God is on our side
It was not so long ago that I wrote an article about the femininity of God. I was humbled and moved by the letters and emails I received — all from women — communicating how they found the article helpful, yet I also received emails and letters from folk who were horrified that I would be so unbiblical as to refer to God as a ‘she’, and one person even wrote to tell me they would never read my articles again. I found and still find it extraordinary that people should get so hot under the collar about the fact that God is without gender and can be referred to as both he or she or both.
The motherhood of God has a long tradition which is reflected in the Bible and supported by Christianity’s earliest thinkers, theologians, and writers. In the Anglican tradition we remember notable Christians throughout history, and we call them saints. This week we remembered a woman called Julian or Julia of Norwich, so named after St. Julian’s Church where, in the late 1300s and early 1400s, she was an anchorite.
An anchorite was someone who dedicated themselves to a life of solitude and prayer, a bit like a hermit, but rather than separating themselves from society, they anchored themselves to a local church, literally living in a cell or room built into the side of a church building where they could dispense wisdom and advice to any or all who asked. Before Anchorites were called anchorites, they were called anchors, which literally means to ‘withdraw apart’.
Julia of Norwich wrote the earliest surviving English language works written by a woman and the only surviving English language works written by an anchoress. In May 1373, at the age of 30, she was dying and a priest even read her last rites. At this time she had several visions which formed the basis of her works later named ‘Revelations of Divine Love’. Her writings are of significant interest and importance, and one of her overriding themes was, you guessed it, the motherhood of God.
I think it is vital that we gain a perspective that embraces the mothering nature of God. In the same way that a mother bears a child, holds a child, and fiercely protects a child, so God bears us, holds us, and protects us, therefore, the motherhood of God should never be understated, diminished, or diluted.
Julia compared Jesus to a mother who is wise, loving, and merciful, and that Jesus is not just ‘like’ a mother but is literally the mother of us all. In John’s gospel, Chapter 1, we read, “Through him [that’s Jesus] all things were made and without him nothing was made that has been made.” Therefore, as a mother bears a child, so are we all created by God, or as the gospel writers assert, born of God.
Julia wrote that God not only bears us, but holds us and keeps us, ‘When a child is hurt or frightened it runs to its mother for help as fast as it can; and God wants us to do the same, like a humble child.’ In John’s gospel, Chapter 14, Jesus says that he will not leave us orphaned (another word associated with being the mother) and that he will ask the Father to give us the Holy Spirit who will be our comforter, counsellor, advocate, helper, and encourager.
And finally, as well as bearing us and holding us, Julia wrote that God protects us. In John’s gospel, Chapter 17, Jesus said that he protected his disciples and asked that the Father would continue to protect them after he is gone.
God made us, holds us, and protects us. Jesus came to the world for us — for me and for you. He sent his Holy Spirit for us— for me and for you. If there is one message that you take home today, it is that God is on your side. God is rooting for you, championing you, and wants you to lean into Her as she holds, keeps, and protects you.
One of Julia of Norwich’s visions was of a hazelnut held in the palm of her hand. She wrote, “God showed me a little thing, a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand and it was as round as any ball. I looked at it and thought, ‘What may this be?’ and it was answered thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marvelled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness and I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it.”
We can sum up the mothering nature of Julian of Norwich’s understanding of God by holding a hazelnut in our hands and remembering, “God made us because he loves us. God holds us because he loves us. God protects us because he loves us.”
So, today, may you know that you are born of a God who loves you, may you know that you are held by God who loves you, and may you know that you are protected by God who loves you.
Prayers for Mothers
We thank you for all the mothers in our church.
We ask that you bless them with your love and peace.
We ask that you help them to be strong and courageous.
We ask that you give them wisdom and guidance.
For those of us that are raising children, either our own or those entrusted to us, we ask that you bring us strength, patience, and understanding. We thank you for the honour and privilege it is to bear children and may we raise our children in ways that honour you.
For those of us that have lost children, or are separated from our children through relationship breakdown or distance, we ask that when we miss them — and we do — that by your Holy Spirit you bring us the comfort, support, and counsel we need.
For those of us that had absent or abusive mothers, we ask that you help us to know you, our Lord Jesus Christ, as our mother.
We give you thanks for those special people that stepped in and nurtured us, in body, mind, and Spirit.
For those of us that never had children but wanted to, we ask that you help us to grieve that which never was.
You feel and bear our pain.
Remind and encourage us that we are still able to be mothers to others and called to hold, keep, and protect those that are entrusted to our care.
Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
As the Psalmist writes:
“you created my inmost being,
you knit me together in my mother’s womb,
and I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Thank you for holding and keeping us.
Thank you for sending your Son to save and protect us.
Thank you for not leaving us as orphans and giving us your Spirit
to be our advocate and guide.
In the same way, that we give thanks for you, our mothering God,
we thank you for the love and sacrifice that mothers make,
and we ask that you help us to be more like them and you.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord,