How Can God be Seen Like a Mother in the Act of Creation?

How Can God be Seen Like a Mother in the Act of Creation? October 16, 2017

Tissot_The_CreationGod transcends all images which we use to represent him, but, on the other hand, he comes to us, immanent in creation, revealing himself to us so that we can and do know him by his actions in the world. God reveals himself to us in the economic Trinity which is one with and properly represents the truth contained in the immanent Trinity While we cannot comprehend the Trinity as it is in itself, we can trust and believe what is revealed of it, so long as we understand the means of such revelation.  God provides revelation according to our ability, skillfully engaging us with words and symbols which we can understand as a way to point to the transcendent truth which is beyond all comprehension.

God reveals himself to us, giving us various names, images, concepts which we can employ to know some aspect of his ways but if we get stuck with and use some of them without complementing them with other forms and images which also represent God, we will end up straying from the truth of God. We will turn such conventions into absolutes and what lays outside of those conventions will be lost, thereby diminish who and what God is, undermining the point of revelation itself.  For, it must be kept in mind, as Pseudo-Dionysius explained, “Indeed, the inscrutable One is out of the reach of every rational process. Nor can any words come up to the inexpressible Good, this One, this Source of all unity, this supra-existent Being. Mind beyond mind, word beyond speech, it is gathered by no discourse, by no intuition, by no name.”[1] The way we engage God should always be with this truth ever before us: what we say of God is always less than what God is; we engage God through symbols which point to the truth which is God, but we must not misconstrue the symbol for what God is, just like a finger pointing to the moon should not be misconstrued as being the moon if someone were to ask what the moon is. We can, therefore, find many aspects of revelation, many pointers to the truth, which work together, complementing each other, so as to make sure we do not become stuck with some conventions and absolutize them, confining and limiting God by them.

For example, God is often seen represented as the active Creator who gives form and existence to his bountiful creation: God acts, creation receives, God is active, creation is passive. There is truth to this, and from it, people can establish various images which help represent this truth; but if we get caught in this notion, we will misunderstand God and creation alike.  Thus, those who over-simplify what it means to be male and female will often talk about the relationship between God and creation as similar to that of a man with a woman; Scripture certainly can be shown which helps demonstrate this as a valid symbol, but they key is not to misread the symbol and over-literalize it, assuming there is nothing passive about God and nothing active found in and with creation  (nor should such analogy be used to abuse women by misconstruing what it means to be female, saying that women are naturally passive and men are naturally active, for that would undermine how Scripture portrays women, with many of them active participants in salvation history,  such as Miriam, Ruth and Mary Magdalene).

God established creation, but when we see the act of creation merely the relationship between God’s activity with creation’s passivity, it is easy then to seem the two as being separate, and distinct, in a way in which God loses his omnipresence. Moreover, it is easy then to reduce all of creation to pure passivity to God’s Absolute, losing therefore, all sense of freedom given to creation itself; free will would be an illusion for all that is willed would be based upon God’s Absolute will. God would be seen to shape and mold and establish creation without any interaction or activity from creation itself.

This is why we must understand the act of creation is seen as coming out of a kind of kenosis for God, where God opens up a space and places creation within so that within that space, creation has the freedom to act and establish itself. God could assert control, and be an Absolute, but in the act of creation, the Divine nature, as it were, recedes, no longer asserts itself, so that can be said to be passive in relation to the active becoming of creation. God gives the space, the material, the grace, the seeds of being needed for creation to actively engage God and produce with God the realm of becoming in which creation itself thrives.

Thus, Sergius Bulgakov is able to see a maternal sense with God, where creation exists, as it were, in God’s womb:

The divine energies that operate in the world belong to the eternity of the Absolute, and that which belong to the world itself in its process exists only in the relative; the world rests in the bosom of God like a child in the mother’s womb. It lives its own life, its own particular processes run in it which belong to it and not to the mother, but at the same time it exists in the mother and only by the mother. The concept of creation therefore is broader than the concept of emanation; it includes the latter in itself, since creation is emanation plus something that is created by the creative let there be! The Absolute is superabundant, it is the inexhaustible source of super-abounding being which is the outpouring of its wealth and fullness, and in this is the truth of the idea of emanation, which is wholly included in the idea of creation.[2]

We find ourselves within the space God made for us, in the space which God set free to have its own life; God’s presence is there, but God does not assert absolute authority over it, controlling it as if it were a machine. God established an order by which creation could establish itself; and God, desiring that creation should become more than it is in its origin, also gives grace so that creation can be deified; such grace can be seen given similar to the way a mother feeds and gives of herself to her children in her womb. This is not surprising, for, as Evdokimov understood, “It is the feminine soul which is nearest to the sources, to the origins, to birth.” [3] And so, in the words of Silesius, we can say, the Godhead gives itself to us as our “sap”:

The Godhead is my sap; what in me greens and flowers
It is the Holy Ghost who all growth empowers. [4]

God’s self-emptying which makes for the space for creation, for our sake, so we can have freedom to determine who and what we will make out of ourselves; certainly, like with all children, we make do with what is first handed over to us as our given nature, but that nature must not be seen as a closed-in destiny but the foundation by which we can grow – if we open up to that growth and receive the sap of the Godhead.  “As one whom his mother comforts,” God says, “so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (Isa. 66:13 RSV). While this verse certainly can be read in relation to historical Israel and earthly Jerusalem, it is also true and even more important for us, to realize it is also true of the heavenly Jerusalem: God comforts us as a mother, and truly, like a mother, we find we have been given space within God in which we receive what we need to thrive.  Thus, St. Jerome explained:

We lean the Creator’s mercy in his creatures, from the example of mothers, who by lovingly nurturing their children on their bosom surpass al charity. After all, God wants to show how he loves those whom he created, and says, ‘Will a woman forget, so as not to have compassion upon the offspring of her own womb? But even if a woman should forget these, yet I will not forget you’ [Isa 49:15]. [5]

To see and understand God as a mother, therefore, is an important way to represent how God creates, and in doing so, we will overcome a simplistic, masculine-only notion which seems to lead to a dualism between God and creation. It reminds us that all of creation is contained in some mysterious way within the Godhead, that it is not separate from God making a limit for God, but yet it is not God; it is to be seen, of course, as a symbol and like that of any masculine image for God, must not be overly-literalized. God creates us so that we can be actual, active, co-creators with God, and not just passive playthings which are moved by the sheer force of God’s will. We find God’s presence is everywhere; there is nowhere which God is not.[6] We find ourselves within the confines of existence established by the great chain of being, which comes out of and flows from God. We are tied to it, we are enriched by it, like a child in a mother’s womb; indeed, we are called by God to receive deifying grace, which we receive through Christ, who comes to us as it were like an umbilical cord, allowing us to participate and partake of the divine nature without being confused by it.

[Image=The Creation by James Tissot [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]


 

[1] Pseudo-Dionysius, “The Divine Names” in Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works. trans. Colm Luibheid (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 49-50.

[2] Sergius Bulgakov, Unfading Light. Trans. Thomas Allan Smith (Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 183.

[3] Paul Evdokimov, “The Charisms of Woman” in In the World, Of The Church. trans. Michael Plekon and Alexis Vinogradov (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001), 234.

[4] Angels Silesius, The Cherubic Wanderer. Trans. Maria Shrady (New York: Paulist Press, 1986), 43.

[5] St. Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah in St. Jerome: Commentary on Isaiah; Origen: Homilies 1-9 on Isaiah. trans. Thomas P. Scheck (New York: Newman Press, 2015), 861.

[6] We believe, then, in One God, one beginning , having no beginning, uncreate, unbegotten, imperishable and immortal, everlasting, infinite, uncircumscribed, boundless, of infinite power, simple, uncompound, incorporeal, without flux, passionless, unchangeable, unalterable, unseen, the fountain of goodness and justice, the light of the mind, inaccessible; a power known by no measure, measurable only by His own will alone (for all things that He wills He can ), creator of all created things, seen or unseen, of all the maintainer and preserver, for all the provider, master and lord and king over all, with an endless and immortal kingdom: having no contrary, filling all, by nothing encompassed, but rather Himself the encompasser and maintainer and original possessor of the universe, occupying all essences intact and extending beyond all things, and being separate from all essence as being super-essential and above all things and absolute God, absolute goodness, and absolute fullness : determining all sovereignties and ranks, being placed above all sovereignty and rank, above essence and life and word and thought: being Himself very light and goodness and life and essence, inasmuch as He does not derive His being from another, that is to say, of those things that exist: but being Himself the fountain of being to all that is, of life to the living, of reason to those that have reason; to all the cause of all good: perceiving all things even before they have become: one essence, one divinity, one power, one will, one energy, one beginning, one authority, one dominion, one sovereignty, made known in three perfect subsistences and adored with one adoration, believed in and ministered to by all rational creation , united without confusion and divided without separation (which indeed transcends thought).

St. John of Damascus, “On the Orthodox Faith” in NPF2(9):6.

 

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