Recently, I watched a young mother and her family seated nearby in an airport restaurant. The mother was calmly multi-tasking: feeding her son small bites of food, wiping her daughter’s face and carrying on a conversation with her husband. Just before the kids ran off to play at the toy structure, they raised their faces for Mommy kisses. The daughter skipped away a few steps, and then returned for another kiss. Delightful. A pleasure to behold. The mother’s wheelchair, which appeared to be normal for her, added to my admiration of her smoothly skilled caregiving.
We’re approaching the season when we traditionally remember our mothers. Pretty flowers, pleasant dinners and thoughtful cards are given as expressions of appreciation for the nurture that Mother provided. Might our remembrances be deepened by considering God’s mothering qualities? The prophet Isaiah turns to such images by asking, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?” (49:15). In doing so, he calls people to remember what they have seen in the love of a mother to help them hold onto a comforting vision of God.
In fact, Isaiah uses word play to deepen the female imagery. The Hebrew word for compassion is rehemel, which sounds similar to rehem, the word for womb. Isaiah’s question, “Does a woman show no compassion for the child of her womb?”, would have sounded more like, “Does a woman show no rehemel for the child of her rehem?” Likely the two words share a common root. It is easy to see links between the compassion a woman feels and the physical sensations of compassion that may register in her body, in her womb. Isaiah invokes these very powerful, basic life experiences and mother-child bonds to describe God’s never-ending steadfast love.
Perhaps these thoughts that offer images of God as a woman make you a bit nervous. We are more familiar with male language to describe God and many of our songs reflect that imagery. The rhetorical God-descriptive question that Job asks, “From whose womb did the ice come forth and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?” (38:29), can sound quite strange to our ears. Perhaps the strangeness can be an invitation to open ourselves to experiencing new, expansive understandings of God, who is ultimately unknowable and more mysterious than anything we can imagine.
In the video She Rob Bell offers the opinion that anytime we see a mother “in action” we see a little piece of God’s love. Says Bell, “When you see a mother doing her mother thing, when a mother’s heart breaks for her children, she is tapping into the very nature of who God is, and what God is like, and that is a gift. That is grace. That is divine.”
On this Mother’s Day, is it too much of a stretch for us to remember and give thanks for the wombs that gave us birth? What is more basic—more primal—to mothering than the strong, tough, marvellous shelters of muscle and blood that held us in our beginning days? How might Mother’s Day reflections on our mothers’ wombs lead us to appreciate God’s compassion and mother-like qualities? Let’s remember the wombs of our mothers—all of our mothers—those who gave birth to us, those who raised us, those who brought us along the path of faith and those who blessed us with their wisdom along the way.
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Winnipeg, where she works as a pastor and counsellor. Her family ties include that of daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend.