God in Labor Pains
“Maybe our image of God would be richer if we quit thinking: impassive, stoic, old man on a throne, and imagined a pregnant woman, waddling and crying, yelling from time to time, with the pains of labor, sometimes angry, sometimes tortured-giving birth to her children.” ~ Debbie Blue, Sensual Orthodoxy
This week as I was driving to MHCC, NPR had a report on the “double bind” for women in leadership roles. “Women in power often have to choose between being seen as likable but incompetent, or competent but cold.” The report spoke to how this idea is so deeply ingrained in the cultural perceptions that even other women often respond to female leadership with this un or subconscious bias. This made me think of the ways in which this bias infiltrates our perceptions of God and ourselves?
For the divine image is one that is also deeply marred by the cultural and historical privileging of the straight white male experience as the normative experience. Even as cultures and the biblical text hold space for deeper nuances and perspectives, often our reading of the text fail to include this. I can remember how hard it was, even as a progressive feminist, to alter my use and naming of the Divine from exclusively using male language and pronouns to the inclusion of feminine and non-gendered inclusive language. At first it seemed so clunky and awkward to switch between male and female language or to use non-gendered language, yet as I did, I found the more often I incorporated this change in vocabulary the more dynamic and engaging my experience and understanding of the Divine became. I began seeing God as more tender and intimately connected to my life and experiences, than the old curmudgeonly out of touch God of my early childhood. Like my paternal grandfather the God of my early years loved me but also was one whom you had to diminish and silence your exuberance, wonder, and excitement for. Who make you incredibly cool handmade things but who also you had to get things right for even when you didn’t know the answer or the question. On his birthday, Halloween, would give you a HUGE full sized candy bar but yell at you a month later for wanting to taste the turkey. God was one who loved me and I loved but I couldn’t relate to or understand, at least until my language and images were broadened.
In the simplicity of using “she or her or God or God’s self” instead of just “he or him or his” the Divine became the embodiment of the tender, strong, bold, just and kind people in my life and in turn more intimate. God became the one “who as a mother comforts her child, comforts us.” (Isaiah 66:13), who protects God’s people “like a bear robbed of her cubs, will attack and tear them asunder” (Hosea 13:8), “like the eagle with her talons out stirring up the nest, hovering over her young, God spreads wings to catch you and carries you on pinions” (Deut 32:11-12) and Jesus who “longs to gather you like a hen with her brood under her wings” (Matt 23:37, Luke 13:34) who loves us so much that Jesus became like us and with us “serving and humbling himself even unto death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-11)
These are fierce images of Divine protection and power, and they are also humble and kind. It is in their power that their vulnerability is revealed. To mother (or be the primary parent) for a child includes deep strength and deep risk. Pastor Debbie Blue’s image of God as a pregnant woman, reveals this clearly. To carry and birth a human takes so much strength, tenacity, focus, care, tenderness, vulnerability, risk and hope. It is a precarious and beautiful endeavor (as are all modes of parenting), it requires everything from you through a willingness to be present with yourself, hold and address your transference, and be able to engage well. To remain calm, empathetic and firm fighting peacefully for your holy land and the ecology of place, while the nation that has violated it’s contracts and agreements for greed and power meets your peaceful protests with attack dogs, military and riot forces, the cutting off of access and resources and general bad behavior. Still seeking to mother in fierce and tender ways, those officers of the law who shoot first and ask later killing the innocent and vulnerable over and over creating unnecessary trauma and posttraumatic stress for those who are already struggling for survival. When we move into richer more dynamic images of the Divine, our ability to see God’s presence in our lives and the world opens up.
By Jessica Knippel