Saturday, August 6, 2016

God as Mother

We're about four months into baby Baer's little baby life, and one of the best parts about that is that she finally feels solid. Like a real, chubby, happy little baby who I'm not terrified of anymore. I don't think I realized how scared I was of her at first - they're so LITTLE, and so DEPENDENT, and light as a feather and sleepy and quiet and unable to tell me what they need. At least mine was. Now she's awake, with lots to say, lots of whining, and just now starting to grab at toys and things. She grabs my shirt in the exact same place every time I feed her and we settle in. She likes her elephant rattle. We take naps together. Heaven.

A couple of weeks before I had her, after I had started my maternity leave, I met one of my best friends for coffee at Lux. It was very much a "my-new-life" moment for me; yoga pants and a sweatshirt at 10 am with nothing to do afterwards. I loved it (but also hated it, because of the giant baby pressing on my internal organs, etc. I feel like we've talked about this before.) Anyway, this friend of mine is also a coworker, and she works in the department of our ministry that organizes our overseas missions. She primarily works in Ethiopia and Ukraine.

She was telling me about a community in Ethiopia that - for whatever reason - seems to have a  preoccupation with Mary (the Mother of Jesus.) They're not practicing Christians, per se, but they treat Mary almost in an occult way - building shrines, believing she'll do them harm if they speak ill of her, etc. It made me think about my relationship with Mary, which I don't mind telling you has been a little... strained? for a few years now.

I grew up Catholic, named after Mary and always feeling like I had a special relationship with her. Lots of rosaries said, lots of prayers with her and thinking about her and hoping she was watching me especially, and helping me. Eventually my theology on that was challenged, and when I combed the Bible for some answers I started feeling like maybe I misunderstood who she was. I broke up with her, really. For a few years I tried not to think about her at all - pendulum swinging too far the other way and all that - but now I'm at a place where I feel ok accepting that she is special; that she made an incredible sacrifice, is a wonderful and beautiful example, and meant a lot to me in my childhood. I still look up to her. No more rosaries, though.

But my point is that this conversation with my friend got me wondering what it is about Mary that has this Ethiopian community so enraptured, and was it the same thing that held my heart and my attention as a kid? I think it's partly this: that we naturally seek the love of a Mother. And that the picture we have of God as only a masculine Father is incomplete. (If both male and female are made in His image, does He not have both male and female qualities?)

This thought came crashing back into my consciousness one night after feeding baby Baer. (As an aside, I think that's how I can best describe the hormone storm of post-partum life as I've lived it: rushing, unpredictable thoughts. Some good, some beautiful, some sad, some scary, some weird, always unexpected and very quick.) I was looking down at this girl, and my stomach was warm, and I couldn't believe how I felt about her. That I'd never ever felt about anyone like I felt about her, and how it hurt me, in a good way. I wished so much that she would wake up so I could tell her how incredibly much I loved her, and how there is nothing she could do that would make me not love her, and how wide and deep and aggressively I loved her, and I wanted her to understand me. She was dozing off on me, there in my rocking chair, and an old hymn we used to sing at mass came into my head:

"I heard the voice of Jesus say
'Come unto me and rest;
Lay down, o weary one, lay down
Your head upon my breast."

And! Then! I had this thought that made my heart and mind go wild: is this feeling, the way I feel about baby Baer, the way God feels about me? I had never, ever considered that. Never felt it that way. But if He is our Father, and our Mother, then yes, I suppose it is.

I started mulling this over and found more questions than answers - in a very honest moment I wondered, if that's true, where are my sonnets? Where's the poetry, the exclamations of love and beauty over me? Because that's the compulsion I have when I look at my girl - but that's not how the majority of the Bible reads to me. It's a lot of story-telling; some (a lot) of it violent; and letters from apostles giving lessons they've learned. It's much more than that, but it's not the shouting-love-from-the-mountaintops prose I would've written.

Still, I think my understand of Jesus' love for me started to change in the rocking chair, and it's still evolving. If God is my Mother, too, that means a thousand new things and a thousand times more powerful of a love than I pictured before.

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