God our Mother

I wanted to share something with you, my readers, that is a little more serious than my usual posts.  It is a tender topic, and though I may ruffle some feathers, I ask that you be tender in your comments.

I am in a complicated relationship right now.  With God.  I have been taking some things apart, deconstructing if you will, for the past few years.  Some of the things that I have been taught about God my whole life just aren’t making sense anymore.  Things like substitutionary atonement.  How the Bible was written and put together, and how do we know that something really important wasn’t left out?  Or that something is in there that shouldn’t be?  And why did people stop writing the Bible?  Did God say he was done writing Scripture? The way that the church approaches many present-day issues, particularly inclusion of LGBTQ in our faith communities. The fact that Jesus continually criticized the legalism of the Pharisees, and yet as evangelical Christians we have a specific prayer to pray and a way to behave in order to “go to heaven”.  And if praying that prayer–the one where we “believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths” (John 3:16) is what is required, what about all of the people that walked the earth before Jesus? This carrot on a stick theology–it just doesn’t resonate anymore.  I believe that this God I believe in is bigger than that, but right now all the puzzle pieces of my faith are scattered on the floor, and I am turning them all right-side up, looking for edges and corners to get my bearings.

I have been thinking a lot about being made in God’s image.  We throw that phrase around a lot in Christianity, don’t we?  I am made in the image of God.  So are you.  We are his image bearers, all.  And yet–God is always spoken of as a Father.  Jesus was a man.  I sometimes have thoughts that, though Jesus walked the earth for three decades, lowering himself to walk among humanity, what does he really know of being a woman, or a girl?  What does he know of all of the complicated issues that women face?  Of growing into a body that is objectified, oppressed, and sexualized; of periods and pregnancy and giving birth; of miscarriage and mothering, breastfeeding and potty training.  I secretly felt like God was probably limited in this area.

But wait–if I’m a woman, and I am God’s image-bearer, doesn’t God have just as many characteristics of the female sex?  Perhaps he is not as I, as many of us, have conjured him up to be in our minds–a Gandolf-like man, on a throne, sitting in an exclusive country club we call heaven.  Perhaps God is just as much woman as he is man.  Perhaps She is just as much a mother, as He is a Father.  Not 50% male and 50% female, not either/or.  God is and/both.

I heard a poem on a podcast recently that immediately made my eyes well up.  The kind of tears that come when you know you are hearing something profoundly true.  I really can’t stop thinking about it.  It is slowly changing the way I think of God, I think for the better.  I thought maybe you would like to read it also.

God Our Mother

To be a Mother is to suffer;
To travail in the dark,
stretched and torn,
exposed in half-naked humiliation,
subjected to indignities
for the sake of new life.

To be a Mother is to say,
“This is my body, broken for you,”
And, in the next instant, in response to the created’s primal hunger,
“This is my body, take and eat.”

To be a Mother is to self-empty,
To neither slumber nor sleep,
so attuned You are to cries in the night—
Offering the comfort of Yourself,
and assurances of “I’m here.”

To be a Mother is to weep
over the fighting and exclusions and wounds
your children inflict on one another;
To long for reconciliation and brotherly love
and—when all is said and done—
To gather all parties, the offender and the offended,
into the folds of your embrace
and to whisper in their ears
that they are Beloved.

To be a mother is to be vulnerable—
To be misunderstood,
Railed against,
Blamed
For the heartaches of the bewildered children
who don’t know where else to cast
the angst they feel
over their own existence
in this perplexing universe

To be a mother is to hoist onto your hips those on whom your image is imprinted,
bearing the burden of their weight,
rejoicing in their returned affection,
delighting in their wonder,
bleeding in the presence of their pain.

To be a mother is to be accused of sentimentality one moment,
And injustice the next.
To be the Receiver of endless demands,
Absorber of perpetual complaints,
Reckoner of bottomless needs.

To be a mother is to be an artist;
A keeper of memories past,
Weaver of stories untold,
Visionary of lives looming ahead.

To be a mother is to be the first voice listened to,
And the first disregarded;
To be a Mender of broken creations,
And Comforter of the distraught children
whose hands wrought them.

To be a mother is to be a Touchstone
and the Source,
Bestower of names,
Influencer of identities;
Life giver,
Life shaper,
Empath,
Healer,
and
Original Love.

~Allison Woodard
http://www.allisonwoodard.com/god-our-mother-poem/
Printed with permission

Happy Mother’s Day, friends.  We are loved by our Mother.

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Shades of Grey

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I used to think I had my faith all figured out.  Maybe it is more accurate to say that I used to have religion all figured out.  I am, for the most part, a rule-follower.  This is particularly true when it comes to matters of faith.  I would have made an excellent Pharisee, back in the day.  I was raised Catholic, and the impression that I had growing up was that being Catholic is not just something that you are, but also something that you DO.  I was pretty good at DOING what I needed to do to be a decent Catholic.  My mother made sure that we attended a Catholic school, went to church regularly, and performed all of our sacraments as expected.  I went to confession, where I unburdened myself of as much of my Catholic guilt as any Catholic can reasonably be expected to let go of, temporarily.  Our community had a large population of Catholics with varying degrees of church involvement.  Those of us who attended regularly would shake our heads and cluck our tongues at the “Christmas and Easter” church-goers.

When I was in high school, I started attending a youth group at a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church.  This was my first introduction to a Protestant church, and I loved it.  Instantly.  It seemed so different from the church I was raised in.  There was no mechanical chanting of the liturgy, no (overt) rituals.  We were encouraged to read our Bibles, study on our own, and the emphasis was on a personal relationship with God.  I threw myself into that.  It made me a very awkward high-schooler, but at youth group and church, I fit in.  I felt I had been relieved of what I perceived as the legalistic burdens that had been placed on me growing up in the Catholic faith.

Now, looking back, I realize that I didn’t really unburden myself of anything.  I let go of some things passed down from my Catholic upbringing, and exchanged them instead for a conservative evangelical worldview, which had its own set of standards and expectations, and its own brand of legalism.

Here is a confession.  Sometimes, I feel embarrassed to admit that I am a Christian.  Not because of my belief in God or Jesus, but because of how we as Evangelical Christians have (rightly or wrongly) become this caricature of ourselves.  Over the past two decades, the world around me has changed, church leaders have risen and fallen, certain societal issues have become hot buttons in the media, and I have been humbled as I have come face to face with my own legalistic beliefs, and my lack of love and understanding for people who  don’t share those beliefs.

I am not at all trying to say that the Church–Evangelical, Catholic, or otherwise–is inherently bad or wrong, or not worth being a part of.  On the contrary, I think the Church is filled with good people who are really trying their best to get it right.  But all of those good people are also imperfect, still learning, and still being shaped, and sometimes we get it wrong, either individually or collectively.  We want to label everything, put it into neat little boxes, maintain order, and have everyone follow a consistent formula that will add up to the sum total of our faith.  So when issues are difficult to categorize, we try to make them fit into a category.  Right or wrong.  Black or white.

For the last decade I have just felt confused about how to look at controversial issues, such as abortion, homosexuality, social justice, racial inequality, or gay marriage, through the lens of my faith in Jesus Christ.  I thought I knew how I felt about all of those issues.  But mostly I just knew what the well-meaning, imperfect people from my church upbringing had taught me about those issues.

I have spent years weaving the fabric of my faith out of black and white threads, only to find out that when I take a step back, it all looks grey.

I am making peace with the grey areas right now.  I think it is OK that they are there.  I think embracing the grey areas has made me a kinder, gentler person.  I am still working on the more militant, legalistic parts of me that pop up every now and again.

I think Jesus actually did his part to point out some of the grey areas, while he was here on earth.  I think of the woman who was to be stoned to death for adultery, when Jesus encouraged anyone in the crowd who was without sin to cast the first stone.  Also, he was a rule-breaker, wasn’t he?  Healing on the Sabbath, hanging with the bad crowd, getting the most devout people of the time all in a tizzy.

My worry is this:  when does this pondering and wrestling with the grey areas of my faith cross the line and become complacency, apathy, or a form of moral nihilism?  If I remove all those absolutes, get rid of the list of moral and religious “do’s and don’ts”, am I subscribing to a watered-down version of faith that I have designed to make myself less uncomfortable in the culture in which I live, or am I breaking through a barrier?  Am I embracing grace, or am I conforming to my culture?

I don’t have any answers yet, in case you were hoping I would have a closing paragraph that would bring clarity.  But I am interested in hearing comments from those who can identify with me and are willing to share!

Image credit:  rakratchada torsap at FreeDigitalPhotos.net