Exploring a Mothering Metaphor for God this Christmas
When you think of God as father, what comes to mind? A loving figure? A distant one? Is he merciful? Does he have a righteous and justified wrath? Or is he something more sinister?
The connotations that each of us infer from the notion are as varied as the experiences we have all had with our own fathers, and then some. It is a troubling concept for many, who cannot come to terms with a loving, even doting, Father God who is always with us. In many cases, the image has served to drive people away from Jesus, as they see God as distant (even as Christ is present with us); the father away on business who is coming home soon with a strap to punish us for misbehaving in his absence.
Another image to explore
If you can relate to this kind of image and feel some kind of dis-ease, may I present another metaphor for God? The old image of God as Father was very helpful when it was first presented millennia ago, and has helped in the development of humanity’s understanding of our relationship with the divine. But for many, it no longer serves its originally intended function.
Perhaps we can view God in a new way, not to disparage the old imagery, but to add to it. Perhaps the Divine is a Mother, and the universe (with everything in it), her pregnant child. Just as a pregnant mother is outside of her child and yet genetically manifested within every cell of the child, so it is with God’s transcendence (beyond-ness) and immanence (within-ness). Every part of creation is held together by a divine presence, a divine nature, just as a child is held together by the genetic code that has originated from its parents. Does the unborn infant realise this? No of course not. Does it make a difference? Again no. The child is a part of its mother and is deeply loved by the mother even though it has absolutely no concept of either of these things.
Suffering with us
What happens when the child in utero falls ill, or develops some kind of defect? Does the mother love the child any less? Does she reject the heart, for example, and wish to get rid of it, because of a deformity? Or does she desire for it to be healed and made whole, and live up to the potential that it carries within its genetic code? And if the child is sick, does it not also make the mother ill? The mother also suffers along with the child whenever things are not going well.
The unborn child is intrinsically connected to the mother, sharing presence and nourishment, bonded to the mother in an effortless union. What does the child have to do to receive any of the love or sustenance it needs to grow and develop in the womb? Absolutely none. So it is with the universe, divinely implanted and growing within God’s womb. Our existence was not created outside of God, as something separate to the Divine Personage. The miracle of life is that God made space within to birth all of creation and existence, that we may be forever surrounded and encapsulated and infused with the Divine presence; the “Ground of all Being”, as Paul Tillich puts it. There is literally no where we can go to escape God’s presence, because all of creation resides within the metaphorical womb of Love.
Our Mother's love holds fast
But just as an unborn foetus has no idea of the greater realities surrounding its existence, so has the universe grasped at thin air trying to describe cosmic realities. It matters not how “correct” our beliefs or theology may be, the Mother’s love for us holds fast. It matters not which part of the world we were born in, or which expression of faith we have grown into. Are we a fingernail or a hair follicle? We are loved all the same. Do we know this? Can we see? Whatever we believe, has it birthed within us the awareness that we are loved? And more than that, intrinsically connected to the divine and all of creation?
When we use our beliefs to reject another part of humanity, to draw lines and war against others who do not see things the way we do, we manifest a sickness in the “Body of Christ” – the Divine Embryo, which weakens all of creation. Our Mother is drawn into our suffering, even as she wills for us to be made whole, longing for us to let go of the divisions that cause sickness and embrace the truth that we are all loved. All faiths point in some way to this truth, even as many try to grasp that reality as only being true for them.
Christians refer to the life of Jesus as an incarnation to point us to the reality of divinity enmeshed with creation. The words of Jesus, and of Paul point us to the truth that all of creation is bound up within God’s very essence, whether we possess the awareness of this truth or not. We are one, just as Christ is one and holds all things together. Of course, Muslim mystics, Hindu yogis and bodhisattvas all around the world agree with this truth, even as they use different language to describe it. It is to our shame and very real detriment that we continue to ignore this wisdom and draw the battle lines to box in the Mother’s love solely for our own faith communities.
This Christmas, may we deepen our understanding of what it means for Christ to be incarnated; not just for Jesus, who stands from the foundation of the world as the first fruits of all creation, but for us all – the sisters and brothers of the divine inheritance. The inheritance of a Mother’s love.
Russell Croft has a heart for community and reaching out to the marginalised and forgotten. He is getting to know the God of infinite goodness and is living a joy-filled life with his wife Belinda and three children in South-East Queensland, Australia. See all previous articles by Russell Croft