God, Gender And Sorting Out Motherhood


venus-figurines-europe-paleolithic

Long before God became a man, God was a woman.  It’s true!  The earliest relics dug up from our past depict a pregnant female figure who was worshiped for her powers of fertility. In Paleolithic and Neolithic times this figure represented life to the hunter-gatherers who depended on the whims of nature for their food supply.  Later, when people learned that they could control the food supply through farming, they would bury images of the pregnant female to show their cooperation with the forces of nature.  It wasn’t until the Nomadic herding societies came along that anyone even dreamed that there might be only one true God, or that God would be a man.  These cultures lacked the female gardening role and were hostile to the agricultural people and their religions.

Despite prevailing patriarchal assumptions though, the Bible, written by these same patriarchal assumers, is full of hints indicating that God is equally “Mother” as well as “Father.”  Some of the more “feminine” metaphors and analogies, include the image of God as a nursing mother (Isaiah 49:15; Numbers 11:12); God as a midwife (Psalm 22:8-10); and God as one who gives birth (Isaiah 42:14). What this tells us is that 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.  What this also tells us, is that human words and metaphors are incomplete and can never do justice to describing the majesty of who God is.

The month of May is associated with honoring our mothers on Mother’s Day.  What this has come to mean in our society is another holiday where we are obliged to spend money to demonstrate our love for someone.  That was never the intention of Mother’s Day.  “The roots of the contemporary American Mother’s Day go back to the mid-1800’s in West Virginia.  During the Civil War Ann Reeves Jarvis, a peace activist and organizer began “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to care for soldier on both sides of the conflict.  After the war, these women brought together former Union and Confederate soldiers to work toward reconciliation.  In 1870, Julia Ward Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” which was a call for mothers to unite in promoting world peace.  Anna Jarvis, after the death of her mother in 1905, began a campaign to create a national holiday.  In 1914, President Wilson signed a proclamation creating Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May” with the original intention being the honoring of mothers who had lost children to war.

God is not just a man; mothering is not necessarily a role only performed by women, and Mother’s Day means so much more than just a box of chocolates and a Hallmark.   Mothering is a life-affirming, nurturing and loving action that is not limited to giving birth.  The Good Samaritan “mothered” the traveler back to health.  Jesus was the “mother hen” that wanted to gather his chicks together and protect them.  We are all “mothers” and “fathers” on this journey called life because we are all created in the image of our mother/father God.  This Mother’s Day let’s all be life-affirming, and celebrate a God that is not limited to an either/or paradigm.

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2 thoughts on “God, Gender And Sorting Out Motherhood

  1. I didn’t know about the origin of Mother’s Day. I think it’s original expression was much more meaningful to what it’s become. By “honoring” mothers its ironically robbed them of a very powerful way to express the devine-maternal.

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    • After I wrote this I came to find out that when President Wilson signed the proclamation it was with the intent of emphasizing a woman’s role in the family rather than as peace activists. Anna Jarvis spoke out about it at a Mother’s Day celebration where she was arrested, and by the 1920s Mother’s Day had become so commercialized that she became ill and spent the rest of her life in a sanitarium. Oh, the irony…

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