God is a Woman – Draw Near and Bow

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The Liturgists have recently released their EP on iTunes titled God as Mother. Although the work is beautiful, my favorite part about the release is seeing the words God as Mother running across my newsfeed and hoping that it is running across yours.

So what do you think of the phrase God as Mother? Is it an absurdity of poor theology? Is it accurate? Do you like it? Hate it? Either way, you have definitely had a reaction of some sort; that is the beauty of the phrase. It’s singularity, it’s disuse – it kind of startles our attention.

Can you bow at the feet of  Mother God or do your biases bind and restrict? The God as Mother EP isn’t about God as a woman, not really. It does have some haunting melodies that contemplate a lot of different aspects of God. And at the end of it all they have this wonder-full Apophatic Meditation.

Apophatic prayer is this ancient, very sound, orthodox way of entering the presence of God by emptying yourself and your understanding. It is a way of unknowing, and it is incredibly difficult – which is why it has had a sort of falling out with popularity. But its important, and if I had my way it would be this common practice in Christian Churches and apophasis would get way more traction from the pulpit. Here is why:

The truth is that God is a woman, God is a man, and God is genderless. God is mother, God is Father, and God is neither. God is everything and nothing. God is lion and lamb, shepherd and warrior, fire and whisper, but when asked Who are you the only reply is simply, I am. These words we use, these affirmations of God are only images, they are oversimplified circumlocutions intended to draw us near but not describe the One who is ultimately, intimately, unknowable. So as you consider your reaction to God as Mother and Woman-God, it may be time to ask your self:

Do you want Jesus Christ or the Truth?

While I can’t say that it is possible for us to idolize God, I can say with confidence that it is possible for us to idolize our concept of God (i.e., to worship what we believe to be true about God rather than what is actually true about God). There are two ways of knowing: (a) rightly, as they are; and (b) wrongly, as we see them. Bummer, right?

The problem with the “way we see” is that we are fallen – broken and flawed. Our relationships are riddled with fantasies, illusions, and projections that cloud our vision and hinder our ability to truly know the other. And the thing about that is we are incredibly resistant to shake these biases and really open our eyes. It is really tough.

Many reject the jealous rage of God because they see the face of a father who beat them, or they reject the unconditional compassion of God because they see a political pole that disagrees with them. They reject God as mother because it emasculates them, and they reject God as judge because it frightens them. We cling desperately to our comfortable perceptions of God rather than accept a God who refuses to be the tame lion from C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.

So do you want Jesus or do you want the Truth? Do you want your image of God or do you want God? Jesus himself can be nothing but the Truth, but my Jesus could very well be untruth. And honestly, the saddest thing about that is the extent to which we relate only to these images, we do not actually encounter the one with whom we are relating.

Think about it, any of us with a particularly dark past, painful secret, or recurrent addiction will know the difference between being loved as you are by someone from whom no secrets are kept and being loved as someone perceives you to be. The first love is authentic and enduring; the second, shallow and fleeting. The only way we can ever really come to love God (as God) is to destroy our ideals and predilections about God. I am not proposing that you destroy God (you couldn’t if you tried). Acknowledging that your perceptions about God are distorted by illusions does not require the conclusion that your faith is, itself, an illusion. The destruction of your God image would not destroy God any more than the disclosure of a long-kept secret destroys the actual you. The only thing that is destroyed when you reveal your self fully is the mask to which you cling. What remains is your authentic self. Your honest, naked, deeply-loved self. So it is with the requisite destruction of our God image. We must eliminate our preconceived, erroneous notions of God so that the Truth remains.

God is a woman. God is not a woman. God is not, not a woman. This is the apophatic way, the way of unknowing, the way of entering authenticity with God. Our beliefs, without inspection, can become heresy (I learned that from ole Johnny Milton). We must be carefully aware and approach God with intention and an open heart so that we may receive the Truth fully and as a blessing.

So march on over to The Liturgist website and receive God as Mother. For God can only be more wonderful than those silly notions to which we cling, and once God is freed from our projections we will be free to engage and encounter the true, magnificent, mysterious Other.

Rest, Not Escape

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“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

— Matt. 11:28

I understand what it means to be weary – to feel a loss of self in the demands of motherhood. Within the context of parenthood-induced exhaustion and the mind-numbing grind of infancy, it isn’t always easy to believe that rest, the kind that increases confidence, grants peace, and renews strength and patience, is as readily available as scripture would make it seem. Recently, I have spent hours searching, screaming, and crawling looking for that elusive respite.

After several months of tiresome work however, and as the end of my rope neared, G-d helped me understand a couple of very important things:

First – The “devil” is not all that concerned with getting us to do little acts of evil. Rather, the enemy’s chief aim is to get us doing nothing-in-particular. And to this end, he has us filling up our brief moments of freedom and quiet with Facebook, Instagram, and compulsive email checking (maybe I should open that email from Pottery Barn).

Second – These small moments add up, and our mindless slips can actually keeping us from Christ and His rest.

“If the vessel of our soul is still being tossed by winds or storms, we should wake the Lord Who has been resting with us all along, and He will swiftly calm the sea.”

— Brother Lawrence

As it turns out, if we simply turn these brief moments to the Lord, if we put our phones down and take a few deep breaths through a slowly whispered Jesus Prayer – He will give us rest.

Giving up these moments of escape feels like an immense sacrifice because most of us are living this silly little lie that there is actually rest in escape – in mindless television watching and internet surfing.

But the truth is this:

Rest – the kind of life giving, penetrating rest that a young parent requires – is in G-d. And G-d is in more than just the silence. G-d is in the noise. Christ can be found in the constant and repetitive quotidian tasks that demand our attention.

For centuries monks have taught us that Christ is a wonderful companion in drudgery. That he loves folding laundry, keeping bees, scrubbing floors, and cleaning dishes. Those quiet, bustling people know that chores done mindfully and with intention can be a gateway to heaven if we do them as one called to servanthood and caring.*

You don’t have to move heaven and earth to muster your concentration (young parents will concur that sometimes it seems to take an aligning of the planets to concentrate). Prayer doesn’t always require concentration. What it does require is a few deep breaths and faith that when you function in your call, Life is prayer. Chores are prayer. Caring is prayer. Give yourself fully to this truth. In good faith and trust, set your phone down for a few seconds. Seize your rare moments of silence as opportunities to listen rather than escape, and you will find rest. That is a promise.

*For an excellent example of one monk simply living this truth, consider Brother Lawrence’s, The Practice of the Presence of God. 

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