“Sixty five? Sixty five!”
I rarely find occasion to pray more fervently than I do when I’m at the BMV. Between my own social anxiety and the palpable frustration of the others waiting on a clerk to call their number - “Sixty six? No Sixty six? Sixty seven, then!” - I know I need God here. As I began to pray, I said something that I've rarely said in my life, but something I intend to say much more in the years of ministry and personal piety to come: Mother God...
Recently, I heard Dr. Christena Cleveland speak to the importance of how we imagine God and the metaphors that we use when we pray, especially for those of us who believe God placed the divine image in humanity and that the divine chose to become human in Jesus. The average human person is a woman of color in the Global south. Even so, our prayer language remains dominated by male names (Father) and pronouns (him/his). We need Mother God.
“Sixty eight!” The tension of people being called like cattle, like sheep led to the slaughter, only adds to the density of this Saturday morning.
Now, before you lose your collective gourds about referring to God with feminine language, remember a few things about scripture. The first depiction of divinity in the Hebrew Bible is of God giving birth to all creation. Through waters. That’s a graphically obvious reference to motherhood. All throughout the Bible, we find images of a divine mother, gathering Her chicks and comforting Her children. Of course, from within an ancient patriarchal culture, many more metaphors in scripture use masculine imagery. Yet, even in that matrix, God’s motherhood remains a core metaphor. God's maternal nature is essential to God's identity.
“Sixty nine? Seventy?” People have started to leave because they’re fed up with waiting, all without comfort. We need Mother God in these places because, well, from where else would our help come from? More than that, though, in the Christian tradition we've been inundated with almost exclusively male images for God. We've seen Jesus's exclusive use of paternal language in a paternalistic culture to become determinative for our conceptions of God. We've ignored the profoundly feminine activity of God depicted in scripture and in our larger tradition. "Seventy one!" We need Mother God to honor the fullness of God's identity through her interactions with all creation.
"Seventy two!" By now, I've noticed with intention that it's two women who are shouting these names, to a room full of mostly women. Mothers and daughters, caught in the dehumanizing assembly line of getting the proper titles for our vehicles. It's one of the nicer BMVs in which I've ever sat, but the marble countertops and chandelier lighting don't create warmth, not the way that a mother's touch does.
Mother God also honors the image of God present within women and femmes across all time and space. The exploitation of women is made easier when the feminine is seen as further from God than the masculine. God's neither male or female, or better both male and female, or more accurately, the fullness of the gender spectrum is within God's identity. That's something that's theologically embraced across most traditions throughout history, but not practiced in most churches, past or present. We need Mother God to see the intimate connections between God and all those who identify as feminine. Which, of course, includes God, and all the women and femmes who've been marginalized through our masculinization of God.
"Seventy three!" I'm next and so my prayer turns toward an end. Then, I committed to myself and to God, the same commitment that I'm now making publicly. From now on, into the fullness of 2018, I'll be using feminine names, pronouns, and metaphors for God in my prayer life and my writing. We need Mother God and God begins to meet that need through our language, our willingness to admit the feminine qualities at God's core. That looks like many things, but likely begins with: Our Mother in heaven, holy is your name.
"Seventy four!" I approach the woman at the counter, and in a way that I haven't before, I see the image of God in her. That's God's work. Mother God's work.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.