I definitely have mommy issues. I don’t know why this doesn’t get more coverage in society. All we hear is women with daddy issues. And while I’m sure that keeps the ‘adult video’ genre afloat, I think its time we give some attention to the emotionally stunted adults, like me, that deals with mommy issues. So lets talk about our view of God as viewed through the spectrum of mother figure.
I was raised with a mother that did not possess the most loving personality. To be fair, all of us kids always had food on our plates and……. well that’s about as far as I will go with the compliments. You should be warned that this article stems from a very broken and hurt place in my heart, and as such is I’m sure it’s a bit biased in my perspective. All before the age of 10 I was constantly in fear of my parents. (My dad routinely came home drunk and when he was at home spent his life away from his family and on the couch watching TV and grumbling under his breath every time a person of color was on the screen – but this is an article about mommy issues so, you will have to wait your turn dad!) There was an attempted smothering of me with a pillow by my mother, and on another occasion, my head was knocked into the soap holder in the bathtub so hard I had a large gash in my forehead that I still have a scar from (my mom was afraid to take me to the hospital so she just patched it up with a band-aid. Isn’t bathtime fun!). My daughter and son in a few days will turn 8 and 6, and I shudder to think of doing anything to harm them. I don’t spank or even send them to their rooms. I want them to always be aware of my love for them. When they do something unpleasant or ‘bad’ I talk to them and explain things. But I’m getting off topic….
When I went into my teenage years and became aware that I was now ‘older’ than my parents, the physical threats went away and replaced with a verbal abuse that was far more damaging to me. I won’t get into a lot of details (you can read a lot more about that in my sister’s blog
under the artitcle ‘Why do we always blame our Mother?’
What made all this so incredibly hard to understand for me was the fact that me and my siblings were raised in a very conservative religious household. I mean, how can you claim to serve God and at the same time treat your children like this. Especially when you claim to be in God’s ‘one and only organization’ as we did. Everyone else was supposed to be the poor lot that was headed for destruction. We had ‘the truth’. I’ve said enough about that religion on this blog before so I wont get into the weeds on it now. But needless to say, to hear one thing and then to observe and get the brunt of another thing is like getting a big hug from God at church and then having God kick you in the balls at home and tell you that your worthless. One memory from when I was 14 was when I was complaining about my annoyance with some guy in our church and my mom cut me off and told me point blank, ‘‘well he at least is going to survive Armageddon, YOUR NOT!’’ She has also repeatedly said to all her kids that she wishes she never had any children and that none of her kids should have had kids of their own (She has soon to be 11 grandkids. 7 of those she no longer has any dealing with).
Now that I have left that religion of my mother, I am now not even worthy to be spoken to at all by her. I’m considered ‘dead’ by my mother and an ‘apostate of the true faith’. All of my text messages to her go unanswered, while on social media I get to see pictures of her smiling and with her arms around other siblings and family members that never left the faith. My mom wants nothing to do with me and treats me, and by extension, my wife (who is pregnant with our 3rd child) and her grandchildren, as if they do not exist. All the while going around trying to convert others into her religious group by proclaiming how loving and kind and Christlike they are.
After all that has been said here, I miss my mother. I (takes a sip of alcohol) love and want the best for her. I know that she herself had a terrible childhood. Sexual assault and abandonment from her own father topping that list (there are other horrific things she suffered as a teen that I can’t in good conscience even mention here). Married quickly at 18 to a drunk air force service member that she was already pregnant from, and then married for decades while he gave her zero help and support raising 5 kids. That’s why she was such an easy target to be sucked into a cult in the 70’s, and thereby dooming all her present and future children to a life of choosing whether to agree with her religion or lose their parent forever. I know she has been through pain and suffering herself. I understand. That’s why it pains me so much knowing that she can abandon her own child after going through what she did growing up. I want things to be different in our relationship and to be a happy and close family. I want her to know that it’s OK and that I forgive her. I want nothing but her peace and happiness…..and her. (I have only dealt with this ‘shunning’ for about 7 months, my sister has dealt with it for almost 30 years).
This was a roundabout way of saying that I have a bad view of God being a good and loving parental figure. But this is something I seek to reclaim. God as a warm heavenly mother is something I desperately need right now. Fortunately I am not left in the dark about this, so if your still with me after all my whining about my mom, let’s look at a different view of God.
“I Will Not Forget You”
The Bible is full of references to God being a mother figure, although in a men-dominant religious culture they are usually overlooked. However, from the very beginning it is there. Genesis chapter 1 verse 1 tells us that God created the heavens and the earth but then this: “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind of God swept over the face of the waters.” Why is that relevant? The word for ‘wind’ in Hebrew is ‘ruach’ and is usually translated as ‘spirit’. The Holy Spirit is first spoken of here in the 2nd verse of the Bible. While the word for God in Hebrew is ‘elohim’ is in the masculine form, the word for spirit is in the feminine. Not just that but even the action of the Spirit, its sweeping over or hovering, is a verb also in its feminine form. The same word is also used at Deuteronomy 32:11 when describing God hovering over the people like a mother eagle over its young. In fact, some scholars even find a possible connection with this motherly protection in the dove descending from heaven at Jesus’s baptism, as the dove is a symbol of the Spirit. This instance in Genesis 1 leads right up to Genesis 2 where we are told in verses 26 and 27 that God made humankind in his image, male and female.
Going back to the mention of mother birds, the Bible is not lacking in that description. Ruth 2:12: “May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” Psalm 17:8: “ Guard me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” Psalm 36:7: “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Psalm 57:1: “in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.” But wait, doesn’t that just refer to wings? How do we know that its a female bird and not a male bird? First the picture of a momma animal protecting its young is pretty universal in different cultures. Second, Jesus is clearing invoking such references when he said at Luke 13:34: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
When it comes to female, and specifically mother, imagery, the book of Isaiah takes the top spot. Isaiah 42:14: “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept silent and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.” This verse comes just a few after a long passage many Christians apply to the coming of the Christ. Then there is one of my recent favorite verses in scriptures, Isaiah 49:15: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”Also Isaiah 66:13: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
New Testament Examples
While fewer in number in the New Testament, probably because we are dealing with the physically male Jesus of Nazareth, we can still find the love of a mother here. Jesus compares God famously to a merciful father in the parable of the prodigal son. Yet in the same chapter (Luke 15) he also compares God as a woman looking for a lost and precious coin and rejoicing once it’s found (vs 8-10).
The image of a nursing mother is used at 1 Peter 2:2: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation.” If we are spoken of as infants longing for milk, then God would be the mother providing that sustenance.
A huge example, but one maybe you may not see right away, is what Jesus is referred to in the Gospel of John – the Word. Jesus is spoken of as the incarnation of the Word of God. How do we get a mother image from that? Many early church fathers, such as Justin Martyr writing in the mid 2nd century, see a link between the ‘Word’ of the God and the ‘Wisdom’ of God. A part of God that is personified into another being. In Proverbs chapter 8 a large portion of verses is dedicated to discussing this ‘person’ of Wisdom. The Hebrew word for wisdom is feminine, as is the Greek translation of that word, Sophia. In Greek culture at the time, much thought was put into discussing this wisdom of God, this Sophia, that she was honored as a God herself. You can see the allusion to these beliefs in the Biblical texts, except there she is presented as a part of God. In the book and movie version of ‘The Shack’, Sophia even gets her own character and pivotal scene. Although the ‘Word/Wisdom’ is incarnated in the obviously male Jesus, the feminine overtures should not be overlooked.
Another beautiful example is the Catholic devotion to Mary. Even though we are discussing Motherly references about God, I must mention this concept of reverence of the Holy Mother. In most other Christian traditions, especially in mainline Protestant and Evangelical denomination, you miss out on this practice. However the devotion of over 1 billion Christians to a female image is outstanding. Revered as the ‘mother of God’ she is meditated on and invoked daily, with many praying directly to her for help and guidance in their spiritual journey. Just think, a male dominated organization that forbids women to hold any priestly duties has at the heart of its worship the love and devotion to a woman! It really is beautiful and I have even read books by Protestants that celebrate this practice and credit it to feeling more comfortable with seeing God through the female lens by means of Mary.
I will admit this one is only possibility, and depending on how you look at it, maybe only a small possibility, but it is thrilling to contemplate nonetheless, and brought to my attention by the blog ‘Scribalishess’ One of the names or descriptions of God in the Old Testament is ‘El Shaddai’ and is commonly translated as ‘God Almighty’ or ‘Powerful God’. Yet, the Hebrew word is not quite understood, and there are a variances of opinion on how it should be translated. Without getting to complicated, we today translate it as ‘God Almighty’ because the Greek translation (the Septuagint) uses a word that means ‘all powerful’, yet we have to remember that it was originally written in Hebrew not Greek and the Hebrew doesn’t really bear out such a translation. One scary possibility is that it is derived from the Hebrew word ‘shadad’ which means ‘to deal violently with’ and so ‘El Shaddai’ would be ‘ God of Violence’. Another possibility is that it is derived from Akkadian word ‘shadu’ which means ‘mountain’, and therefore would be ‘The God of the Mountains’. You can in this scenario see the possible link between ‘mountain’ and ‘powerful’ that the Greek translation goes with, and this is currently the favorite among scholars today.
The possibility that I want to bring up is the idea that it is derived from the Hebrew word ‘shad’ which means…..wait for it….breast. As such it would render the description of God as ‘The God of Breasts’. Although ‘God of the mountains’ is usually considered the best translation, the fact that ‘God of the Breasts’ is even recognized as a viable alternative is pretty incredible. In looking at the context of the uses of ‘El Shaddai’ I believe that it is even more of a possibility. Every occurrence of ‘El Shaddai’ in the scriptures, with only a couple of exceptions, are all speaking of fertility. So when speaking of God as a God of fertility, the Bible writers uses ‘El Shaddai’. ‘The God of the Breasts’ label fits quite perfectly with that. This description gives us an idea of God that incorporates both maleness and femaleness, and help combat the notion among tribes back in Israelite days that God needed a wife, such as Baal or Asherah. Israel’s God WAS a God of fertility, and he needed no other.
Its late, so I wont be long-winded in wrapping this up. I need comfort right now in my life. I need support. I need a mother’s love. As the book ‘White Oleander’ says, ‘‘Despite all that she has done to me, I know my mother loves me’’, and so I wait and hope that someday a change will come. Even if that day never comes however, I know my Heavenly Mother is especially fond of me. May I have the strength and the humility to have that be enough.
May the God of Breasts be with you all.