Rev. Brandon Ouellette
God the Mother
Today, as you probably know, is a very special day indeed. It’s a day where we are honoring our mothers but also a day in which we are lifting up women. Women everywhere who are changing the world and making it a better place. I’ve been encouraged these past few years, at the change in conversation we’ve been seeing around equal rights and women’s representation. These conversations are making sure that not only is our society more fair, but also that we work to deconstruct a world that has so often focused just on men—on men’s needs, on men’s rights, on men’s opinions. In no way have we reached our goal, but I am encouraged by the momentum I see of women willing to speak out, have their voices heard, and fight for what is right.
I am certainly not the most qualified person, either as a mother or a woman, to speak on all of the issues that they face. But I think to my own mom, to the difficulties and the stigma that she endured for being a single mother. I think to everything that she’s been through, often suffering in silence, but also the strength and resilience that came from navigating a world in which she had to “play the game”. Of course I didn’t realize this at the time because all I knew growing up was her constant love and sacrifice for her children.
We see examples of this love and sacrifice in our Bible, although so much of it is often wrapped around the narratives of men, of husbands and of kings. I was initially struggling to pick a scripture reading for today. Should it be about Sarah, Hannah, Ruth, Esther, perhaps Deborah or Miriam, Rehab, Huldah, Phoebe, Mary, or even Eve? It’s amazing that despite the often male centered focus of our scriptures, that we still have so many of these amazing stories. In the end I decided to go with Shiphrah and Puah, who we will get to in a little bit.
My hope this morning was that hearing the very familiar Psalm 23 reading in a different light was helpful in some way. It seems like a small change, the pronoun switching from he to she, but I bet it made a world of difference to how you heard it. We often forget, I think, that God does not have a gender. God is not limited by our earthly definitions of body. But we still need something, right? Something to make God more personable.
The fact is, if we read the first chapter of Genesis, the first chapter of the Bible, we would be reminded that God created humankind in God’s image, male and female. Our issue, then, is primarily around language and I apologize if I’m going to “geek out” for a little bit but language fascinates me. The power we put into words and the type of words we use really does mean something.
Are you ready? This is your 30 second language lesson. In both Hebrew and Greek, the language systems utilize something called conjugations, meaning that a word’s form changes to either masculine or feminine, singular or plural, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person. If you’ve ever studied Spanish or French this
should be very familiar to you. Now this
is the interesting bit, all verbs and nouns in Hebrew have to have a gender, including the name for God, and since the male case was the default, we see all of God’s pronouns in the Bible defaulting to he, his, and him.
Ok, lesson over!
It wasn’t the case for the writers of the Bible that God was a male, but more a necessity of the language. Now, I won’t bore you any longer with linguistics but how does that open up our minds, our vocabulary, and our descriptions of God if we can begin to imagine God not only as male, but also female, and mother and father, friend, presence, nature, Spirit, God as everywhere, not limited by our definitions. How also does it help us to break down a society where the focus has been primarily male? For as Mary Daly said, “If God is male, then the male is God”.
Because of this history and because it can be so very easy to fall into habits of our upbringing, I feel challenged and obligated to life up stories and peoples who often do not have the spotlight. Although I cannot speak for their voices, I can at least provide a space where they can thrive. Because of this, I could think of no two better women than Shiphrah and Puah. We read this morning, about how the king of Egypt had issued a decree in order to control the population of Hebrew boys, most likely to stave off any chance of future rebellions. In an act of bravery and defiance to the most powerful voice in the land, these Hebrew midwives said no. Their very lives were on the line and yet they stood against the voice of tyranny and said no, an early example of women standing up for what is right.
It is through their story that we realize not only should we learn from figures like Abraham, Moses, and Jacob, but we should also lift up and learn from the experiences of the women in our Bible because women’s words, their experiences, their lives, matter. Because they matter, God as Mother also matters. God as refugee, God as a person of color, God as all of us, represented in every shape, shade, and experience of person matters.
You know, Mother’s Day can be a complicated day for many of us. In addition to our mothers, I also want to give recognition to those who may be unable to have children or those who have chosen not to. I want to give recognition to those who’s relationship with their mother’s might not be on good terms, or those who’s children may be estranged. I also recognize that for some, this is a painful day at the unimaginable loss of a loved one. For those people, I want you to know that we see you and we’re here for you. I want you to know that God the Mother is always with you to provide comfort and healing and in time, strength to once again experience joy in life.
On this Mother’s Day, let us remember that the word mother often transcends biological status. I’ve had women in my life impact me in ways that showcased the love and example of a mother when I needed it most. I’m sure many of you have had teachers and friends that have been there for you when things were hard. Despite my wife’s age, she is still referred to at school as Mama O by her students.
So I encourage you today, to be with and thank the women in your life. I encourage you to listen to their stories and their experiences, to make space for their leadership. I encourage you to read and lift up their examples from scripture where women have changed the world. I also encourage you to be expansive in your descriptions of God, to do a better job of allowing God to move through people from all walks of life. This day and every day should be a day where women and men have equal voice, equal representation, and a place at the table, where all races, religions, countries of origin, genders, and abilities are welcomed.
Now unto God the Mother, Redeemer, and Sustainer, we ask for wisdom in these and all things, through Christ. Amen.