Ok, I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “like herding cats”. But have any of you ever tried herding cats?
When I was little we had a lot of litters of kittens.
(I mentioned on the Baptism of Our Lord Sunday right before my parental leave that I baptized all these kittens.)
Trying to round them up is impossible. They kind of scatter, and you collect a couple and put them in the box. Then you go over to the couch and fish out the one that has been hiding, go back to the box and the 4 you have just collected are gone again.
It's a never ending cycle. Grab one, lose 2. The only real way to keep them all together is if you shut them in the box.
And trust me, even then, they can manage to escape.
Sometimes I imagine God feeling like this.
Like, God is just up there constantly trying to round up kittens. God is just catching one of us, being like, “ok, I love you, now stay in the box.” and we just jump right out again.
This Sunday is entitled “Good Shepherd Sunday”. There’s a reason we honor him with the title of the “Good Shepherd”, I mean, shepherding God’s flock sounds exhausting, right?
We are like the worst kittens ever. I currently only have one cat at home and even that can be an insanely hard task to herd him anywhere.
One of the many attributes God shows us is love, unconditional, and never-ending love. A God that is coming towards us, always scooping us up, “I love you, now stay in the box.”
This is our mothering God.
I know I’ve said this before, but the language we often use for God is primarily male pronouns. And this is 1, due to restriction of language in Greek and Hebrew. And 2, thousands of years of patriarchal structure that bolsters males as superior beings and women as inferior, and we can’t have an inferior God now can we?
But the truth is: God is not male or female. God is not a human or creature bound to gender. God is not made in our image. But rather we are made in God’s image.
I bring this up to say, God is not a guy. God is beyond genders. But rather that we use language like this to display and exemplify God’s many attributes that we experience.
For some, the idea of a Father God, may not be the best image for God. Those that have troubling relationships with father figures. Or those that do not have fathers at all. Maybe those that have not lived up to being the father they want to be.
So today I offer you the image of a mothering God.
The first time I was invited to think of God as a woman was when I was in college.
I was working at a church camp and I had gotten a mild concussion and was laying in the nurse’s cabin. In the infirmary room there were two twin beds and I was laying on one while the camp director was laying on the other to keep me company.
In case you don’t know, when someone has a concussion you are not allowed to let them sleep. They need to rest awake.
So he was doing just that.
And as we laid there, we talked about God. Now I was born and raised Lutheran while my director was raised Catholic, and they are even a bit heavier on that male superiority language, so I was surprised when I heard him say, “you know, I’ve always thought God was much more of a woman than a man.”
He explained, “that God is loving, patient, kind, caring, always coming to us, always forgiving us, always showing us compassion, healing, and care even if we don’t deserve it. And I don’t know any love that unconditional except for a mother for her child.” Right? Beautiful.
Then he added, “and that old testament God is the definition of hell hath no furry like a woman’s scorn.” So you know, still probably a little sexist.
But this is the first time I was invited to see God from a female perspective and whoa baby, did it open my eyes to who God really is.
God is not a man. God is not the sky daddy. God is male AND female.
Genesis 1:26-27 reads, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
So God created humankind in God’s own image,
male and female he created them.”
We, both male and female, are created in the image of God. This means that the image of a woman, the image of a mother, the image of feminine, IS the image of God.
Women are made equal and beautiful in the image of God.
This mother’s day is my first as a mother. It’s the first time that as a woman, the image of God for me is in that of my daughter. That she is female, she is fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of Mother God.
I say this all to stir up in your hearts and minds what the image of God may be for you. For some, Father God works. If that’s you, good for you, just keep on trucking.
If it’s not, great! God is great enough to meet you too.
For me, the mothering God is great. I have a great Mom and I hope to be a great Mom and I love to get this strength from being created in the image of the ultimate mother: Mother God.
But this may also be a problem. If you are someone who is sitting here on mother’s day in pain, because Mother’s day can be a very painful day. I see you.
I know this day sucks for many of us. Many women who cannot have children, many women who are trying desperately to be a mother, many women who have no desire to ever be a mother. Those who don’t have a mother. Then there are those who have lost a mother. Those who have lost a child.
So maybe today, God is not coming to you as a mother. Maybe God comes to you as someone else. God is greater than any one image or gender.
Something one of our Abrahamic cousins can share with us is expansive language for God. Islam celebrates the 99 names of God. I am not going to share all 99 with you, that would take forever. But I want to share with you a few that may reach to your heart as how you see God.
99 names of God
The all seeing
The all hearing
The giver of life
The guiding one
The patient one
Our God is great and vast and relates to each of us in our own way. This God, that always comes to us, comes to us in one or many of these images for God.
Today we have families in all shapes and sizes. Families with two mothers, families with two fathers, families with only one parent. Families where the mother is the head of the household. Families with equal co-parents. Families where the grandmother or grandfather are the parents.
And so I find it helpful to recognize that our God comes to us in many ways, and not always as a father figure.
Our God comes to us as a mother hen in the gospels. Our God comes to us as a co-creator of life. Our God comes to us in many many images. Because we have a great God.
So on Good Shepherd Sunday, I see the image of the mothering God, coming to us to herd us, to grab us and say, “I Love you, and I want to keep you safe in this box. I want to restore you, nurture you, shield you, guide you, make you strong, and gather you together in my love.”
I want to leave you with this prayer:
This prayer was written by Amy Young, and adapted by Heidi Carrington Heath:
May you know that God is with you if you are like Tamar, struggling with infertility, or a miscarriage.
May you know that God is with you if you are like Rachel, counting the women among your family and friends who year by year and month by month get pregnant, while you wait.
May you know that God is with you if you are like Naomi, and have known the bitter sting of a child's death.
May you know that God is with you if you are like Joseph and Benjamin, and your Mom has died.
May you know that God is with you if your relationship with your Mom was marked by trauma, abuse, or abandonment, or she just couldn't parent you the way you needed.
May you know that God is with you if you've been like Moses' mother and put a child up for adoption, trusting another family to love your child into adulthood.
May you know that God is with you if you've been like Pharaoh's daughter, called to love children who are not yours by birth (and thus the mother who brought that child into your life, even if it is complicated).
May you know that God is with you if you, like many, are watching (or have watched) your mother age, and disappear into the long goodbye of dementia or Alzheimer's.
May you know that God is with you if you, like Mary, are pregnant for the very first time and waiting breathlessly for the miracle of your first child.
May you know that God is with you if your children have turned away from you, painfully closing the door on relationship, leaving you holding your broken heart in your hands. And like Hagar, now you are mothering alone.
May you know that God is with you if motherhood is your greatest joy and toughest struggle all rolled into one.
May you know that God is with you if you are watching your child battle substance abuse, a public legal situation, mental illness, or another situation which you can merely watch unfold.
May you know that God is with you if you, like so many women before you, do not wish to be a mother, are not married, or in so many other ways do not fit into societal norms.
May you know that God is with you if you see yourself reflected in all, or none of these stories.
This mother's day, wherever and whoever you are, we walk with you. You are loved. You are seen. You are worthy.
And may you know the deep love without end of our big, wild, beautiful God who is the very best example of a parent that we know. Amen