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God, Mother of Us All

 

This is excerpted from my talk for Ormewood Church this past Mother’s Day. The complete scripture was Wisdom of Solomon 7:22b-30 (NRSV), a portion of which I’ve included here. The “her” is Wisdom, Sophia. Thanks to organizing pastor Jenelle Holmes for inviting me!

There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy…loving the good…humane…steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all, and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle. …For she is a breath of the power of God…in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets; for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with Wisdom.

If you saw all these qualities in a personal ad or on a resume, you just might want to meet this person! I say “might” because this is a list so awesome many of us would feel intimidated.
This is a description of Sophia, Greek for Wisdom, and in Jewish wisdom literature, you could say she was the feminine side of God, the counterpart to God the Father. This scripture was written by a Jewish mystic deeply influenced by Greek philosophy who lived around the time of Jesus. As I grow older and the world seems more and more stupid and ignorant, wisdom becomes a quality I pray for in all our leaders and all of us!

 

In another text it is said that Sophia was with God from the beginning—without Wisdom nothing was created that was created. If this sounds familiar, the mystical Gospel of John takes as its prologue a similar assertion, that the Word, or Jesus, was with God from the beginning, and without Jesus, nothing was made that was made.

 

On this Mother’s Day, I invite us to think of motherhood as sometimes biological and sometimes spiritual. Note the present tense in the following examples. We need to hear these words even today:

 

“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you,” God declares through the prophet Isaiah (Is 66:13).  

 

Jesus laments over Jerusalem, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing” (Mt 23:37). 

 

And the Psalmist gives us that comforting goal of resting in God:
I hold myself in quiet and silence,
            like a little child in its mother’s arms,
            like a little child, so I keep myself.  (Ps 131:2, NJB)

 

One of our spiritual mothers, the 12th century Julian of Norwich, even prays to the founder of our faith as “Mother Jesus.” 

 

And, when told his mother and siblings have come to see him, Jesus himself famously says, “Who are my mother and brothers and sisters? Those who do the will of God in heaven.”

 

I say the Lord’s Prayer every morning. Early on, I changed the “Our Father” to “God, Mother and Father of us all.” I pray this way because my biological mother and father loved me in different ways and I returned that love in different ways, and so it is in our relationship with God, I believe. For many without a mother or a father, or who have an imperfect mother or father, God may serve as a spiritual foster mother or father.

 

The Christian faith grew from a handful of persecuted followers scattered throughout the Roman Empire in the first century after Christ to the equivalent of almost a state church by the fourth century, becoming culturally fashionable and politically advantageous. Even the Emperor claimed to be a Christian.

 

This mixing of church and state made some followers of Jesus nervous, anxious that his countercultural teachings, such as concern for the poor, the marginalized, the sick, the old, orphans, children, and those with disabilities would be lost in the collusion and confusion of church and state. They were also worried about the transformation of what had been a Christianmovement into a religion and religious institution, the Church.

 

So, so-called spiritual mothers and fathers went out into the wildernesses of the Middle East to pray. They became known as the Desert Mothers and the Desert Fathers. They did not believe Jesus came to save only Christians—rather, they believed that Jesus could save the whole world from its excesses, its materialism, prejudices, hatred, self-absorption, violence, and cruelty.

 

They were concerned for the interior life that we in the 21st century would understand as the spiritual life.

 

But the spiritual life for them was as real as the exterior life in which they labored to be self-sustaining communities that could welcome and feed the stranger, the refugee, the pilgrim, and those escaping mistreatment and injustice, including women.

 

Paying attention to our “interior dwellings,” our souls, proves to be the beginning of an intentional spiritual life that will benefit our guests, whether young children or elderly parents, neighbors or strangers.

 

My mom and dad were role models of this spiritual life in different ways. My dad enjoyed studying scripture and teaching Sunday school. My mom was more of an adventurer in the spiritual life, reading the writings of mystics and contemplatives of various traditions. In this sermon, you can hear my father the teacher in my words, and my mother the contemplative-wannabe in my regard for the spiritual life.

 

But it was not until my mom was in her 80’s that she had what could be called an amazing epiphany. And, a surprise to me, it came at the hands of a Baptist preacher from Atlanta, the Rev. Charles Stanley, whose television broadcast she watched whenever she was unable to attend her Baptist church in Los Angeles. On one of her visits here I took her to First Baptist of Atlanta, by then moved to the suburbs, and she was thrilled to meet Rev. Stanley, though I had explained he was not affirming as she was of gay people like me.

 

Her “ah-hah” in the final year of her life, she explained with some glee, was that she had always known that God loved usgenerally, but for the first time in her life she had come to believe that God loved her personally, thanks to Rev. Stanley.

 

Surprised, I kidded her, “Mom haven’t you been reading all my books?!”

 

The 19th century English poet and mystic William Blake summed it up well when he said, “We are put on earth for a little space that we may learn to bear the beams of love.”

 

The spiritual teacher Henri Nouwen added that our time on earth is a brief span to say to God, “I love you too.”

 
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