God, Our Mother
Yesterday, May 13, was the feast day of Julian of Norwich, the medieval Christian mystic. And if you were with us last Sunday, you know, we were talking about Julian of Norwich. And this term that she coined, called “Oneing,” which was used to talk about our union, our oneness with God. And I know that's a head scratcher. For many of us. It's difficult for us to wrap our minds around how can we and God be one.
Well, our church member, Reverend Marchiene Rienstra, was watching last Sunday on YouTube. And she reached out to me this week with a beautiful metaphor about Oneing that was so helpful to me. Reverend Marty said that when she was thinking about Oneing, she was thinking about the times in her life when she was pregnant, how her baby and her were one body, yet they were two beings. And she gave me this beautiful image of God as the mother with a divine umbilical cord – how God is our mother, who gave us life, one body, but two beings connected by this divine umbilical cord that spiritually nourishes us and feeds us and continues to give us life.
I love that image so much. I'm so grateful to Reverend Marty for sharing that with me. And of course, it's so appropriate for today as well, because today, of course, we are celebrating Mother's Day.
When I first came here to Douglas UCC, it wasn't as a pastor. I was a visitor. I came here almost 12 years ago. And on that Sunday, I was so amazed that when this congregation prayed the Lord's Prayer, they prayed, “Our Mother-Father…” That was the first time I ever heard that. And that is so true. God is both our father and mother. As Julian of Norwich famously said, “Just as truly as God is our father, so truly is God our mother.” Now, she said that in the 13th century, so you can see why the church wanted to silence her. And they did.
The church, of course, was led by men back then, as it is today, in many ways. And the church fathers at that time – in their culture – it would have been inconceivable for them to picture God the Almighty as a woman.
But if all of us were created in the very image and likeness of God, as scripture says, then God must be both masculine and feminine – father and mother.
Now, in our gospel reading today, for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, you see that Jesus refers to God as Father, as he did throughout the Gospels. Again, Jesus was an enlightened being, but he was also a human being, a man who was the product of his time and culture.
Now, the Gospels, we know, were written in Greek. The Greek word that the gospel writers used when Jesus was talking about God as Father was the Greek word Abba. And Abba really means daddy, or papa. What the gospel writers were trying to express was that when Jesus was talking about God, he was talking about a loving Papa. Not a stern, vengeful, judgmental, angry God, but a very loving parent, a Papa who loves us beyond our wildest imagination.
Now Jesus, of course, didn't speak Greek, or English for that matter. Jesus spoke Aramaic, and Aramaic scholars tell us that the Greek word Abba probably came from the Aramaic word which Jesus would have used, which is Abwoon.
And Abwoon means “Birther of the Cosmos.” That's how Jesus understood God, as the birther.
And I don't know about you, but when I think of birther I think of mother. Have you ever thought about God, as mother? I mean, when you close your eyes to pray, do you picture a woman?
When you're in need, and you're talking to God, who are you talking to? An old man up in the clouds? Or are you picturing a loving mother holding you in her arms?
I first started to pray to God, the mother, almost 15 years ago now. And it has so enriched my spiritual life, and deepens my relationship with God.
There are so many beautiful images you can find on the internet of God the Mother. Just go to an image search type in God, the Mother, the Divine Mother, you'll see such beautiful pieces of art depicting her, print them out, and use them in your meditation time this week, it will open you up expand your thinking, to who God is.
Now, I much prefer the image of a loving mother, cradling me in her arms than I do the image of some old white guy up in the clouds with the long gray beard, who's keeping track of all of my mistakes and shaking his finger at me.
I've shared with you before, I love the Christian book and movie which is called The Shack. And if you remember, in The Shack, God is portrayed by a black woman, whose name is Papa,
A woman named Papa. I love that. And I love that The Shack has become so popular because it has expanded people's thinking about God.
Now, of course, God is not a woman.
And God is not a man.
Because God isn't a person.
I know we human beings want to make God in our image. It's easier for us that way to picture God looking like us. But God isn't a person. Scripture tells us who God is. We're reading from the Gospel of John, in John chapter four, verse 24. It says, God is a Spirit, and those who worship God worship in spirit.
God is a Spirit. And it's that Spirit that Jesus is talking about in today's Gospel reading, he is continuing with his farewell discourse to his apostles. These are his last words to them, before his trial and arrest. He knows he's not going to be with them for much longer. And as you heard, he says to them, “I will not leave you orphaned.” Again, he uses that beautiful parent-child image, I will not leave you orphaned, for I'm going to be with you in spirit. I'm always going to be with you. He says I'm going to abide with you and within you. And he says I'm going to send an advocate. Now the word advocate has that Latin root word vocal in it. Vocal means voice.
Jesus is saying that voice of the Spirit, that voice of truth, that divine voice dwells within you.
In the United Church of Christ, our denomination, we have a tagline. It says “God is still speaking.” That's what we believe in the UCC. God is still speaking in us and to us and through us. But we have to get still and listen. That's why in scripture it says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
Father Thomas Keating, the late Christian theologian said “Silence is God's first language.” Everything else is a poor translation.
Silence is God's first language. God speaks to us in the silence. It's why the medieval Christian mystic Meister Ekhardt said the mystics of all the faith traditions speak the same language.
The mystics of all the faiths – Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism – regardless of where they lived and what language they spoke, they spoke the same language. And what Meister Eckhart means by that is they were tuned in to that divine voice that speaks to us in the silence. And so my friends, that's what I want to invite you to do. In this season of Easter.
You know, we're still in the season of Easter. Easter isn't just one day. It's a season, and it's a season of new growth and new life. So may you find time each and every day in the season of Easter, to get still, to go into the silence, to listen to that divine voice of Sophia.
Did you know that the early Christians, the Gnostics referred to that inner voice of the Spirit as Sophia? A feminine name.
That's how they understood her. May you find time to attune yourself more fully to her voice, to rest in the arms of the Divine Mother. And to picture that beautiful, divine umbilical cord, connecting you with a loving God who nurtures you, feeds you and continues to give you life, and to make all things new.
Happy Mother's Day.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
by Yolanda Pierce
Long before I became familiar with the academic debates concerning calling God “Mother,” (debates that I am now currently a part of as a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary), I was being raised in a household where I instinctively understood that the divine presence was manifest in the loving hands and arms of mothers, and most especially in the life of my grandmother who raised me. I knew that if God was real, if God truly loved me as a parent loves a child, then God was also “Mother” and not only “Father.” Only years of dogma and doctrine force you to unlearn what you know to be true in your own heart, demanding “Father” as the only acceptable appellation and concept for God, but we do not have to choose only one form of address. God is Creator and Sustainer. God is Protector and Defender. God is Mother and Father. If we are humble, we know that human words and metaphors are incomplete and can never do justice to describing the majesty of who God is. I am among the millions of women facing Mother’s Day without a mother, and now without my precious grandmother. Though gone from my life, though absent from my everyday reality, my grandmother’s presence and wisdom are still here with me, guiding and shaping me. As a Christian, it is the same as my relationship with God: the knowledge that I am loved by the Divine. I understand God as Mother because of all the mothers, aunties, grandmothers, godmothers, and church mothers who were made in the image of God and who embody God’s loving care. As the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich eloquently summarized, “As truly as God is our Father, so truly God is our Mother.”
What did you think?