Mother's Day Reflections - Kyle Hanawalt
Welcome on this Mother’s day - It’s a day full of different emotions Some come in today with feelings of joy and gratitude when they think of their own mother’s. Thinking of all the love and care and support they received And some come in today to be celebrated as mother’s themselves, appropriately so. Mom’s here today - You’re awesome and I am sure that isn’t said enough. But, others of us find this day to come with a sense of loss, loss of one’s own mother, loss of what they wish their mothers would have been, or loss at their desire for motherhood. This is a unique day in that way, what for some is a good and happy day, for others, it is can be just the opposite. Which is why I am so glad that God is big and caring and dynamic. That he can be here with all of us in all of our emotion while we, here together, go through different things. He can celebrate with us, help stir up gratitude, and also comfort and bring us healing. So, my hope is that today you experience God - Experience him to be exactly what you need.
So, Although lots of attention is given to imagery of God as father in the Bible, there is also a lot of imagery of God as Mother - such as Isaiah 66:13, "As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you."
Theologian Marcus Borg points out that there are many good reasons to identify and take note of these female images of God throughout the Bible: Because when we only look at the male images, we are missing out. For, Male images for God are often associated with power, authority, judgment. domination When used exclusively, they most often create an image of a punitive God. God must be appeased or else. Whereas, the female images of God in the Bible suggest something different. God is the one who gave birth to us and all that is. God wills our well-being, as a mother wills the well-being of the children of her womb. God is attached to us with a love that is tender and that will not let us go. And like a mother who sees the children of her womb threatened and oppressed, God can become fierce.
The Catholic thinker Richard Rohr -
Expands on Borg’s point when he says -
Most people (though not all) have experienced unconditional love not through the image of a man, but through the image of their mother. She therefore became the basis for many people’s eventual God image, presuming it was a good God image. (I am convinced that many people sour on religion because the God they are presented with is actually less loving than their real life mother and/or father!)
For much of the human race, the mother is the one who parts the veil for us. She gives us that experience of grounding, of intimacy, of tenderness, of safety that most of us hope for from God.
So, I actually have a father who shows a lot of emotion. I would say, particularly for a man of his generation, he was very emotionally present. However, even with my own father as a counterpoint. Because of the way I have seen men depicted in my life, through media, through the people around me, I too most often associate the male identity with being somewhat emotionally removed. And as I imagined God growing up, I imposed onto God that male image, of being emotionally guarded or withdrawn. In fact, when I thought about what it meant that God was called holy, in my mind meant that he was emotionally stoic, unmoved.
Now I struggle with this even with having a pretty good father figure image in my life. But, if you have had mixed or bad experiences with father figures in your life, and the male image of God is the only image you are given to understand our relationship with God. It can be unsettling, that God is unsafe, mean, distant.
The truth is, both Male and Female are made in God’s image, God is not one gender or the other, god is seen in all of us man and women. And everywhere in-between.
So. if it’s helpful for you to pray to God the mother, or try to relate to God the mother. Go for it. You are not betraying God, or insulting god masculinity - that just doesn’t happen to God, that some broken human thing - God just wants to connect with you regardless of what imagery helps you do that. Because that is all it is - imagery - Father, mother, lamb, lion, Shepherd, bread, light, rock, shield, refuge, doctor all of it is just to help us understand something so beyond our understanding. Help us understand the the God of the universe wants to be with us. Be there for us, heal us, protect us, care for us.
And for me, particularly in recent years, I have found it really helpful in thinking of God more so through the lens of a mother. There is something about looking at God through the image of Motherhood that helps Jesus feel close. That God is not some far off stoic thing in the clouds, but here with us in our struggles, in our joys. Loving, persistent, fierce.
There are two examples of something my own mother did when I was growing up that I still go back to as a way to experience God as close.
The first was when I was kid and was in the hospital with Meningitis, which was particularly scary since it was meningitis that almost killed my older brother and eventually left him without his hearing.
And the thing I think about is just laying in the hospital bed with my mother next to me. Not saying anything, not really doing anything, but just 100% there with me, experiencing it all right there with me. And me just feeling a fierceness in her love for me. 100% emotionally present. Of course she was experiencing the challenge and fear alongside me, but also through the intensity of her care I felt safe. Now, imagining God as with me as my mother was with me then. Particularly when I feel scared, unsafe, overwhelmed. It has really made a difference in God feeling tangibly close to me. Like God is sitting there right next to me as I cry, as I slump over, just sitting there with fierce love, steadfast with me. The other example was when I was in like 3rd grade and I was told that I needed glasses, so my mom took me and I went and got glasses, but I hated them, absolutely hated them. You see, I hated wearing them because they made my head hurt, and they made my head hurt because when I put them on my vision got blurrier not better. You may think that would be something I would share, “hey these glasses which are meant to improve my vision actually make my vision worse.” But, in my 8 year old mind, I don’t know, for some reason it didn’t trip any alarm bells for me, maybe that points to my level of general awareness as a child. However, one day after complaining once again that I hated wearing my glasses, my mother asked my why I hated them so much. And I told her because it hurts my head, I have to focus so hard to read with them on. I can still remember the look on my mother’s face, What do you mean, it’s harder to see with your glasses on?
Well what we eventually figured out was that the store where I had gotten the glasses had gotten my prescription wrong. And when my mother found out she went back to that store to give them a piece of her mind. And what I remember most was the fierceness in my mother eyes. You see, my mother is like 5ft tall in heels, a small women. But, when my mother stepped to the man who had gotten my prescription wrong he had fear in his eyes. She let him know that what he did to her son, was not ok, it was not no big deal. They were going to make it right, and make it right now. I just remember seeing her fight for me like that. It was this sense of care and protection, that she was going to do everything in her power to make sure that I was ok. And even more than that, when she came back to me with the new glasses, she expressed such deep care and empathy for me. She told me that she was so sorry that I had been to sent to school with bad glasses, I just remember the care in her eyes at that moment. Like any wrong done to me had been done to her too, and I wasn’t alone, I had someone on my side. To me, that experience, my mother, has helped me see and understand God better. That in my mother I was able to see more of who God was. That God will fight for me, he will care for me, that when I am wronged, he feels wrongs. That God is my advocate, constantly leading me to better life.
(Pause) So on this mother’s day I want to do something a little different in my prayer. I want to create some space, in my prayer for us to be quiet and see if in that quiet we may experience God in a different way.
I am going pray for 4 different things that I think are important parts of this day. And in each prayer I am going leave some space and silence.
The first thing I going pray a special prayer of blessing on Mothers in the room.
Then I am going to pray for those of us that would be helped by feeling gratitude for the mothers in our lives, whether that is our mom, a mother figure, or a wife or friend who is a mother. Third I am going to pray for any of us that might feel a sense of loss on mothers day, either because of our own mother, or for ourselves. Lastly, I am going to pray that we would be able to experience God with us a mother. With us in that fierce emotionally present, and steadfast way.
If you would stand with me, I would love to pray.