The first time I heard God called “Mother,” I didn’t know how to react. I was in junior high and was attending a Good Friday youth breakfast. We were in the upstairs at a local UMC church fellowship hall, about fifty youth from various churches meeting together once a year to remember the sacrifice of the cross and eat scrambled eggs and bacon. One of the men who was going to be doing the presentation was leading us in the prayer for our food, and when he opened his prayer, he prayed to “Father-Mother God.” I don’t remember a single thing that he said after that because the shock of hearing God referred to as a woman so offended my Lutheran (LCMS) sensibilities that I couldn’t even begin to process the rest of the prayer.
God had been revealed in the flesh as Jesus, a man.
God was Father. God was He and Him. God was Male.
God was certainly not a lady.
But even as I rebelled against the idea of God as Female, that prayer sparked something in me.
As I became a mother myself, and particularly a mother to daughters, I found myself longing for a God who wasn’t strictly male. I desired a God that I could relate to, not simply as a child to her Father, but as a child to her Mother. As a mother to a Mother. I wanted so much to know Mother God, but everything about her seemed off-limits. To desire a God who was female somehow made her less-than. It made her less powerful, less divine.
But deep in my bones, I knew this wasn’t so. My femininity didn’t make me less powerful. It didn’t make me less loving, less compassionate, less strong. Being a mother didn’t stop me from fighting for my children. It might not be the same way that my husband as their father would fight for them, but that was the point.
Male and female were both created in the image of God, but somehow, only one of us got credit for being like God.
In the past few years, I have seen many of my friends refer to God as She and Her. And while part of me loves it, I have never been able to embrace it in my own language. I have moved away from gendered language when referencing God, but if a pronoun slips in, it’s always masculine. I just couldn’t bring myself to refer to God as “her.”
On Thursday night at Wild Goose, I sat by myself in the crowd, listening to Phyllis Tickle offer the opening invocation to the festival. She invited us all to join her in praying the ancient prayer, given to us by Jesus. As she began to pray, she prayed to Our Father-Mother God Who Art in Heaven.
In that moment, something broke in me and I wept.
The longing for a God who knows not simply what it is to be human, but what it is to be female was met. The desire to know a God who doesn’t parent me strictly from male sensibilities, but from female sensibilities as well was sated. The need for a God who is He and Him, but who is also She and Her was fulfilled.
My fears that this would somehow diminish God have been so unfounded. Instead, God that can be both Him and Her, both male and female, both Father and Mother is one who is more. She is beautiful and powerful and wild and exuberant. He is loving and strong and gentle and kind.
I’m still just beginning to be comfortable praying to Mother God and I’ll probably keep that mostly for my own private prayer time, at least for a while.
But I’m looking forward to some conversations with Her.