Friday, February 22, 2013

Metaphors, Prayer and the Proper Name of God

There was a heated conversation over at an on-line Clergy Group the other day over a benediction suggested in our denomination's resources for Lent.  The wording including "May God our Father bless you and shield you/May Christ our mother shelter you and carry you....".  As you can imagine, several people were against the new wording, and for many reasons.  Others defended the benediction.  Others liked it, just not in a benediction, which has implications for the name of the Trinity.  Some were practical and simply wouldn't use it because it seemed sort of pastorally insensitive to throw words out at people without talking about them.

I'm pretty sure that those who wrote this benediction, as well as the other prayers for this season, were considering the imagery in the different scripture texts we are using, including the gospel reading for this Sunday, when Jesus laments over Jerusalem and compares himself to a mother hen who longs to gather her chicks under her wings in times of danger.  It's poignant and also a little jarring -- and not just because of the 'Jesus as mother hen' imagery.  I find myself haunted by the whole idea of Jesus saying, "I would have liked to.... but you were not willing."  How's that for power?

Interesting that we didn't talk about that in the Clergy Group.

As for me, I'm all for a multiplicity of images for God, because there are a multiplicity of images for God in the Bible.  Some of them are comforting, some of them are familiar, some of them are jarring, and some of them are poignant.  All of them point to a God is is more than we can imagine.  Rock is a rock, but God is not a rock.  God is a father, but God is not a father.  Words are not adequate, but we need them anyway.  God is a mother hen, a fortress, a parent with a rebellious child.   ("It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them.  I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.  I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.  I bent down to them and fed them." Hosea 11:3-4)

One of the arguments against using mother for God is that the Trinity is not simply a metaphor that we use to describe God; it is the Proper name of God.  Well.  I will admit that I believe that there is something irreplaceable about "Father, Son and Holy Spirit", but I still won't go so far as to call it God's proper name.  It's not as much about a proper name as it is about naming a relationship.  And it is more important to know that God is related to us than it is to know God's proper name.  Lots of people call me on the phone.  They all seem to know my proper name (although they don't all pronounce it right).  I often hang up on them.  But if one of my sons calls me, I do not hang up.

When we pray, we use words and images (and names) given to us in the scriptures.  They are all inadequate in some sense, but they are all gifts given by a God who promises to come to us, to hear us, to gather us.  They name a relationship, comforting and jarring and poignant, that God has initiated.

So bring on mother hen, who longs to gather us under her wings.  God who is Father Son and Holy Spirit is like a mother hen, who longs to gather us under her wings.

If only we were willing.


Fran said...

If only we were willing. So well said, dear Diane.

Interesting indeed that the clergy group did not discuss the "I would have liked to..."

That is pretty much the case for all of us, isn't it? We are not so willing as we may seem, or as we wish to be.

Today when I was out walking Ellie in the pre-dawn hour, I was thinking about how we try to dumb down God in so many ways, foolish ways. Your post relates to that, not in dumbing God down, but in trying to squeeze God, who is all greatness and majesty, into something narrow and predictable. Narrow and predictable? Hardly.

Your words are wisdom to my heart today, and always. Thank you Diane, you serve our FatherMother God with such care, you serve us. Thank you and bless you.

Diane said...

well, to be fair, the conversation was about the benediction, and most of the people identified "Christ as mother" as the Julian of Norwich imagery. Which is also perfectly true. But I'm almost positive that the prayer and benediction writers were thinking of this passage of scripture.

Mother Laura said...

Thanks for this lovely reflection and for your openness to female images of God. It always breaks my heart that so many clergy, including women, are threatened by them and don't take the time to introduce them to their congregations.

My personal experience as well as theological study has convinced me that, like our tradition, we need multiple images and names of the Trinity including female images for the First Person--highly biblical and crucial if women are to know they are truly and fully in God's image--and especially the Third whose proper name, Ruach, and secondary name, Hokhmah-Sophia, are in fact feminine though this is generally misunderstood and/or mistranslated. So Mother, Christ, and Holy Spirit (my humble, grace-inspired contribution to liturgy and spirituality) and Lover, Beloved, and Spirit of Love are equally irreplaceable and valuable. (Especially because Christ was a human male so you can only go so far with mother/Sophia images with him. I generally avoid it, in fact, because the other two Persons are so feminine for me and because I have a deep Ignatian devotion to his humanity).