God our Mother?
I found this on the Whosoever Magazine egroup and thought it was interesting, and possibly appropriate for today (being Mother’s Day in the USA, I think).
A sermon about the places in the Bible where God is referred to as female;
“Trust in God–She will provide.”
Some of the texts which started me rethinking the way I conceptualize God.
A: Female images for God (drawn from women’s biological activity)
1. God as a Mother:
a. a woman in labor (Isa. 42:14) whose forceful breath is an image of divine
b. a mother suckling her children (Num. 11:12)
c. a mother who does not forget the child she nurses (Isa. 49:14-15)
d. a mother who comforts her children (Isa. 66:12-13)
e. a mother who births and protects Israel (Isa. 46:3-4).
f. a mother
who gave birth to the Israelites (Dt. 32:18) The biased translation of
the Jerusalem Bible (“fathered you”) obscures the feminine action of
the verb, more accurately rendered “gave you birth”:
JB: You forget the Rock who begot you, unmindful now of the God who fathered
NRSV: You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave
The Hebrew word in the first line can be translated as either “begot” (male activity) or “bore” (female activity); the context must provide the key. The word in the second line can only refer to female activity.
Scholars have taken these two lines either as a male and a female image of God back-to-back, or they take both of them as female, due to the way this verse is located in the overall poetic structure of
g. a mother who calls, teaches, holds, heals and feeds her young (Hosea 11:1-4)
This poem is in the first person, where in Hebrew there is no distinction between male and female forms; the speaker can be either male or female. The series of activities are those that a mother would
be likely to do: “it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I was to them like those who lift infants [lit., suckling children] to their cheeks
[OR: who ease the yoke on their jaws]; I bent down to them and fed them.” (NRSV)
Given the context, it is possible that Hosea is indirectly presenting Yahweh as
the mother over against the fertility goddess mother figure of the Canaanite religion that he is challenging. The images belong in pairs.
Israel is presented as a wife in ch. 2 and as a son in ch. 11, that is, as female and male in tandem. It may be that Hosea is making the point that Yahweh alone is God by presenting Yahweh as the husband in ch. 2
and as the mother in ch. 11.
2. Other maternal references: Ps. 131:2; Job. 38:8, 29; Prov. 8:22-25; 1 Pet.
2:2-3, Acts 17:28.
B: Feminine images for God (drawn from women’s cultural activity).
1. God as a seamstress making clothes for Israel to wear (Neh. 9:21).
2. God as a midwife attending a birth (Ps. 22:9-10a, 71:6; Isa. 66:9) (midwife was a role only for women in ancient Israel).
3. God as a woman working leaven into bread (Lk. 13:18-21). This feminine image is equivalent to the image of God as masculine in the preceding parable of the mustard seed.
4. God as a woman seeking a lost coin (Lk. 15:8-10).This feminine image is equivalent to the image of God as masculine in the preceding parable of the shepherd seeking a lost sheep. Both Luke 13 and 15 contain paired
masculine and feminine images for God, drawn from activities of Galilean peasants.
C: Additional examples of the divine feminine.
1. Female bird imagery. Yahweh is described by an analogy to the action of a female bird protecting her young (Ps. 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 91:1, 4; Isa. 31:5; Dt. 32:11-12).
a. The eagle:
Dt. 32:11-12: “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead Jacob ….” (KJV). The female eagle,
both larger and stronger than the male, does the bulk of the incubation of the eggs as well as the hunting. She is the one who bears the eaglets on her wings when it is time for them to leave the nest. In a sudden movement, she swoops down to force them to fly alone, but always stays near enough to swoop back under them when they become too weary to fly on their own. It is a powerful image of God nurturing and supporting us when we are weak, yet always encouraging us to grow and mature. Cf. Ex. 19:4, “I bore you on eaglesâ€™ wings and brought you to myself,” and Job 39:27-30.
b. The hen:
Mt. 23:37 (par. Lk. 13:34; cf. Ruth 2:12): “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not.” In his lament over
Jerusalem, Jesus employs feminine imagery. Whereas the magnificent eagle is associated with light, sun, height, mobility and exteriority, the lowly hen is “associated with the shadows and darkness of the henhouse, and with depth and stillness and interiority beneath the mothering wings” (V. Mollenkott, The Divine Feminine [Crossroad, 1987],
93). Each image illuminates a different, important aspect of God’s relation to us.
2. God as Mother Bear (Hosea 13:8), a fierce image associated with the profound attachment of the mother to her cubs. God’s rage against those who withhold gratitude is that of a bear “robbed of her cubs.”
3. Holy Spirit (in Hebrew, feminine; in Greek, neuter) is often associated with women’s functions: the birthing process (Jn. 3:5; cf. Jn. 1:13, 1 Jn. 4:7b, 5:1, 4, 18), consoling, comforting, an eschatological groaning in
travail of childbirth, emotional warmth, and inspiration. Some ancient church traditions refer to the Holy Spirit in feminine terms (the Syriac church used the feminine pronoun for the Holy Spirit until ca.400 C.E.; a 14th c. fresco depicting the Trinity at a church near Munich, Germany images the Holy Spirit as feminine).
As we seek to follow biblical inclusivity, let us also affirm the consistent witness of the church, namely, that God is neither feminine nor masculine (gender), neither male nor female (sex). God accommodates to human limitations by using physical, relational, gender-laden images for self-disclosure. Some of those are feminine. Inasmuch as God inspired the biblical authors to be inclusive, who are we not to be?