God As Mother

God As Mother October 18, 2019
Source: Max Pixel

A few months ago (perhaps in July) I stumbled upon a reflection on God as mother.

It was powerful, moving, compelling. It spoke of the divine feminine and it was truly gorgeous. It made me want to believe in God again in a way not much has this past year. I shared the reflection into a facebook group a good friend of mine created to share artwork that moves us. This piece had moved me, and I knew the members of this group would appreciate it as I had. 

My God is a curvy black woman with dreadlocks and dark, cocoa-brown skin. 

She laughs from her belly and is unashamed to cry. 

She can rock a whole world to sleep, singing in her contralto voice. 

Her sighs breathe life into humanity. 

Her heartbreaks cause eruptions of justice and love…

My God is an incarnate feminine power, who smells like vanilla and is full of sass and truth, delivered with kindness. 

She’ll do anything for her creation; her love is fierce. 

She weeps when we do 

and insists on justice. 

She is God. 

She is Love.

—Rev. Jacqui Lewis 

Immediately, a man responded.

A man I know in real life, actually, as he was one of my English professors in college. And his response showed that he took issue with this female personification of the divine: “God is being itself.  He is not a creature as we know it.”

This brief exchange (if you can even call it that) has bugged me for three months now. At the time I wanted to respond, but like so many other woman before me in the face of mansplaining, I knew it would only escalate and get me precisely nowhere—except more frustrated.

So I grit my teeth, sighed (or harrumphed), and tried to move on.

But still it eats at me.

I know that the church technically teaches that God has no gender. I’m fine with that. There is a beauty in that.

But I also know that had I shared a reflection on the masculine, muscular, or fatherly aspects of God, that man would certainly not have commented insisting “but God has no gender!”

The subtext here is that it’s fine for us to imagine, portray, and characterize a gendered God—until we choose to portray her as female.

Until we use female pronouns or meditate on the feminine side of the divine.

And it isn’t like this is new or heretical (despite what the trads who raised me brainwashed me to believe). It simply isn’t. We read in Honors seminars the writings of the Fathers of the Church, and some of them certainly touched on this topic. I’ve know male theology majors at Franciscan University who wrote their theses on the motherly aspects of the Holy Spirit. I helped them edit those theses in the Writing Center where I worked. So no, it is not some heresy introduced by Vatican II or feminism or the sexual revolution (just as, news flash Pope Emeritus, neither was sexual abuse, assault, or rape). 

Yes, Christ incarnate was male. I don’t argue with that point.

But was he?

I went to a talk, once again during my time at Franciscan, where a Byzantine Catholic priest gave an evening lecture on the Theotokos, the “God Bearer,” Mary of Nazareth—Christ’s mother.

This priest explained that one of the conclusions of believing in Mary’s perpetual virginity, in her being Christ’s sole human parent, is that Christ inherited his genes only from Mary.

This priest’s conclusion was as to the consecrated blood of Eucharistic wine, that as we consume Christ’s consecrated blood so do we consume Mary’s blood, that Mary’s blood was sacrificed on Calvary too, since Christ’s blood was Mary’s blood. 

But my query is, does this make Christ genetically female?

Is Christ, in fact, intersex? Male presenting with two x chromosomes in his DNA?

And does this disturb you?

If so, why?

Flannery O’Connor wrote a story, “A Temple of the Holy Ghost,” which is one of my personal favorites of hers. In it, a self-righteous bratty young girl sees Christ in a “hermaphrodite at a freak show.” In a circus.

Ironically, I first read and discussed this story in class with the male professor I mentioned above. And the thing is, I never found that story at all shocking until I ran into an SSPX-inclined young Catholic on twitter who assumed O’Connor was a heretic for writing it.

Here’s the thing: if the thought of God as female, intersex, or androgenous makes you uncomfortable… maybe you should be asking yourself why. No, not maybe. You absolutely should.

What internal prejudices and discrimination will you find? What makes you revile the idea of a female or intersex god so deeply? Could is be your own feelings of superiority? Does the thought of a female god challenge your assumptions that you were made for God and woman was made for you, as Milton smugly wrote?

Because the reality is, God is all of his/her/their children; that is where you find the divine.

When you feed the hungry, you feed Christ. When you sneer at a woman’s clothes in Mass, at her period pain at work, you sneer at Christ. When you demean an intersex person, a trans person, a gay or queer person… you demean Christ.

In Christ there is no male or female, after all.

Are you uncomfortable? 

 

 

Image Credit: https://www.maxpixel.net/Religion-Sculpture-God-Goddess-Statue-Ancient-1405539

About Marie Kopp
Marie Kopp is a human platypus. Like that egg-laying, poisoned-taloned, duck-billed, beaver-tailed mammal, she makes no sense and she takes quite a lot of smug pleasure in that. She is an inconsistent writer who writes mostly when she is angry, and sleeps the rest of the time. (Not entirely true. She also works full time as a legal proofreader. Whatever.) She likes good beer, cold autumn days, and throwing books at trees. You can read more about the author here.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Catholic
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • One does wonder why men are so threatened when we point this stuff out.

  • Ame

    Well, genetically speaking, yes it is possible that this necessarily miraculous version of parthenogenesis (naturally occurring kinds in the human species can only produce genetically female offspring so to even look phenotypically male or intersexed is not a possibility in such a case…thus divine intervention necessary in Jesus’ case) could have resulted in an intersexed Jesus, BUT that’s a huge speculation as to whether parthenogenesis of any kind was the mechanism by which Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. But if we’re getting into the business of whether Jesus was intersexed, then we might as well speculate that Mary was a miraculously fertile intersexed person. At best, this is worthy of personal meditation and theological exercise but we cannot make any doctrine out of it. So yes, let us ponder God as feminine at times as the Hebrews or Blessed Julian of Norwich did, but any assertions that God is female or male is poetic or a sociological analysis of the relationship between God and His creation. When regarding God’s lordship and authority over us, He is Father. But for love of poetry, please let us also not interject with kneejerk pronouncements of heresy or paganism.

    Regardless of the genetic make up of Jesus and Mary (it appears that there is agreement throughout history that Jesus and Mary at least appeared to be phenotypically and socially male and female, respectively) a remarkable thing that we can say due to the natural processes that occur during human gestation and pregnancy is that Mary and Jesus exchanged stem cells. So you can say that Mary always carried within her the Body of Jesus since the formation of the placenta.

  • AntithiChrist

    One reason why many might be triggered into, well, whatever it is that these folks are triggered into, when the topic of our favorite deity’s gender is speculated, is the continual referencing of “Our Heavenly Father” during practically every public Christian prayer.

    Or maybe because the entire Judeo-Christian backstory is based on patriarchal cultural arrangements and assumptions. And Jesus was a dude, after all, according to all of his press releases, at least.

    Just spitballing here.

    In any event, I think I have the perfect answer to all deity-gender questions. Additionally, this gender-free deity is based on the same proofs of authenticity found throughout the Bible and current theology.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fda5f865fa18daf740e9880d265d1929067e9805a71618e060b5138df2f7667e.jpg .

  • olbab

    “regarding God’s lordship and authority over us”. Tells a whole story right there.
    Not sure how to parse “lordship” -does this require worship?- but authority just isn’t a reasonable discriptor of the God I’m coming to know. Jesus came to assure us that it is love, not authority, that explains it all.

  • Ame

    Why do you assume He has to be one and not the other? Is it not possible for God to not only both, but so infinite that He can be all these things in the most perfectly ordered ideal of love and authority?

  • D D

    God bless you, dear sister. I celebrate the happiness you felt
    in connecting with a depiction of God’s image that helped you recognize
    that God is your Self, your very Self, I celebrate that something
    came along and brought a new perception to you that helped
    reconcile and heal the confusing reports and experiences that
    had dispirited you. At the same time, might you be willing to
    consider the response of your professor as you might consider
    the response of Jesus, for instance. The man has neither judged
    nor opposed you. Yet you condemn him for something he has
    not done, based on your own imaginings, assuming and judging
    what he would say if the imagery were of his own gender,

    The man has not opposed you my dear. He did not celebrate
    and rejoice with you, as your human self would have preferred.
    That is true, But Jesus would not do that either.
    Your professor.has simply pointed out an important fact,
    And I, a female and student of the teachings of Jesus,
    concur with his response. What he has pointed out
    is extremely important to consider because it is that very inclination
    to shape our images of God into our own mortal likeness
    that has caused human beings throughout human history
    to fumble and fall and fail utterly in their efforts
    to achieve conscious union with God.

    You and I and all human beings are entirely free to ‘see
    God’ in whatever way appeals to each of us. But the message
    of Jesus is, quite simply, if you continue thinking humanly —
    which is to think as a person — as a body, as a particular
    gender, color, class or sect — you will continue to perpetuate
    the divisions and inequalities and atrocities that pervade
    human history. Jesus takes the whole, entire package of
    personal self — personal image, personal ideology, personal identity,
    personal ego, and all self-focused, self-concerned thought —
    and tells us very plainly that any mind that clings to that plane of thought,
    that way of thinking, is shut to the flow of God’s wisdom and grace.

    Gender identification, whether male, female or any other,
    is not Christ identification. Defending, or taking pride in,
    or standing up for, the beauty and power and grace of the
    female gender (or any particular gender or person) has a perverting
    effect on the spirit, It feeds pride and prejudice, and generates
    a sense of separation, division and distinction that diminishes
    the flow of love and sense of unity.

    Beauty and power and grace are not feminine or masculine attributes.
    They do not belong to men or women. They shine through both men and women.
    and they shine out from every corner of the universe, pure and unlabeled.
    They exist without gender, and shine equally through all mortal notions of gender.
    Beauty, power and grace are inherent in God,
    And, as Jesus pointed out many times to his disciples, we have no right to
    take pride in any God quality shining through us, to identify it as ours.
    But we do have every right to rejoice and celebrate that God IS in fact shining through
    us, and for THAT let us give praise and thanks unending. And let us remember as well
    the law of God, the responsibility we have — as Christians especially — to purpose ourselves
    TO SEE GOD shining through every human being, at all times, in all places, regardless
    what outer appearance or behavior might be impressing itself upon our human minds.

    Thank you for considering this message from my heart.

    May the mind and heart that lives in Christ Jesus
    pervade our consciousness and guide our lives.

  • D D

    Amen to that!

  • fractal

    Referring to Goddess in the feminine always gets the Pathos Christian crowd up in arms.
    They snort in derision, say nasty things about feminism, talk about how women secretly want to be subjugated by men, and generally have a tantrum.

    They tell me that She should not be addressed as such because Goddess revealed Herself to men in the bible, as a male.
    Goddess also revealed Herself as a burning bush; does that mean early Jews were fire-worshipers?

    They will be here soon enough, to mansplain how Goddess is beyond gender—but don’t you DARE call Her that!

  • fractal

    They use the “men are special and consecrated” meme to justify keeping women out of positions of authority.
    It is really a slur to women, and a put-down.

    At work, home, church—its all the same.
    Misogyny reeks of arrogance and repressed insecurity.

    Remember the Catholic high schools that wouldn’t allow women umpires, because that would put a woman over those budding flowers of manhood?

  • Jeff Lindoo

    It’s not that God has no gender, God is ALL genders. When you need God to be a loving mother, that’s what God is. When you need God to be a strong father, that’s what God is. We continuously try to minimize the nature of God when we should be realizing that God is far more than we could ever imagine.

  • Ame

    Because we English speakers are lazy to call the God of Abraham “God.” We should be calling God by His proper name: Yahweh (I AM). That would correct a lot of our fear of using different pronouns for Him and their would be no need to risk sliding into paganism by using “Goddess.”

    But alas, habit is a stubborn a**.

  • SteveVaiFan

    Well, my immediate reaction is not discomfort. Moreover, as far as you represented it, the professor you mentioned didn’t respond with discomfort. Instead, he responded with logic, to which you, by your own admission, responded with discomfort. All discomfort or comfort aside, God has narrativally and grammatically been represented as a male, and this applies also to Jesus. On the other hand, the professor you mentioned represented a point of view about the trouble of anthropomorphizing God. We’re not served by this post, which problematically locates a “subtext” that makes the person seem wrong without actually engaging the issue raised.

  • Fran Mayes

    A: theologically, Jesus is called “the second Adam” The 1st Adam (haadam) in Genesis is a nephesh who contains both male & female until the little surgical scene in which Adam and Eve are separate. Also, the ‘body of Christ” includes all believers.
    B. medically, there are 24 chromosome patterns compatible with human life and some people are chromasomally mosaic (more than one chromosome pattern in one individual). We are not all XX or XY!
    C. What difference does it make? All language about Godde is metaphoric. She is beyond the ability of the human mind to classify.

  • fractal

    What exactly does Paganism have to do with the word Goddess?
    You sound like you have swallowed misogyny whole.

  • fractal

    Why exactly do you think “God has narrativally and grammatically been represented as a male…”?

  • Ame

    You missed the point.

  • The real problem is that like most feminists you have never accepted your own biology.

    You need God to be female because you have refused to be.

  • Abba, Father Christ’s own words. Well everything in the old and new testament s has God as a masculine gender. If you don’t like it you can probably find some Amazonian pagan religion that has a mother goddess. This is supported to be a Catholic website? No wonder we are in such trouble.

  • SteveVaiFan

    Consistent use of he, him, his in relation to God. Reference to God as father. There are biblical settings where God is depicted as female, as when Isaiah says God gave birth to Israel. But these are much less common.

  • AntithiChrist

    A transgender god. Exactly what folks have been trying to say.

  • AntithiChrist

    Other than hateful-sounding, not quite sure what that means.

  • Matt Kososki

    Overall, I found this an intriguing piece. My question, though, if Christ was intersex, what implications would this have in regards to the all-male priesthood in the Catholic Church?

  • fractal

    Sounds like patriarchy and sexism to me.
    Let’s get real.
    MEN wrote the bible for their own benefit.

    Imagine what the bible would sound like if women had written their herstory in it, instead.

  • fractal

    No, I didn’t.

    I don’t think you really know much about, or understand Paganism.
    Or misogyny in Christianity either.

  • Everything sounds like hate to somebody that resents the place in life they were born. When envy sets in, even the exhortaion to be settled and happy will sound like hate

  • AntithiChrist

    So far in this thread of conversation you’ve asserted that “most feminists…have never accepted [their] own biology,” and have “refused to be [female]”, which of course is ludicrous.

    Also you have it somehow sorted out, to explain your first assertion, that “everything sounds like hate to somebody who resents the place in life they were born,” and then something about exhortations to be “settled.”

    These half-baked premised are, empirically, all easily debunkable, if only you take the time to critically think them through, and fire up google and search for scientifically collected data and studies on the topics.

    If I’m in fact conversing with a bubble-dwelling religious zealot of some sort, or anyone else actually, I’d of course encourage you to arm yourself with real world facts before embarrassing yourself like that again.

  • 281commenter

    I too have speculated about the possibility that Jesus was a result of parthenogenesis. I’m not sure that the argument works, or that we’re supposed to go looking for scientific mechanisms for what happened there. The conception of Jesus was meant to be a miracle, so there’s no reason you can’t fill in that his Y chromosome came from God the Father via some kind of miraculous means. Christ had a mother of flesh and blood , so it wouldn’t really make sense for God to also be his mother.

    It’s certainly interesting to think about though.

  • These comments are based on the feminist rejection of motherhood to turn women into taxpayers and consumers, at the expense of the next generation. And it has been going on for 80 years, with each generation losing more and more of the wisdom that only a heteronormative family with a mother staying home can provide. The damage to women and to the family has already been horriffic.

  • Ame

    I know it’s a simplification of paganism. But that’s not the topic here. What religion do you practice? Maybe we can have a meaningful conversation about that.

  • fractal

    I am a mystic.
    Particular religions are irrelevant to me as belief systems; mystics everywhere know they are in touch with the same source, and the rest is decoration.

    I am more drawn to Eastern Philosophy and Naturalism.

  • Ame

    We ought to be kindred spirits then, for I am in the habit of Teresian spirituality, which involves meditation, quiet prayer, and an openness to the divine gift of contemplation. I seek the face of Yahweh, who is beyond image or gender.

  • AntithiChrist

    Still babbling.

  • Only to somebody who has rejected biology.

  • AntithiChrist

    So put the mirror down and pick up a biology textbook.

  • bill wald

    Jewish words that describe the attributes of God can be masculine or feminine. So I have been told.

  • Desperate Ambrose

    “In Christ there is no male or female, after all.”

    Agreed, as far as it goes.

    But how about, “In Christ there is BOTH male AND female AND all imaginable permutations”?

    The English professor is right, but he doesn’t follow his own thread to its conclusion. God is being itself. That being the case (no pun intended), how could He create woman if He (in His being) did not contain the attributes that define femaleness (Is that a word?)?

    And, not only is He “not a creature as we know it”, He is not a “creature” at all, since the word itself denotes something that has been created.