Lent 23 – Ima Mother

Posted: March 7, 2016 by leighannegreenwood in Lent

Today’s reflection is a short address I gave as part of a service yesterday morning. The title comes from the the fact that we often use the Aramaic word Jesus used to address God to speak of Abba Father, but we may also use the same language to speak of Ima Mother.

If you’ve been anywhere near a card shop or a supermarket in the past couple of weeks, it probably won’t have escaped your attention that today is Mother’s Day, or Mothering Sunday. You may also have noticed that today has taken on another level of meaning for me this year, as Mike and I are expecting our first baby in May, and so I have begun to think about what it means to be a mother as well as what it means to be mothered.

It’s quite common to think on Father’s Day about God as father, but I suspect it’s less common to think on Mother’s Day about God as mother. It’s true that paternal images are more common in the Bible, but there are maternal images in there too, and so I want to take a quick look at just a few of them and what they tell us.

In Hosea 11:3-4 God says “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” God isn’t named as mother, but there are some very traditionally maternal images of embrace and nurture, and a great sense of tenderness. I imagine Ephraim like a baby taking his first steps, God just ahead with his arms outstretched, ready to catch him and kiss him better when he falls. Even as adults we can feel like we’re taking baby steps, as we take on new things or seek new answers, but God is always just ahead of us, encouraging us to put that next foot forward but ready to pick us back up if we miss our footing.

Deuteronomy 32:18 says “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.” So here God does not just create us like an artist, but gives birth to us like a mother. It reminds us that we are made in the family likeness, that there is something of God which is essential to who we are. We all inherit things from our parents, and not all of them will be things we are proud of, but God is good and so we can be sure that the spark of him that is in us is also good.  Nurture is just as important as nature in forming our characters, and so we need to grow in relationship with him in order to fan that spark into flame, but it is really important to begin by recognising what there is of God in us and in one another and to celebrate that.

Finally in Matthew 23:37 Jesus despairs over Jerusalem saying “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” So here there is a sense of protection and intimacy, and a sense of family too. This image speaks not just about the relationship between the hen and her chicks, but about the relationship between the chicks as they are drawn together. When a Gentile converted to Judaism, it was said that they had been brought under God’s wing, and so the images conveys a sense of being brought out of the cold and into community. God as our mother brings us into relationship to one another as brothers and sisters, and extends our family to all who believe in him.

It’s interesting that in all of these images, there is a sense of tension in the relationship. Ephraim doesn’t recognise God as healer, and Israel has forgotten him, and Jerusalem does not wish to be sheltered. We all experience tensions in our familial relationships, so that sense of breakdown perhaps feels sadly familiar, but these passages all carry a sense of God wanting to cut through that tension, so they also speak of hope of reconciliation and promise the love of God where that reconciliation cannot be found within our own families.

I think these maternal images sitting alongside the more familiar paternal images reveal a richer image of God. I’ve talked about God as mother while still using male pronouns because the weaving together of masculine and feminine images reminds us that God is not male or female as we understand those concepts. God made both man and woman in his image and so there is both male and female in him, and it is right that we recognise in him the tenderness we associate with motherhood as well as the strength we associate with fatherhood. Speaking of God as ‘he’ is convenient but it does not tell the fullness of his being. He is always more wonderful and more surprising than we expect.

I think these maternal images of God also help us develop a richer understanding of motherhood. God is not mother in the way we would normally understand, and that reminds us that there are many ways of being mother. Families take many different shapes and can be created and chosen as well as given, and the ideas we associate with motherhood are not an exclusively female domain. We each mother and are mothered by all those who we nurture and who nurture us, and in doing so we reveal something of the heart of God, so let us give thanks for that now.

God, thank you that you are mother as well as father, meeting our every need as your children. Thank you too that you give us mothers and fathers of all varieties, who care for us with your heart. We lift up to you all those who mother us and who we mother in our turn, and ask that you bless those relationships. In your name, Amen.


40thoughts: follow where the Spirit leads

40acts: give away your last rolo

Leeds Prayer Diary: Hunslet Initiative



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