Some time ago, I was in a bit of a writing slump and I asked my patrons if they had suggestions of subjects about which I should write. I got a few responses, all good, and I’ve written on a few of them. My friend David suggested writing about the Lord’s prayer in an age of changing fatherhood. I was intrigued by that and figured I would let it cook for a bit. After some consideration, I figured I would split this in to two parts, one that I would post for Mother’s day and one for Father’s day.
A little more in the way of preamble. I have been somewhat estranged from my family in recent months. Since my divorce, my family of origin hasn’t been an emotionally safe space for me. I don’t blame anyone for that. I’ve had to work through a lot of things and some interactions are just really hard. I write this post having not really spoken to my mother or having spent any significant time with her in a couple of years. Maybe this will lead to some healing for me… maybe for her as well…
One of the first sermons that I gave in seminary was a Mother’s Day sermon at Christ United Presbyterian Church in the Japantown neighborhood of San Francisco. I was working there as the youth pastor and summer camp director. In that sermon, I explored the idea of God as mother. A summary of the sermon was read in Japanese for the first generation folks in the congregation then I gave my sermon. In a church with a significant amount of strong matriarchs, a sermon like that goes over really well. It wasn’t just that I was speaking on the virtues of motherhood, it was that I connected those virtues with what I believe to be true about God. It was my saying to the mothers in the congregation, “I think God is a lot like you and God’s love is a lot like your love”.
I can admit now that at that point I was taking a new theology out for a test drive. One of the ongoing conversations in seminary for me was about inclusive language. It wasn’t just about using inclusive language for people (“humanity” instead of “mankind”) but it was about inclusive language for God as well. I’ll confess that I bristled the first few times that I heard God referred to as “She” or referred to as Mother/Father God. It was jarring and it felt awkward and clunky. We would rewrite songs on the fly as we played them in worship, changing “he’s” and “him’s” to “she’s” and “her’s”. It felt like a lot of extra work for what I wanted to believe was an assumption: God’s not “really” your Father. It’s just what we call Him. Why can’t everyone just chill?
But it wasn’t an assumption, not even for me. God had to that point in my faith only been ascribed masculine traits. God was King, Lord, Father, Judge. God was stern and strong. God was disciplinarian. God was seeking obedience above all else. God was proud and jealous. These things were engrained in me because of the language that I had heard forever. One of my professors stated that all of our language about God is either metaphor or idolatry and I had made an idol out of God’s masculinity. It had become an important part of my faith and understanding and I wrestled against the idea of God as anything other than Father mightily.
Then as I worked on this sermon, I forced myself to wrestle with another idea: what if God loves the way my mother loves? Growing up with an absentee father, mom was present. Growing up with an abusive stepfather, mom was safety. Mom was the one with whom I could share my random thoughts. Mom was encouraging. Mom was nurturing. Mom was the one with whom I could laugh. Mom was no pushover. I didn’t want to be on her bad side, but I didn’t fear mom like I did my stepfather. Mom’s love came in the form of lasagna and coffee cake not whips from a belt.
There’s another side to this that I can see some years later: mom was vulnerable. Mom was the one who cried and grieved. Mom was the one whose heart was broken often. Mom felt deeply and cared deeply. Mom sacrificed. Mom gave. Mom denied herself. Mom’s love was warm and inviting, not cold and demanding. Mom could be hurt and disappointed. I had the power to break mom’s heart. I still do.
God being like my mom forced my image of God to change. God’s love became more warm and welcoming. It redefined what unconditional love might mean for me. It lessened my fear of God without lessening the respect for God’s power and goodness. It made me imagine a God who might be proud of me, a God who wouldn’t abandon me, and a God who enjoyed my company.
Praying to this God is a different activity as well. The imagery of the Lord’s prayer shifts for me.
“Our mother in heaven…” – not looking down in judgment, but looking out the window making sure I don’t go too far from the house
“hallowed be your name” – don’t do anything that’s going to embarrass Her.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – her kingdom? a table spread out with all of her children gathered around it.
“Give us today our daily bread” – you will eat, but it’s not just about survival. She cares about what you like.
“And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” – there’s nothing you can do that will stop you from being Her child.
“And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” – She taught you better than that!
“For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever” – there’s always a home for you. Always.