I Am Your Mother

our_lady_of_guadalupe

When Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego at Tepeyac hill outside of Mexico City in 1531, she said to him, “have you forgotten? I am your Mother.”  Juan Diego, in the stories, is said to be a poor indigenous man, yet many also believe that he used to be (before the Spanish conquest of Mexico and the murder of indigenous peoples and ways of life) a curandero (healer, priest, shaman) of the native goddess.  She appeared to him and insisted, the story goes, that a church be built in her honor on that spot, and Juan Diego made his plea to the local colonizing bishops with a robe full of flowers and a heart full of hopeful confusion.  And so, seeing the flowers and the image on his cloak, the bishops complied—building a church that to this day contains the original image of Holy Mother that was imprinted on this faithful one’s cloak.  The Catholic Church claimed her as “the Virgin.”  She told Juan Diego she was “your Mother.”  The local Nahuatl people most likely saw her as the One long worshiped at that very spot—the Goddess known to that culture as Coatlicue, the Earth Mother, the One of all things Seen and Unseen, the Mother of us All.

I know this makes many of us nervous.  We squirm at the word Goddess, like we squirm at the word witch and the word Her when it comes to referencing God and probably at the word vagina too, whether we’re male or female.  It’s just not “normal” to use such explicitly feminine words about such intimate anatomy and Divinity so freely.  And so, we gather, it’s just not quite right, which means maybe it’s bad and then of course, it’s probably sinful.  Also it just hasn’t been done so it must be radical or rebellious or {gasp} reckless.  And who wants that?  Just follow the status quo, don’t rock the boat, why do you want to cause problems already?  Isn’t it fine the way it is?

When I was in graduate school studying theology and ministry, I encountered all kinds of folks who referred to God in all kinds of ways.  One of my good friends had started attending a Lutheran Church called HerChurch in San Francisco, where they referred to God exclusively in the feminine form, as an attempt to reclaim and rebalance Her Presence in the Christian world.  God was Mother.  Jesus was Christ Sophia.  The entire church was painted bright royal purple.  I was confused.  I remember talking to my friend about it once and I said, “I mean, I just don’t have a problem with God in the male form, with God as Father.  It’s always worked for me.  Why change it?”  She looked at me like the good friend she was and simply said, “Ok.  And how is that working for you Erin?”

And so I started examining how it was working for me, this constant reference to God as a powerful, dominant male.  It was everywhere—in the readings at mass, in my translation of the Bible, in the way people talked and prayed.  He, he, he.  Him, him, him.  Father, brother, son.  When I closed my eyes in prayer to imagine God, I’ll be honest—He usually came as an all-mighty man in the clouds with a white beard kind of being.  Sure, He was kind and loving, Jesus’ kind of Father.  But he was a still a very large, very righteous Dude.  Or he came as Jesus—also a dude, albeit more feminine (or just more European?).  And the Spirit was this nebulous wispy being, like the incense used in the high liturgies.  The feminine face of God, I realized, was just totally not there, in my imagination, in my practice, in my experience of the Living God.  And this made me deeply sad.

My imaginings were about God as He, my practice involved God as He, and when I looked at and felt my own body, my own being, I felt… She.  I am not he.  I am her.  So… how can the Living God inhabit me, fully, if I am… She.  How can I, as Catholics believe the Eucharist does, become the Body of Christ if my body is… female.  This rocked me.  It floored me.  I believe truly that I am baptized, incorporated, made in the image and likeness of God which means… God is NOT just a dude!  More than that, if God is ONLY a dude, I am not part of that Divine image.  And surely, surely… I am?  Surely… you are? And surely, surely, the world needs the Mother, the world needs Her, the world needs the Feminine?  It opened my heart into a new, slow and dawning realization that has since captivated, grown in me and led me on a quest for the Divine Mother.

The real, in-my-body reckoning of Her came on a camping trip on my 30th birthday—three days in the wilderness on the coast of northern California.  I trekked in with my pack five miles to an old burnt-out redwood grove tucked into a crevice in the mountain, with towering new growth soaring from the black death of an old fire.  It was a magical place.  I felt it as soon as I folded myself into one of the old trunks and began to meditate.  My meditation flowed into prayer where I got real with God.  With an arms-crossed, chin jutting out spiritual stance, I asked, “Are you a dude?”  And I began to cry… because if you’re only male, where do I fit?  How am I made?  How can I come to know you, really, mutually, intimately, totally?  How can you know ME, in every part of me if you’ve never… had these parts, this heart, this… being?  How can you be a God of justice and of love, that respects and honors and wants the flourishing of every human being, even women, if you Yourself are only male?  What I received in the depths of me has changed my view of God forever.  I heard, in the most tender, feminine voice… “My darling… who do you say that I am?”  And of course, I cried some more.  I continued to be real… telling Her I wanted to know that She was here too, that this image of God I had that so mirrored the patriarchy of my culture was not… ALL of God.  That I needed Her—the Mother, Her Presence, Her participation, Her love in my life.  “My darling, I am here, I am here, I am here…” resonated through my whole being.  In that moment I also received strongly that He was still there too.  It wasn’t either / or, it was BOTH—God’s multi-facets, many faces, all part of one Whole, an interweaving of the masculine and the feminine.  I also recognized that in my life, I was so thirsty for Her presence, that that was how She was showing up, and She was naming it as so good, as so much what God wants, what She, the Mother, wants—to know us, to love us, to be intimate with us in whatever way is most resonant with us.

She has continued to show up in my life… in what I read and how I pray, in who I meet and how I discern my call and ministry in this world.  I have realized that the Presence of the Mother can be found in all cultures, in some form, that She is always finding a way through.  She is that Big, her Love that Great.  She is the One who heals, who births, who brings to life, who nurtures, who loves without condition, who is the pouring out of Love, no matter what.  She is the embodiment of mercy, the one who shows up in the thick of our life, no matter what has gone wrong or what we’ve done wrong, to pick us up, love us and set us right.  She gets it, all of it, the earthiness of it, the mess of it, the perfect imperfection of this human life.

In my own tradition, Catholicism, I find this most clearly in the presence of Mary, the Mother of God.  How interesting is it that we name her the “Mother of God” and yet the hierarchy has also made such an effort to make it clear that she is NOT God?  No, she is the Mother of God.  This does not feel like a demotion to me, even if it historically was an effort to make her smaller, subservient to the Father and the Son (how many of us ‘good Catholics’ see Mary as passive, submissive, quietly obedient?).  To me, embedded even within a patriarchal tradition, she is named as the Creator, the One who Births All, even the Incarnate One, Jesus.  She is THE Mother, as she said so clearly when she appeared to Juan Diego on that hill in Mexico long consecrated to Her—“have you forgotten?  I am your Mother.”

This is so, so critical in our world right now, this embrace of the Holy Mother, this surrender to the ways she is and has always been moving and living and having Her being in our world.  In a world that somehow cannot hear or refuses to listen to the deep and profound suffering of women, She is needed.  In a country (the U.S. of A) where 1 in 5 women are raped and 1 in 20 are sexually assaulted (numbers are much, much higher globally), where this is still, in 2018, simply accepted as the norm and shrugged off as “boys will be boys,” She is needed.  Where a women exhibits great courage, tells the utter truth of her trauma on a national stage, and to the political powers that be, it simply doesn’t matter, She is needed.  In a world that says women have less rights than men, where its ok to pay them less, where in some places they can be maimed, killed, burned and discarded simply for the happenstance of their sex, She is needed.  In a world where social oppression and male dominance is so intertwined with the Christian understanding of a dominant, male God, She is needed.

She is crying out for her daughters, for her sons, for her children, for her Love to be known and shared and lived and given.  I believe it is the reason she has appeared all over the globe, why children and suffering women and forsaken men and indigenous ones like Juan Diego have seen her, talked to her, believed her when she says, “I am your Mother.”  She is here, breaking through, destroying if She must, creating and birthing constantly, loving all the while, without end.  She is our Mother.

she gives birth to living waters

 

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