I come from a lineage of Mothers—matriarchs in a patriarchal society who dared to believe they could, and they did. When my grandfather died, my grandmother took over his seat as city commissioner, the first woman ever to hold the position in a small, rural town. From the time I was two years old, my mother raised me on her own.
When I came to faith it was in the context of an all-male leadership model, and for a girl who grew up without a father, referring to the church elders as “the fathers of the church” held not only a certain connotation, but overlaid an image of God who was far-off and uninterested. I needed a God who was near, who would gather me into herself and let me rest my weary head on her pillowy bosom. In my childhood home and in many of the families I know today, it’s the mothers who keep the household running like a well-oiled machine, shuffling kids to activities, nourishing and providing for the family while making sure mouths are fed and homework is done.
I’m not unaware that our earliest attachments to mother and father figures and caregivers provide us with a template for how we envision God, but ask any theologian, pastor, or priest, and you will be hard-pressed to find one who would confine the gender role of God strictly to that of a male. Ask a Hebrew scholar about the etymology of the word Spirit in the Old Testament and they will undoubtedly tell you the origin of rûah (roo’-akh) is in fact, female. Some faith traditions petition God for more of the Spirit. I wonder if they know they’re asking for a female presence to blow through like a mighty wind so they can experience a deeper connection with God.
When we confine God to a male pronoun, we’re only engaging with a portion of who God is. If we cannot use “she” when addressing or speaking about God, how will we clearly see the image of God in the women around us? If we invite only male teaching on Scripture from male perspectives, we are alienating more than half of most congregations.
We need to be able to hold God as both father and mother.
The laws of nature put forth by God attest to this. We need the energies of both the sun and the moon to synchronize our planet’s orbit. The sun holds us at a safe distance and provides warmth, while the moon draws the ocean tides and keeps the Earth from wobbling on its axis. Fall and winter lead the way for life cycles of death and rebirth when spring and summer arrive. Even our brain needs the integration of its right and left hemispheres in order for us to function as well-rounded and whole persons, balancing reason and logic with creativity and passion.
Sometimes I need a God who will contend for my heart like a fierce mama bear. Sometimes I need a God who holds my shaking hand in his steady and sturdy one.
Does the thought of God as more feminine than you imagined scare you?
In Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Sue Monk Kidd writes, “We think there’s nothing beyond the edge. No real spirituality, no salvation, no community, no divine substance. We cannot see that the voyage will lead us to whole new continents of depth and meaning. That if we keep going, we might even come full circle, but with a a whole new consciousness.”
I’d like to offer you an opportunity to engage with God as Mother through a prayer and journaling exercise. I’m using the Lord’s Prayer as a guide, loosely translated from The Message version. As you speak this prayer aloud, simply recognize and observe what comes up for you. Your instinct may be to try and resolve the responses that arise. Remember it’s not our job to make prayer happen. Simply listen for where God may be inviting you.
Our collective Mother,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done.
Do what you deem best –
as above, so with us.
What is it like to consider God as Mother? Where do you sense resistance or welcome? What comes up as you ponder God as collective Mother?
How might our desires shift if we prayed for a kingdom ushered in by a mother? What might we long to birth from our collective womb if we asked it from a Mother God?
Journal your thoughts and feelings.
Nurse us at your breast,
Feed us with the all you are.
Keep us alive with the nourishment
Of your divine feminine presence.
Meditate on what it means for a child to be satisfied, content and full-bodied from the milk their mother offers. You needn’t have breast-fed your own children to engage in this consideration. What does it mean for God to feed you of her own body?
Teach us temperance and forbearance
With one another,
As your tender and constant patience
Has been our guide.
Set our path ablaze,
Alight our way with your beauty and goodness,
And we will respond with whispers and shouts of
If you have multiple children, or if you have siblings, think about the methods a mother employs to disputes among her sons and daughters—the creativity she brings, the way she listens, the longing she has for her children to be knit together despite their differing personalities and strengths. How is your heart drawn to God’s heart for her people?
I pray this exercise is an invitation to pay close attention to where God is inviting you deeper into herself.
Vanessa Sadler is a trauma-informed Spiritual Director and Enneagram Specialist. Through her company Abide (@abidinginstory), she collaborates with clients who seek deeper abiding and a greater understanding of the ways they relate with God, self and others. Vanessa has Level I and Level II certificates in Narrative Focused Trauma Care from The Allender Center, located within the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, and also offers Integrated Story Work to her clients along with a culture identity component.