What if Jesus and Lao Tzu Celebrated Mother’s Day?

What if Jesus and Lao Tzu Celebrated Mother’s Day? May 9, 2024

What if Jesus and Lao Tzu celebrated Mother’s Day? They would agree that universal and cosmic wisdom is best represented by motherly love.

Jesus and Lao Tzu giving flowers to Mother Chochma/Sophia/Tao
Image generated by the author at openart.ai

Jesus, the embodiment of wisdom and incarnation of the Tao, said, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” He utilized mother imagery to depict God’s gathering and protecting love. Bending traditional gender roles, the apostle Paul echoed Jesus’s feminine love, saying, “We were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children.” Taoist, Jewish, and Christian literature agree in their recognition of the Divine Feminine. It turns out that this motherly love is one of the best ways to personify Wisdom. Here are two different translations of verse six of the Tao Te Ching:

Tao Te Ching, Verse 6

The Tao is called the Great Mother:
empty yet inexhaustible,
it gives birth to infinite worlds.

It is always present within you.
You can use it any way you want.

(Stephen Mitchell Version)

 

The Spirit is Mother.

Emptiness which gives birth

to the universe.

The Spirit is within,

usable and inexhaustible.

(Marshall Davis Version)

 

Wisdom Personified as Mother

Both the Tao Te Ching and the Hebrew Bible portray wisdom as a feminine energy. In The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature: Selections Annotated and Explained, (pages  xviii, xxi, xxii, xxiii), Rabbi Rami Shapiro writes about Wisdom personified as Mother:

It is no small thing to note that Wisdom is feminine. The original language of the texts, both Hebrew and Greek, make this very clear: Hebrew Chochma and Greek Sophia are both feminine nouns. The authors of the Wisdom books [such as Proverbs, Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, and more] took this gender specificity seriously and envisioned Wisdom as Mother, God’s consort and bride, the Divine Feminine through which the masculine God fashioned all creation…

Chochma was not simply the first of God’s creations; She was the means through which all the others came forth. This is what it means to be the master builder. Chochma is both created and creative. She is the ordering principle of creation: “She embraces one end of the earth to the other, and She orders all things well” (Wisdom of Solomon 8:1). To know Her is to know the Way of all things…and to act in accord with it is what it means to be wise…

This is how Mother Wisdom works. She doesn’t change anything; illumines everything. She is right seeing. Chochma “pervades and penetrates” all things (Wisdom of Solomon 7:24). She is the ordering principle of the universe. What you see when you see Her is analogous to seeing the grain in wood, the current of wind and oceans, and the laws of nature, both the macrocosmic and the microcosmic…She is the Way things are…

She is the Way God is manifest in the world. To know Her is to know God as well.

 

Wisdom as the Divine Feminine

The eighth chapter of Proverbs depicts this primordial feminine Wisdom calling to all people. To everyone who passes, she offers herself as a refuge. Wisdom is trustworthy, for she is older than any of God’s works, and indeed, participated in creation itself.

Does not wisdom call

and understanding raise her voice?

On the heights, beside the way,

at the crossroads she takes her stand;

beside the gates in front of the town,

at the entrance of the portals she cries out:

“To you, O people, I call,

and my cry is to all who live…

 

“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,

the first of his acts of long ago.

Ages ago I was set up,

at the first, before the beginning of the earth.

When there were no depths I was brought forth,

when there were no springs abounding with water.

Before the mountains had been shaped,

before the hills, I was brought forth,

when he had not yet made earth and fields

or the world’s first bits of soil.

When he established the heavens, I was there;

when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,

when he made firm the skies above,

when he established the fountains of the deep,

when he assigned to the sea its limit,

so that the waters might not transgress his command,

when he marked out the foundations of the earth,

then I was beside him, like a master worker,

and I was daily his delight,

playing before him always,

playing in his inhabited world

and delighting in the human race.

 

Synonymous with the Holy Spirit

These verses describe the Yin-energy of wisdom. In the Hebrew text, God creates Wisdom, yet Wisdom also co-creates with God. Mystical traditions elevate Chochma/Sophia to a feminine attribute of God, synonymous with the Holy Spirit. Wisdom is more than a concept, more than the accumulation of human intellect. Wisdom is a divine principle, akin to the Tao.

 

Wisdom’s Yin-Energy

Wisdom is Yin-energy because it is subtle by nature. It does not demand obedience—it simply beckons and waits. Wisdom is the valley. By her sloping landscape, she invites the river to flow through her. And water does so, because it seeks the lowest, most humble place. Flowing rivers carve canyons—and it is in these valleys that life, safety, and nourishment abound.

You can see Wisdom’s Yin-energy as she stands by the portal and the gate. This association with openings and receptivity is not accidental. Wisdom is the Great Mother— “empty yet inexhaustible.” It is because of her emptiness that she can develop life in her womb. Like a cup, a well, and a bellows whose virtue lies in emptiness, the valley, gate, and portal demonstrate the virtue of their openness.

 

The Playful Mother

One beautiful aspect of Chochma/Sophia is her playfulness. She says, “I was daily [God’s] delight, playing before him always, playing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” Taoist literature shares this playful attitude. Lest one believe that Taoist detachment is too austere, Lao Tzu’s and Chuang Tzu’s writings offer a sense of spriteliness as well. As a mother delights in and plays with her children, so is the Tao with the children of the universe.

Seen as the playful mother, we can understand the enigmatic final phrase of verse six of the Tao Te Ching. Mitchell translates it, “You can use it any way you want.” Davis renders it, “usable and inexhaustible.” Feminists might rightly take issue with the idea of using the Great Mother Tao. Humans have done unfathomable damage by using Mother Earth to their own advantage, exploiting her as a commodity. Yet, if we understand “using” our Mother in the context of a playful relationship where Mother is never not in charge, we can see this differently. Imagine children using their mother as a jungle gym—this is using her, but not in an exploitative way.

 

Lighthearted Co-Creation

Daily, mothers offer their children comfort, advice, and support. This is “using the mother,” without taking advantage. Even as Chochma/Sophia delights in her children, the Tao is pleased to provide, care, nurture, and even play with those who take refuge. Her presence is always within you. And within that relationship of trust, there are no limits to lighthearted co-creation with the Spirit of Wisdom.

 

Did Jesus and Lao Tzu Celebrate Mother’s Day?

Did Jesus and Lao Tzu celebrate Mother’s Day? Of course not—but if they did, they would agree that wisdom and Yin energy display themselves best in images of maternal love. This Mother’s Day, as you express gratitude toward the mothers in your life, take a moment to recognize the feminine wisdom of Chochma/Sophia/Tao.

 

Something to Ponder…

Take a moment to sit comfortably and close your eyes. Breathing deeply, imagine yourself in a comfortable warm darkness. It’s the cozy darkness of blankets when you were a child, snuggling in bed with your mom. Or it’s the wet warm darkness of the womb before you were born, that protected place where you could hear your mother’s voice singing her love into you. The pregnant darkness of pre-creation when the Divine Feminine stirred the elements with her gentle breath. As you breathe, inhale that Wisdom. Exhale any resistance you might feel to her embrace. Continue to sit and breathe, surrounded by divine insight and love. Thank this Great Mother for your existence, and simply rest in her presence.

 

For related reading, check out my other articles:

About Gregory T. Smith
I live in the beautiful Fraser Valley of British Columbia and work in northern Washington State as a behavioral health specialist with people experiencing homelessness and those who are overly involved in the criminal justice system. Before that, I spent over a quarter-century as lead pastor of several Virginia churches. My newspaper column, “Spirit and Truth” ran in Virginia newspapers for fifteen years. I am one of fourteen contributing authors of the Patheos/Quoir Publishing book “Sitting in the Shade of another Tree: What We Learn by Listening to Other Faiths.” I hold a degree in Religious Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University, and also studied at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. My wife Christina and I have seven children between us, and we are still collecting grandchildren. You can read more about the author here.
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