God our Mother

“When God is male, the male becomes God.”

I heard this on a day-long retreat I went on a few months back.  It stuck with me probably because it touches on something I’ve long known.  

Why the persistence of male images or God?  The very Catechism of the Catholic Church says unequivocally that God is beyond gender:  

  “In no way is God in man’s image. God {sic} is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective “perfections” of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father…” (CCC 370)

Yet we, the Church, the world, society, persistently insist on referring to God in the male form.  Masculine pronouns abound.  We’re told Jesus prayed to “God the Father.”  (as my Scripture teacher in  graduate school told me, “sorry, Erin, that’s just the word used– in Greek, it’s definitely male.)  Even the Holy Spirit, who has an entire book of the Hebrew Bible devoted to Her (Wisdom) is referred to as “he” in every official Church document I’ve read, even the most recent ones.  

So what’s the deal?

As a woman I find this increasingly difficult to accept.  I’ve grown up praying to God, and to be honest, I’ve always found comfort praying to “Abba”, this endearing way of referring to God that Jesus used.  It’s almost like “Daddy”– intimate, affectionate, special and most importantly, close to us.  Yet as I’ve grown and as I’ve developed into an adult woman, these strictly masculine images simply don’t work for me.  In Genesis 1: 27 we’re told, “God created them.  In God’s image, male and female, God created them.”  Even in this verse, the “he’s”  when referring to God abound, but I’ve changed them to the gender-less God for our purposes here.  I was taught that this verse is the heart and center, the beginning and end of Scripture’s revelation to us.  WE ARE MADE IN THE IMAGE AND LIKENESS OF GOD.  

So let’s think about this.  If we’re made in the image and likeness of God, then that means by beholding each other, we are beholding God’s image.  God has reflected God’s self onto us and we, in turn, reflect God.  When I look around I see men.  I see women.  I see children.  I see androgynous persons.  I see trans-gendered persons and the entire rainbow of gender identity (not to mention the myriad of colors and shapes and uniqueness).  So, if we’re taking this passage for real, God must have all of these faces… and none.    

Can we at least start, just start with the fact that God does indeed have a feminine as well as a masculine face?  

Scripture abounds with examples of this…

I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”– Hosea 11:4

Like the eagle that stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young, God spreads wings to catch you, and carries you on pinions.”– Deuteronomy 32:11-12

You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”— Deuteronomy 32:18

God: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” — Isaiah 66:13

God: “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.”–Isaiah 42:14

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.”– Psalm 131:2

Jesus: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”– Matthew 23:37

Jesus: “Or what woman having ten silver coins, is she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”– Luke 15:8-10

(Thanks to womensordinationconference.org for these references!)

When we get beyond the Greek, which would not have been the language Jesus spoke in, but rather the language the New Testament was written in, or translated into, we see a very different image than the Greek image of God.  The Aramaic, Jesus’ native language and what he probably would have given all his great teachings in, is so much more fluid, dynamic, earthy and indeed, feminine.  In fact, take the “Lord’s Prayer” or as many of us know it, the “Our Father” (Matt. 6:9) It begins, “Our Father…”  In the Aramaic, the word used here is “Abwun” which literally translated means, “Abba (affectionate Daddy-term I mentioned earlier) the-one-who-gives-birth-to-the-cosmos.”  The word Jesus would have used to address God literally means Daddy-Birther, or Daddy-Mother.  So when Jesus prayed, he did NOT (sorry Scripture teacher) pray to God the Father, but rather, to a much more broad, gender-inclusive, both close and cosmic birthing Presence.  When the term was translated to Greek, there was no one word to describe this reality, so they had to pick a word.  Hmmm… Father or Mother… let’s go with Father!  Thank you patriarchy!  It’s not hard to imagine how and why the word has stuck throughout 2,000 years of persistent male-dominated society.

The insistence on male language persists.  It probably will unless some of us insist equally stubbornly on changing it.  I will continue to be one of those people because this I know to my core– if we insist on saying God has to be a man then we continue to relegate women to a place where they cannot imagine themselves into the Divine image, and tragically, possibly not even into the Divine embrace.  We not only invalidate their calls to ordination and to full vocation in the life of Christ, we invalidate their (our) baptism.  If we say God does not image them, then we say with equal force, they do not image God.  This profoundly affects the spirituality, and the psychology, of women everywhere.  In turn, it also profoundly affects the balance, and the health, of our entire global community.  
God our Mother, help us to see you as you are, in all of your strength, in all of your love, and help us to see ourselves in you!  Continue to birth us into being.  Amen.  

cosmic Ruah


4 thoughts on “God our Mother

  1. I don’t know if you remember me but I am a friend of Meghan’s from Denison. I just started reading your writing yesterday and I absolutely love the content and style… This piece in particular really struck a chord with me and some issues I have been struggling with lately. So I wanted to say thank you! 🙂

    • Hi Megan! Of course I remember you. I’m so glad you found this and are reading! Yay on it resonating. 🙂 That makes me happy. You are very welcome. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do/ help with/ talk about… seeing God in the feminine form is a journey I’ve been on for a while now and I’m always happy to talk more about it. Sending you lots of love! Erin

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