God Our Mother: Where can She be Found?

I was honored to be asked by my dear friend Sara Wilcox to bring a message on the Divine Feminine to Land of the Sky United Church of Christ, two weeks ago on Mother’s Day.

This invitation led me into far waters of biblical scholarship, revisiting elements that have been percolating in my historical and theological consciousness for years, starting with “Biblical Proofs” for the Feminine Face of God in Scripture. That initial Bible study led me to some fresh possibilities that I’ve dared not speak out loud…until now.

This occasion to minister also led to some vulnerable soul-searching on my own relationship with the Divine Feminine, which I initially shared about right here, in Weeping with the Goddess in Jake’s Kitchen.

I ended up sharing a message that—I hope—honors all mothers, and the mothering impulse that brought each of us into being, biologically and spiritually alike. I also seek to acknowledge how complicated this is for many of us, whose relationships with our mothers might be dysfunctional, or missing in action.

I think the same can be said of our Abrahamic family tree.

When we’re not reflexively calling God a ‘man,’ we insist ‘God is beyond gender!’, adopting the antiseptic stance of what we think monotheist confessions of faith demand. ‘God is Spirit,’ we say, taking this to mean neutered, of course.

But there are other, more ancient whispers of a Divine Feminine who complemented the much-more-familiar Divine Masculine archetype we see so prevalent in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Reflecting on these sacred tensions gave us a special morning together on Mother’s Day, where we dived into our primordial past as a species, seeing God reflected in Earth and Sky, then facing the spiritual consequences of what happened when we lost the ground beneath our feet.

You can watch my message, right here:

The entire gathering is quite beautiful, and worth watching in its entirety—an excellent example of meaningful gathering in COVID-19 times. But if you only want to watch my message, it starts at the 22:47 mark, and goes on to 47:00.

In this message, see seek enduring biblical and historical images of the Divine Mother, including:

  • Asherah 
  • Shekinah 
  • Sophia 
  • Ruah 
  • The Divine Bride
  • The Baptismal Font

I was humbled to hear that this was unlike any Mother’s Day message many had heard before. As a man, this was vulnerable territory for me to be exploring, and I do so only because of the many women and femme-identified folks who have tread this path before. I hope it’s a conversation-starter on how we might recover the Divine Feminine in our faith traditions. It’s certainly not the last word. Please, tune in and let me know what you think.

P.S.: Speaking of those who have come before, what follows is an extensive-though-incomplete list of recommended reading for deepening exploration. I have either read these books myself, or they were given to me by people I trust. I hope if my message has stirred something in you, you will deepen your journey – perhaps finding a friend or two to read along with you, over the phone, Zoom, or at a safe social distance. This inquiry has meant so much to me – happy exploring!

Recommended Reading from me and many amazing friends:

Tales of the Holy Mysticat: Jewish Wisdom Stories by a Feline Mystic by Rachel Adler

Engendering Judaism: An Inclusive Theology and Ethics by Rachel Adler

Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality (Latin America Otherwise) by Gloria Anzaldúa

In the Image of God: A Feminist Commentary on the Torah by Judith S. Antonelli

Dancing with God: The Trinity from a Womanist Perspective by Karen Baker-Fletcher

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women by Sarah Bessey

The Maternal Face of God by Leonardo Boff

The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity by Cynthia Bourgeault

Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power by Rita Nakashima Brock

Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Parker

Sophia: The Wisdom of God: An Outline of Sophiology by Sergei Bulgakov

Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine  by Joseph Campbell

Making a Way Out of No Way: A Womanist Theology (Innovations: African American Religious Thought) by Monica A. Coleman

Bipolar Faith: A Black Woman’s Journey with Depression and Faith by Monica A. Coleman

Ain’t I a Womanist, Too?: Third Wave Womanist Religious Thought by Monica A. Coleman

Creating Women’s Theology: A Movement Engaging Process Thought by Monica A. Coleman

The Dinah Project: A Handbook for Congregational Response to Sexual Violence by Monica A. Coleman

When the Heart Speaks, Listen: Discovering Inner Wisdom by Lerita Coleman Brown

Mary Magdalene: A Biography by Bruce Chilton

The Maternal Face of God?: Explorations in Catholic Sophiology by Istvan Cselenyi

Hope in the Holler: A Womanist Theology by A. Elaine Brown Crawford

Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology by Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow

Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion by Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow

Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality by Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow

Heart of Flesh: Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men by Joan Chittister

The Friendship of Women: The Hidden Tradition of the Bible by Joan Chittister

The Story of Ruth: Twelve Moments in Every Woman’s Life: Twelve Months in Every Woman’s Life by Joan Chittister

Christ Our Black Mother Speaks by Christena Cleveland

Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation by Mary Daly

Quintessence: Realizing the Archaic Future: A Radical Elemental Feminist Manifesto by Mary Daly and Sudi Rakusin

Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan by John Day

Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel by William G. Dever

The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future by by Riane Eisler

The Cosmic Shekinah: A historical study of the goddess of the Old Testament and Kabbalah by Sorita d’Este and David Rankine

Untie the Strong Woman: Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband ‘Master’ by Rachel Held Evans

Women at the Well: Feminist Perspectives on Spiritual Direction by Kathleen Fischer

In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza

Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza

But She Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza

Searching the Scriptures: A Feminist Introduction by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza

Transforming Fire: Women Using Anger Creatively by Kathleen Fischer

Daughters of Miriam: Women Prophets in Ancient Israel by Wil Gafney

Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction To The Women Of The Torah And The Throne by Wil Gafney

Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna by China Galland

The Birth of Pleasure: A New Map of Love by Carol Gilligan

Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton by Michael Glazier

White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus: Feminist Christology and Womanist Response by Jacquelyn Grant

Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently by Barbara A Holmes

Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church by Barbara A Holmes

The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah: Evidence for a Hebrew Goddess by Judith M. Hadley

The Unknown She: Eight Faces of an Emerging Consciousness by Hilary Hart

The Hebrew Priestess: Ancient and New Visions of Jewish Women’s Spiritual Leadership by by Jill Hammer and Taya Shere

History’s Vanquished Goddess ASHERAH: God’s Wife: the Goddess Asherah, Wife of Yahweh by Darlene Kosnik

Revelation of Love  by Julian of Norwich

She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse by Elizabeth A. Johnson

Creation and the Cross: The Mercy of God for a Planet in Peril by Elizabeth A. Johnson

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd

Radical Wisdom: A Feminist Mystical Theology by Beverly J. Lanzetta

Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology by Pamela R. Lightsey

Our Lady of Controversy: Alma López’s “Irreverent Apparition” by Alicia Gaspar de Alba and Alma López

A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

 

Embracing Jesus and the Goddess: A Radical Call for Spiritual Sanity  by Carl McColman

The Body of God: An Ecological Theology by Sallie McFague

Life Abundant (Searching for a New Framework) by Sallie McFague

Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God by Caitlin Matthews

Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles

Jesus Freak: Feeding Healing Raising the Dead by Sara Miles

City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles

The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott

Omnigender: A Trans-Religious Approach by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott

The Hebrew Goddess by Raphael Patai

Twilight of the Gods: Polytheism in the Hebrew Bible by David Penchansky

When God Had a Wife: The Fall and Rise of the Sacred Feminine in the Judeo-Christian Tradition by by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince

Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective by Judith Plaskow

The Coming of Lilith: Essays on Feminism, Judaism, and Sexual Ethics by Judith Plaskow

Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton by Christopher Pramuk

The Mirror of Simple Souls by Marguerite Porete

The Female Face of God in Auschwitz: A Jewish Feminist Theology of the Holocaust by Melissa Raphael

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain

The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature: Selections Annotated & Explained by Rabbi Rami Shapiro (Translator), Cynthia Bourgeault (Foreword)

The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel by Mark S. Smith

Sophia – The Feminine Face of God: Nine Hearts Path to Healing and Abundance by Karen Speerstra

Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing by Rosemary R. Ruether

Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History by Rosemary R. Ruether

Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology by Rosemary R. Ruether

The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance by Dorothy Soelle

Are Women Human?  by Dorothy Sayers

Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition by Richard Smoley

Conscious Love: Insights from Mystical Christianity by Richard Smoley

The Way of the Rose: The Radical Path of the Divine Feminine Hidden in the Rosary by Clark Strand and Perdita Finn (they have a great website here.)

I Found God in Me: A Womanist Biblical Hermeneutics Reader by Mitzi J. Smith (Editor)

When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone

The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth by Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor

Is It Okay to Call God “Mother”?: Considering the Feminine Face of God by Paul R. Smith

God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Mirabai Starr

Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics by Mirabai Starr

Showings of Julian of Norwich: A New Translation by Mirabai Starr

The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila, translation by Mirabai Starr

Gurdjieff and the Women of the Rope by Solita Solano

Belonging – Remembering Ourselves Home by Toko-pa Turner

Jesus, Muhammad and the Goddess by Various

Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak by Various

The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women from the Gospels by Frank Viola and Mary DeMuth

Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam by Amina Wadud

Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective by Amina Wadud

Qur’an of the Oppressed: Liberation Theology and Gender Justice in Islam by Amina Wadud

The Women’s Lectionary by Ashley Wilcox

Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk by Delores S. Williams

Mary Magdalene Revealed: The First Apostle, Her Feminist Gospel & the Christianity We Haven’t Tried Yet by Meggan Watterson

I Bring the Voices of My People: A Womanist Vision for Racial Reconciliation (Prophetic Christianity) by Chanequa Walker-Barnes

In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose by Alice Walker

Holy Women Icons Contemplative Coloring Book by Angela Yarber

The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg

The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg

Bewilderments: Reflections on the Book of Numbers by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg

The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg

 

Fiction:

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

The Shack and Eve by Paul Young

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus by Chester Brown

The Dovekeepers: A Novel by Alice Hoffman

 

Online Resources:

A Theology of Gender: Julian of Norwich and the Image of God – New Eden

The Divine Feminine: Global Perspectives – School of Global Citizenry

Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute

Womenpriests

Debunking the Goddess Myth The “golden age” of female divinities was a bad time for women by Judith S. Antonelli

4 Responses to God Our Mother: Where can She be Found?

  1. Ed Amos May 29, 2020 at 3:40 pm #

    That was a very enlightening and sermon Mike! Also that congregation is absolutely incredible. They made me really happy! Those prayers were something special!

    • Ed May 29, 2020 at 3:41 pm #

      I meant to say enlightening and amazing.

  2. tim carter May 29, 2020 at 5:09 pm #

    There was nothing about that church episode/gathering that was not “next-level”.

  3. Roger Wolsey May 30, 2020 at 12:18 pm #

    Beautiful share. Needed. Here are some thoughts along the same lines to help further the needed conversation. “Theological violence toward the Divine feminine and rape culture“
    https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2017/11/theological-violence-toward-the-divine-feminine-rape-culture/

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