(Genesis 1:27, Isaiah 49:15, 66:13, Odes of Solomon 19)
The blue period. For several years the artist Pablo Picasso painted only in blue, different hues of blue. And for these blue paintings, his subjects were people and things that we like to keep off stage: People who are sad, people who are dead, people who are sick, people who are imprisoned. All rendered in shades of blue. This period of four-some years were financially for Picasso a total disaster – no one wanted to buy these blue paintings.
So in this Blue Period, he did a series of Madonnas with Child, paintings that were like the classical images of Mary and Jesus. Except to find his Marys and his Jesuses, Picasso went into a women’s prison in Paris, which was a notorious place. These were hard times economically in the early 1900s, and many women were resorting to prostitution. The police would sweep the streets and throw these women into prison, where they often would give birth to children, in squalid conditions, with lots of sickness. So here is where Picasso found Madonnas and Christ children.
These paintings are beautiful – they are so deeply moving, these shades and shadows of blue that delve into the world of a mother caring for her child in desperate conditions, providing warmth and shelter in the midst of cold, giving nourishment in the midst of scarcity, offering love in the midst of hostility.
These paintings have a holy glow. The blues are as heavy as teardrops and as luminous as dew.
Picasso is showing us how the sacred is moving in the maternal love of women who have their backs against the wall.
This sacredness is the same sacredness that’s moving between the original Madonna and Child, Mary and Jesus. Mary, this unwed mother who had to give birth in a stable, and had to flee as a refugee with her young family.
The Bible is actually full of stories of God being at work through women in desperate circumstances or in situations where they’ve got no leverage, women who then have to be savvy and cunning and just monumentally strong in order to ensure survival for themselves and their children – I’m thinking of the stories in the Hebrew scriptures about Hagar, Tamar, Rebecca, Ruth, Leah, Judith …
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Bible also has plenty of images for God that are images of a mother protecting her children, sheltering her children – us – comforting us, nourishing us.
God as Mother. It’s a way of relating to God that makes a lot of sense. The Source of all this abundant life, the One on whom we depend for our very beings, and for our nourishment, the safe refuge in dangerous times. God as Mother, it’s not surprising that these images are in the Bible and in our Christian tradition, as our readings today show.
And yet it may be surprising because so often it seems all we here about God, especially the God of the Bible, is about God the Father, a “he” who has what is “his” – a king, a judge who works through his patriarchs and his male priests and pastors.
So allow me to expand past that image of God the Father, in case that can be helpful to you.
And I want to say: this isn’t about political correctness, this is about objective correctness.
Insisting that God is objectively male and the only way to talk about God is as a “he,” insisting that God in Godself has anything to do with human gender, this is absurd.
This is God we’re trying to talk about here. If we dare to even talk about God’s nature, the objective reality of this… forget any human notion, let alone gender, what images at all in our puny little brains can even approach the Reality. Of. God’s. Nature?
As a preacher, every Sunday I go, “God help me! I’ve gotta somehow speak the unspeakable.”
I want so much to help us all to open the windows of our minds, open the doors of our heart, tear down the walls around our souls so that we can bask in the reality, the awe inspiring reality of the divine that this “G” word can only gesture at, that any word any word, any image, can only gesture at … the Holy One beyond the horizon of any imagination, beyond the scope of the cosmos, this Mystery, this awesome Mystery, that is beyond, beyond, and yet is here, with us, through us. Now.
All we really can say is Wow. Or Thank You. Or we can sing like a child at play. Or just abide in silence.
Any word that we use, any image, any story about quote-unquote “God” is dangerous because we can easily get attached to it and take it to be god. It closes the doors of our minds and hearts and souls. That’s what idolatry means.
But the thing is that we, as people, we need words and images and stories as ways of relating to quote-unquote “God.” It’s a primal need to relate to the Source of it all.
And it is by the gift of grace we can say something. We can open our mind and heart and soul and say You, You, O Holy One. It’s a word of our very beings, and this Mystery we address as You, by the gift of grace, this Mystery responds, addresses us, beckons us.
So there is an intimacy here. And it is because of this intimacy that these parental images come up so often for God. Our very beings are conceived and born from the cosmos. Our very beings nurse the Source of all beings. We are absolutely dependent. That is why it can be very powerful to feel God to be our Father and our Mother.
Jesus addressed God as Abba, which means papa. No one had been this intimate before; it was one of the scandals of Jesus. Abba – Papa – and we can also say Amma – Mama … this is so intimate. It expresses an attitude of absolute dependence on the Source of all life, for nourishment, and grace and restoration. Having this attitude leads us to lives of gratitude, and of care, and of humility and grace and strength and fearlessness.
So I’m saying that there can be good things that come from having parental images for God, so long as they’re healthy and lead us beyond ourselves into compassion. Part of the blessing is that seeing God as Mother or seeing God as Father helps us to see the sacredness of those maternal or paternal parts of ourselves. To see in ourselves and in each other, sparks of that reflection of God. Now, to be clear again, there are grave dangers here. We all know the abusive father or the brutal tyrant who opens the bible and points to where it shows God being like an abusive father, or a brutal tyrant, and saying, “See, I’m doing the will of God.”
But today is Mother’s Day. So we can go beyond that petty tyrant stuff, and celebrate what is good and what is true in the maternal ways of relating to God the Mother.
I want honor that it can be complicated, today, if you have a fraught relationship with your mother or with your own motherhood. If you truly can find a good mother only in God.
But we can just take a moment here on behalf of healthy mothering, which makes the world go round. Let’s take a moment to witness today, like Picasso, to be awestruck today by the sacredness that is at work in the ways we have received healthy mothering, from whomever in our lives, from others and foremost from God. May these gifts continue in your mothering to others.
Thanks be to Mama God.
Delivered May 8, 2016
First Congregational Church of Walla Walla
Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg