Sunday, May 09, 2004

Our Mother, Who Art in Heaven...

Today, throughout this country, we honor one of the most important roles of humanity. Today, we honor Motherhood.

In today's culture, you would think that this day would be decreed to be something a little more inclusive. Parent's Day, maybe? But no, over time, this day has managed to keep its significance, and identify the role of Mother as being unique to the role of Father. Is there a difference?

In today's households, many roles are shared by the parents, making the line between Moms and Dads a little more blurry. The stereotypical roles no longer define parents in today's world. The reality is that we are each a composite of many different characteristics; some masculine, and some feminine. More than ever before, the title Parent seems more appropriate.

Our Parent, who art in heaven... That doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it? That's the problem with language. It is not always a rational endeavor. And maybe that's a good thing, as our images of God are not always rationale, either. When it comes to the nature of God, we know very little. We talk about God using metaphors. Sometimes metaphors are helpful. Sometimes they're not. If our reference to God as Father leads us to believe that God must be male, much like our earthly fathers, and our experience of earthly fathers is negative, then the metaphor of God as father may hinder our relationship and our understanding of God. Speaking of God as Parent probably isn't much better, as our relationship with God might become yoked to our interaction with our earthly parents.

Our Father/Mother, who art in heaven... This is a cumbersome way to address God, but it does have some merit. It is a complex image, a unique image, and one that is not readily accepted literally. It contains an element of mystery. But, once again, it just doesn't sound right to our ear, does it?

Our Mother who art in heaven... This metaphor has the same problem as the Father metaphor. Referring to God as Mother makes it easy to let our earthly Mother become our model of God. Yet, it is a metaphor worth exploring, as I think it is an option that has been neglected for much too long.

God is both Father and Mother. God has both masculine and feminine characteristics. You may have never thought of God before with feminine characteristics. I invite you today to consider God as Mother; to consider God as the One who gathers us under Her wings.

Mother's Day is not specifically a religious holiday, although it is interesting that the lectionary provides us with today's Gospel for the Sunday set aside to honor mothers. Jesus said, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another."

If there was ever a human metaphor for the love of God, it would probably be the love of a mother for her child; an unconditional love. God's love is totally unconditional.

I invite you to recall some of your memories of unconditional love from your life. They don't have to be memories of your mother's love. You might remember such love from your father, grandparents, spouse, or any other significant person in your life. We are referring to this "no strings attached" love as motherly love, but it didn't have to come from your mom. We've all experienced this kind of love, expressions of care that were unearned and undeserved. Even though it may not have been your personal experience, the idea of unconditional love, born through the ages in song and literature, has been wrapped up with the image of Mother.

This morning I want to suggest to you that the term Mother is an appropriate way to address God, who offers us unconditional love, and who gives us a new commandment, that we love one another.

Let me tell a story to illustrate the difference between the masculine and the feminine, a story that might help illustrate why I think right now, in this time in history, the image of Mother is a good way to envision God. It is a story told by Ed Gentry, a bible study leader at a church in Texas.

When I was a kid, we used to go to my grandparents dairy farm for a week each year. Each morning my grandmother would wake up at 4am and head out to the pasture to round up the cows and take them to the barn for milking. I will never forget the day I came of age. It was announced the following morning I would be allowed to get up and go with my grandmother as she performed her duties.

By the time grandmother was ready to go, so was I...decked out completely with cowboy boots, plastic chaps, genuine leather holster, metal cap gun, bandana, cowboy hat, and, if memory serves, she found me digging around for a piece of rope to be used to wrangle the particularly reluctant doggies.

You can imagine my surprise when, as we started to walk to the barn, she began to softly call out the cows names into the darkness. By the time we got to the barn, the first few cows were lining up to come in and get milked. I don't remember if the surprise knocked me off my feet or I slipped on a cow patty, but I was really bothered. This was not how you were supposed to round up cattle. It bothered me for a long time. As we studied Psalm 23 last month, this memory came rushing back. My vision is of God gently calling our names in the dark as we walk through our lives. I think cattle prods would be more effective.
Our Mother, who art in heaven, softly calling our names in the darkness. God the Creator giving birth to all creation, nurturing and sustaining Her creation, and expressing an inclusive love for all of creation. I think our world needs this metaphor for God right now. One who creates, nurtures and sustains.

Today, I have invited you to stretch your understanding of God, to explore the possibility of seeing God as your heavenly Mother. I have found this metaphor to be helpful in my life. I suspect it may be helpful to some of you.

Let us celebrate motherhood this day, and give thanks to God our Mother. Let us also honor God as we encounter Her in those around us. Express your love for the mothers in your life. They are created in the image of God.