My Mother is the handy-woman of the family. Her father (my grandfather) was quite handy. He was a brick-layer by trade and so worked with his hands all the time. Around the house when he was fixing things, as a little girl, my mom would watch and learn from everything he was doing. She was the apprentice who passed all the tools when he needed them. And so when I was growing up, while my Dad was the academic of the family… a bit like a walking encyclopaedia, my Mom was the handy-women of the house. I have memories of her laying down tiles on the kitchen floor, taking the washing machine apart to replace gaskets and fan belts, completely re-upholstering the lounge and dining room furniture, fixing the flushing mechanism in the toilet if it was no longer working, along with other plumbing work, replacing blown fuses, changing electrical plugs and the list could go on and on. Whatever handyman skills I may have, I learned them from my Mom.
Even now into her seventies, her reputation still holds strong, even though back-pain may hinder her ability to do some of the things she would have done when she was younger. My mom’s grandson, my nephew Kristian, has come to believe that my Mom can fix anything. A year or so ago, one of his toys broke, and so my brother said to him, “Don’t worry, we’ll store it in the cupboard. When granny comes to visit again she will help fix it for you.” To which he replied: “Granny is like God, she can fix anything!”
It reminds me of that saying which goes something like this: “God could not be everywhere, so He created mothers”. After quoting this statement, Sabrina Premij writes the following:
“I could not agree more. Moms are truly one of a kind. They have arms that were made for holding, for cradling, for loving. In these past 24 years, my Mom has used those arms to tuck me in every night, to rub my injured back, to wax my legs for the first time, to make her infamous tacos when my friends came over, to comfort me after a bad date, to hold my hand before crossing security at the airport, to squeeze me tight when I needed TLC, to love me unconditionally. And though I have grown over these years (sadly, not by much), there was always more than enough space to fit in my Mom’s arms. She’s like a magician.”
Perhaps it is worth noting that not all people’s experience of their Mother’s has been as positive as Sabrina Premij’s experience. On Mother’s Day, while it is certainly an opportunity to highlight all the best qualities that can be found in a Mother and to celebrate all that our Mother’s have done for us in the past and all they do for us in the present, there is a danger of eulogizing mother’s too much, because ultimately all mother’s have their own struggles and difficulties. All mothers have their strengths as well as their weaknesses and failings. If we eulogise mother’s too much, it can put an enormous amount of pressure on women to feel that they now have to live up to an un-attainable ideal. It can also potentially alienate those whose relationships with their mother’s have not been wholesome or life-affirming.
But it is Mother’s Day and so not completely inappropriate for us to celebrate some of the wonderful qualities that Mother’s bring into the world. And in the context of Sunday worship, it is perhaps also not inappropriate for us to consider how motherhood as a whole does have the potential for revealing something of the character and nature of God.
Within Christianity, we are not accustomed to speaking of God using feminine language. Most Christian talk of God has been to refer to God almost exclusively in masculine language. The result is that many many Christians around the world live with an underlying view that God is actually a man, albeit a very big cosmic man.
But the opening chapter of the book of Genesis reminds us that both men and women were made in the image of God, and if this is the case, then it is ultimately not true to say that God is a male or masculine. If God is Infinite, then everything we say about God using finite human language needs to be regarded as provisional and metaphorical. Under certain circumstances it is therefore possible to say that God the great Mystery of Life is like a man, or like a father. But if God is truly Infinite, and if women too are made in God’s image, then it should be equally possible to say that under certain circumstances God is also like a women, and like a mother.
And the truth is that in the Bible, there are a number of passages where God is indeed described using feminine imagery.
The very first place that this is done is in fact in Genesis chapter 1 where God is described almost as though God is like a mother bird brooding over her eggs, waiting for them to crack open and for life to come forth. The first few verses of Genesis 1 read as follows:
1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
The word that is translated as hovering is the Hebrew word rachaph (raw-khaf'). It is a word that can mean to flutter, to hover, to brood. In Deuteronomy 32:11 the same Hebrew word is used to describe God in the imagery of an eagle: God is ..."Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers/broods over its young.”
And so in both Genesis 1 and Deuteronomy 32 God is portrayed like a motherly bird, brooding… in Genesis 1, brooding over the act of creation, waiting for life to burst forth, and in Deuteronomy, brooding protectively over her chicks.
This image is used again in Psalm 91:1-4 Where the Psalmist speaks of hiding under the shadow of the Almighty, and then in verse 4 "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge...”
In the book of Job, God is again pictured as a women who gives birth to creation… In Job 10:18, God is described as bringing Job forth from the womb as though God himself (or perhaps one should say God herself) has given birth to Job. And later on in Job 38:29 when the voice of God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind, the Divine voice asks: “From whose womb does ice come forth? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens.” What these verses do is remind us that in every act of birthing, women are participating in the Divine act of creation, and that all of creation is this Motherly God’s beloved off-spring and child. From an ecological perspective, if creation is seen as an act of birthing from the womb of God, and as an act of motherly love from God, then we as human beings should show the same respect for creation as we would to any child, as an object of a mother’s love and care.
The image of God as mother is used again by the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 49. The passage was written during the Exile in Babylon, after the Babylonian Empire had invaded the Kingdom of Judah and destroyed the city of Jerusalem, taking many of the people of Judah into exile in Babylon. And there, in exile, to a people who had lost everything, and who were now living in a strange and a foreign land, a prophet speaks of God’s ongoing love and care for his people. Despite appearances, that it seemed God had abandoned them, God is described as a mother who can never abandon or forget her children.
“14But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
the Lord has forgotten me!”
15“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or lack compassion for the son of her womb?
Even if she could forget,
I will not forget you!
16Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands”
The passage speaks of God’s motherly love for her child whom she can never forget or abandon.
And then our last passage for today, in Luke 15, Jesus also describes God in feminine terms as he describes God as a women, perhaps even a mother, searching high and low for a lost coin. She sweeps the house and turns it upside down, looking for this valuable coin that is lost. It is an image that is meant to remind us that all lost and wayward human beings, and there are indeed many of them, are like a valuable coin to God, and God is like a diligent women caring for and managing her home and household searching out for that which is lost. That is quite an unusual image of God. Normally we are used to hearing God being described in the imagery of a great King, sometimes as a warrior. But in this parable, Jesus uses a down to earth, ordinary, homely image of God as a women, bustling around her home, making sure that everything is in order: God, the home executive, as house wives have been described in more recent decades.
On this Mother’s Day, as we celebrate the gift of Mothers, may we also know the Motherly love of God who has given birth to us in love, who has promised never to forsake or abandon us in our moments of exile, and who comes searching for her valuable lost treasure, when we find ourselves lost and do not know our truth worth. Amen.