So, this morning at the bandstand we started to look at the metaphors we use for God and whether they limit God / us. We all acknowledge in theory that God is neither male nor female – God is Spirit and both male and female equally reflect God’s image (Genesis 1:27). We know in theory that terms used for God like ‘Father’ Lord’ ‘King’ Son’ are metaphors and not literal and we know that Jesus used female imagery for God – the woman working the yeast into the dough, the woman searching for the lost coin, the hen wanting to gather her chicks under her wings… We know that in Isaiah God uses imagery of being a mother nursing and being loyal to her children and yet, the prevailing view of God is male and pretty much exclusively our language is of Him and He is male in practice!
We live in an age where we have realised that some language we use needs to be changed. We need to be sensitised to language we have used in the past without thought for the implications of it – think of racial terms, words used about sexual orientation, people with disabilities… So is it high time we challenged the limited terms we actually use for God to begin to match what we say we believe with our practice? Am I fair in saying that if we say we believe something but don’t do anything about it, we don’t really believe it?
So, we read some of Isaiah 40 without the male pronouns and occasionally ‘Mother’ inserted next to God too. See where the change in metaphor leads you – what new ideas / feelings come to light with that one shift:
9-11 Climb a high mountain, Zion.
You’re the preacher of good news.
Raise your voice. Make it good and loud, Jerusalem.
You’re the preacher of good news.
Speak loud and clear. Don’t be timid!
Tell the cities of Judah,
“Look! Your Mother God!”
Like a shepherd, she will care for her flock,
gathering the lambs in her arms,
Hugging them as she carries them,
leading the nursing ewes to good pasture.
12-17 Who has scooped up the ocean
in her two hands,
or measured the sky between her thumb and little finger,
Who has put all the earth’s dirt in one of her baskets,
weighed each mountain and hill?
Who could ever have told Mother GOD what to do
or taught her her business?
What expert would she have gone to for advice,
what school would she attend to learn justice?
What god do you suppose might have taught her what she knows,
showed her how things work?
Why, the nations are but a drop in a bucket,
a mere smudge on a window.
Watch her sweep up the islands
like so much dust off the floor!
All the nations add up to simply nothing before her—
less than nothing is more like it. ‘A’ minus.
18-20 So who even comes close to being like God?
To whom or what can you compare her?
21-24 Have you not been paying attention?
Have you not been listening?
Haven’t you heard these stories all your life?
Don’t you understand the foundation of all things?
Mother God sits high above the round ball of earth.
The people look like mere ants.
She stretches out the skies like a canvas—
yes, like a tent canvas to live under.
25-26 “So—who is like me?
Who holds a candle to me?” says The Holy.
27-31 Why would you ever complain, O Jacob,
or, whine, Israel, saying,
“Mother GOD has lost track of me.
She doesn’t care what happens to me”?
Don’t you know anything Haven’t you been listening?
MOTHER GOD doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
She’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
She doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch her breath.
And she knows everything, inside and out.
She energizes those who get tired,
gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon Mother GOD get fresh strength.
They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
they walk and don’t lag behind.
We discussed our responses and read Psalm 100 & Psalm 98 in the same vein before considering the problems with metaphors for the Trinity – Father and Son so clearly male and Holy Spirit genderless in theory but ‘he’ nevertheless. The Theologian Sallie McFague suggests using Mother (relating to Creation, justice and agape love), Lover (relating to salvation, healing and eros love) and Friend (relating to eschatology, companionship and philia love). It’s hard to argue that the doctrine is unsound, so what difference might it make to bless someone in the name of the Mother, Lover and Friend? What do these metaphors open us up to of the reality of all that God is and more?
So we prayed to God our Mother for justice in the world and to God our lover for healing for those in need and to God our Friend to be companion to those we named…
We shared bread and wine with these words (bearing in mind that whilst Jesus of Nazareth was a man, the pre-existent second person of the Trinity is neither male nor female)
This is the great mystery.
God the Lover emptied herself to become human and give herself for us.
As Jesus, she/he broke bread and said ‘This is my body broken for you. Eat this in remembrance of me.
The body of Christ
In the same way, God the Lover as Jesus, took wine, and spoke of it as a new covenant sealed with blood.
The blood of Christ.
And yes – it does feel odd to use female terms – but didn’t it feel odd to change other language we have changed before we got used to it? And if we balk at using ‘herself’ doesn’t that mean we believe God to be male after all? Really?
Our homework is to practice using such terms for God in our prayers. Whenever I find myself saying ‘Father’ or ‘Lord’ I add ‘Mother’ or ‘Sister’ to redress the balance. None of these terms are wrong but none are literally true and perhaps we get a bigger God when we expand our vision of her!
Our closing blessing:
So may God our Mother inspire us to love justice and to love selflessly
may God the Lover inspire us to heal the hurting and rescue the needy
And may God the Friend inspire us to know how to welcome others to journey with us.