Thursday, 31 March 2011

Mothering Sunday - Hovering, Brooding...

Genesis 1:1-3, 26-31
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Luke 2:33-35
And Jesus’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

I think I was about thirty when I felt that God was calling me into ordained ministry. It came as a bit of a bolt from the blue as I was rather enjoying my career in science and could see all sorts of possibilities opening up. The music was going well too and our band was generating some interest and had been signed with an independent label.

But then, one New Year’s Day, came that clear indication from God that he had other plans and that I needed to walk a different path, and so here I am, quite a few years later.

In terms of Mothering Sunday the interesting thing is the way that other people dealt with me having this sudden sense of needing to train to be a vicar. Almost everyone close to me made the comment that they had seen it coming, even if I hadn’t. Even most of my work colleagues, few of whom were believers themselves, seemed unsurprised.

However the most important comment came from my mother. When we were alone one day she told me quietly that she had seen this coming for years, since I was a teenager, but she had not said anything, although she was beginning to worry that I would miss it. She knew me, she knew what motivated me and she could see all the possibilities, but she kept her own counsel.

The word that comes to mind is ‘brooding’. My mother had been brooding over a call she had seen in me that she feared I might miss if I continued to become caught up in my career. She had been hovering, if you like, and it’s that example that I want to draw on in the readings today.

When we talk about God we almost invariably use the masculine pronoun. In fact, just to emphasize it, we used to put a capital letter on He and Him. And the same has tended to be true throughout the last two thousand years, with whichever part of the Trinity being referred to as male. Yet that distinction has not always been so clear cut.

One of the names for God used in the Old Testament was Elohim. So much has been written about this one word that I could not hope to do justice to it. However, what I find interesting is that the root of the word Elohim is actually the feminine singular word for a god which is Eloah. To get Elohim a masculine plural ending is given to the feminine singular word. So Elohim is a singular feminine noun with a masculine plural ending which is always used with singular verbs when referring to the One True God in the Hebrew scriptures.

We shouldn’t speculate too far about what this means except to say that in one of the earliest words for God there is a feminine word at the root. But this becomes a lot more specific when we look at the word for Spirit. In Latin the word is masculine, in Greek, the language of the new Testament, it is neuter, but in Hebrew the word for Spirit, Ruach, is feminine. It’s also the word for wind.

We are only two verses into the Bible when we get this difficult to translate verse which could say, ‘...a mighty Wind from God swept over the face of the waters’, but it could easily be translated as ‘...the Spirit of God hovered, or brooded over the waters.’ In this poetic imagery, the waters are the formless nature of the creation, waiting to take shape.

So for me this takes me right back to the image of my mother. I can imagine her with her hand over the bump in her belly as I took form within her, brooding over what I might become. I can picture her watching me through my teenage years as I became a believer in my own right, hovering, brooding over what I might become.

And I can think of her watching me in my early career in science, still brooding over the possibilities of what I might become. And the same is so true of Mary, the mother of Jesus. In that reading from Luke’s Gospel I can imagine this young teenager, coping with the first exhausting days of motherhood, only to hear the words of Simeon about what her son would accomplish, and her holding him close to her breast, brooding over his future.

Later on in the same chapter we have the story of how Jesus was accidentally left in the Temple when he was a twelve year old, and how Mary and Joseph found him talking wisely with the Rabbis. At the end of that section we have the same kind of comment, that Mary treasured all these things in her heart. This image of my own mother, and this image of Mary convey something very special about motherhood which is confirmed in the last part of the Genesis reading which says this:

"Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."

We are created in the image of God. Now God is spirit so it would be silly to try and put a gender on the different persons of the Trinity, yet we are clearly created, male and female, in the image of God, and the language of the Old Testament and this brooding nature of the Holy Spirit, this feminine mighty Wind from God, suggests that this brooding nature of motherhood is uniquely in the image of God.

What my mother did for me, and what your mothers did for you, brooding over your futures, is an attribute of God the Holy Spirit. What’s more I don’t think it’s uniquely bound to mothers. When I look at the church of Tanworth, I brood over it, and over the people. I wonder what will become of them. I wonder how I can nurture them. I’m not even a father, let alone a mother, but I still have some sense of that feminine brooding.

Being a woman, being a mother, and having mothering instincts regardless of your innate gender, are hallmarks of having been created in the image of God. For too long we have insisted on the masculinity of God, not recognising that feminine imagery is written all over scripture too. And if we, male and female, are together in the image of God, then scripture itself instructs us that the feminine we see within our race is just as much in the image of God as the masculine.

So maybe it’s time for us to enlarge our imagination of the nature of God. Amen.

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