paul, of ALL people, told his Galatian friends, “…there is neither male nor female, for we are all one in Christ.” And those words are a gift to transgender people, to gender nonconforming people, and to same-gender loving people who have been told that love is limited by body parts. Christ is the light of God, the divine anointing, the pattern of perfection within each of us. We see that Christ principle or Christ nature in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, but that divine image shining through Jesus is in each of us, and in that divine principle distinctions such as male and female do not exist, or so thought St. Paul in a rare moment of non-chauvinistic enlightenment.
Historically, MCC has tapped into this truth in powerful ways. Since 1981 MCCs have used inclusive language, a simple reminder that “God” is not a boy’s name. God is the ground of all being, male being and female being and transgender being and gender non-forming being; God is the All-in-all, and so we see even in Genesis this truth being communicated, “God created humans in the divine image, male and female” (Genesis 1.27).
So the traits that we call masculine, women can have them too. The traits that we call feminine, men can have them too. And the healthiest, most balanced among us are not threatened when gender roles are blended, when gender expectations are transgressed, because in Christ, the divine Nature, there is neither male nor female; men and women are created in the divine image. As a hymn written by an MCC pastor in 1974 states so clearly, “Our God is not a woman, our God is not a man; our God is both and neither, the One who is I Am. From all the roles that bind us our God has set us free. What freedom does God give us, the freedom just to be.”
The ancients intuited this reality. Many of them had gods and goddesses, a balanced representation of divine power; Zeus and Hera, Isis and Osiris, Baal and Anat, and in many cultures the Sky god and the Earth Mother by various names. When I visited Bolivia in 2005, I was introduced to the indigenous goddess figure, Pachamama, the earth mother, still revered in the Andes.
But even in biblical monotheism a balance of male and female in divine imaginings can be found, in spite of centuries of misogynistic scripture interpretation.
Throughout the bible God is called many names, such as Lord (Adonai), and Father, but also El Shaddai (the many breasted god – often translated as God almighty, but the might comes from mammaries!),
God is also Elohim, which is plural and feminine.
The Spirit in Hebrew is feminine. Divine Wisdom, Sophia, is feminine. The glory of God, Shekinah, is feminine.
Deuteronomy 32.11 compares God to a mother eagle caring for her young.
Isaiah 66.13 has God saying, “Like a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.”
And Job 38 says that the sea is basically the result of God’s water breaking, that Ice was originally produced in God’s womb, and the frost on the ground is birthed by God.
Angels, divine messengers, are often depicted as male, but Zechariah 5.9 describes female angels, “I looked up and there before me were two women, with the wind in their wings!”
And when God is both male and female, or neither but equally present in both, then gender bending isn’t that bothersome. And let’s be clear, homophobia is the child of sexism. Heteronormativity fights so hard against lesbian and gay equality because it threatens systems that privilege male dominance. But instead of using religion to reinforce oppressive attitudes, we can use religion to promote justice and equality.
And so we see in the book of Judith, known to Catholics but largely unknown to Protestants, the widow Judith taking the role of a male warrior, and in the gospels of Matthew (23.37) and Luke (13.34) we see Jesus thinking of himself quite maternally, saying,
“O Jerusalem, how often I have wanted to gather your children together as a Mother Hen gathers her chicks.”
If you had a biological mother who was nurturing and kind and wise and generous, then you are blessed indeed and your memories will bless you forever. But if you didn’t get that mother, there are other ways to receive that mother’s love; in fact, you can even let God be the source of that love for you.
When I first found MCC, the feminist theology and inclusive language was absolutely life-giving. It forced me to acknowledge my unearned male privilege and it helped me embrace and celebrate the divine feminine that is also part of me. And letting God be more than male helped me become a better man, and also something more than just a man.
There is a singer/songwriter in MCC named Marsha Stevens, and she wrote a song that I heard early in my MCC days, but I haven’t heard it in a long time. I think she called it “Mommy’s Song” and presented it as if it were a child’s bedtime prayer. It began by saying,
“God I’ve known you as a father for all these many years…but now I’m asking something new; will you be my mommy, too?”
Please hold me to your bosom, until I find the tears,
Held fast in your embrace, release the rage of hidden years.
Will you rock me calmly in the night and guide me in the day,
Sing to me lullabies of love and with me gently play?
I come to you a little child
Longing for a mommy’s smile.
Mother of my universe, God of all I see
Keeper of the unseen, too, and all that’s yet to be,
Grant new birth and nurturing, a lap of comfort be,
Give certainty that in your arms, no evil reaches me;
And held securely to your breast,
Give me love and peace and rest.”
The reading in Acts tells us the Spirit was poured out on all the people. Even those who had been judged or rejected by religious tradition were not excluded or condemned by the presence/power of God. Divine Love, the story powerfully suggests, embraces us all, unconditionally. Like a wonderful mother, God loved all her children unconditionally; and She still does.
Allowing God to be our mother may sound new to some of us; but in the Acts passage, the disciples heard the gentiles speaking differently and praising God. Just because a vocabulary is new to us doesn’t mean it can’t be powerful. We aren’t trying to replace the idolatrous male image of God with another graven image of God as only Mother…whatever we imagine God to be, in Truth, God must be more. That’s the point. Mothers Day is a day to let God be more to us than ever before. And once we allow God to be more, we who are made in God’s image can also be more and better than we’ve ever been before. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2015
Divine Love holds me…
And will never let me go.