I’ve been itching to write something for a week in order to get my #Me Too post off the front page of my website. Instinctively, I wanted to hide what I revealed there behind something brighter and more beautiful. But I was mindful of why I was in such a hurry, so I forced myself to wait until it didn’t bother me anymore to see that part of my past laid bare. While I can’t say that’s entirely true, I want to talk about the other side of that coin –a positive reflection on what it’s means to be a woman.
When I was visiting with my mom last week, she handed me a folder.
It was a biography project I had completed for a Girl Scout award at the end of 8th grade. I laughed at the cover. For the life of me, I can’t recall why I put a picture of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator on it. Most of the project was pretty boring, but there were a few pages that were surprisingly accurate.
At the age of thirteen, I had called my shot.
Here is my Coat of Arms
Except for the basketball, which has been replaced by other sports over the years, I’d say I nailed it:
A heart – To this day, my signature logo.
A rainbow – I loved it before it became a Pride symbol, but it means even more to me now.
A sun – In my brief sojourn living outside Southern California, something inside me died, waiting to be reborn when I was back under its sunny blue skies.
Here is my description of myself:
This was over thirty years ago and little has changed, except my height, weight and favorite foods, although pizza and ice cream are still near the top.
Finally, here is the kicker – the last page in the book about me.
Tim laughed out loud when he read that last line. Apparently, I had been looking for him from the start. He may not deal in cars, but he is a salesman!
But what in the world is a “housemother?” he asked.
It’s a good question, but I have no idea. Perhaps it was my early feminist desire to not simply be a “housewife.” Perhaps I saw the role of “mother,” as more significant than “wife” and wanted to honor that. Perhaps I just got the word wrong and in the days before computers, when it would have meant re-writing the entire page, I simply didn’t care enough to fix it.
But then again, maybe I meant it.
I love that word.
It’s silly and awkward, but I can’t let it go.
Like a snail who carries its house everywhere, I go nowhere without the lens of “mother.” Everything I write, everything I read, everything I see and hear and respond to goes through that filter – not as a woman who has given birth to four children – but as someone who longs to bring life – abundant, strong, complex, and conscious life – to the world.
Looking back, I see it so clearly. I have always been about mothering – about encouraging life through love, presence and nourishment – physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.
It is my instinct, hard-wired in my being.
Here’s a cake for you, a love letter, a book I thought you’d like, a poem to read. Here’s a smile, a hug, a shoulder to cry on, a warm place to stay, a soft place to land. Here’s an adventure to go on, a challenge to face, an idea that will change your mind, an experience that will change your heart. If you’re scared, hold my hand; we’ll walk together. I’ll never leave you alone.
Does that vocation sound soft, sappy, sentimental? You can admit it, because I will. My inner critics are having a field day as I write about my vocation of “housemother.”
- The academic in me finds it laughably unsophisticated and fears that nothing else I write will be taken seriously.
- The feminist in me finds it weak and limiting and fears that claiming a primary vocation to motherhood perpetuates the dangerous fallacy of essentialism and plays right into the hands of the patriarchy.
- The self-conscious writer in me finds it arrogant to claim that I am somehow responsible for bringing life to this world and is embarrassed to walk around the neighborhood.
But the woman I am, the mother I long to be, said what she meant, back then and today.
In the podcast, “God as Mother,” The Liturgists explore the idea of the feminine nature of God with the brilliant Christina Cleveland, a social psychologist, public theologian, author and speaker from Duke University.
Of course, God can be Father, she said, but to see God in only that way limits the mystery, the expanse, the reach, the power and glory of God. Centuries of exclusively referring to God as Father has left many Christians with a God who is powerful, distant, judgmental, angry, and punitive, which in turn encourages them to adapt those qualities. To become God-like is to behave in the same way.
But the metaphor of God as Mother, which is also found in the scriptures, brings a different energy and understanding, not only to our relationship with Reality, but to our relationship with the world and each other. We become co-creators, responsible for the flourishing of the world through Love. I will let poet Allison Woodard speak to the possibility of God as Mother.
“God Our Mother”
To be a Mother is to suffer;
To travail in the dark,
stretched and torn,
exposed in half-naked humiliation,
subjected to indignities
for the sake of new life.
To be a Mother is to say,
“This is my body, broken for you,”
And, in the next instant, in response to the created’s primal hunger,
“This is my body, take and eat.”
To be a Mother is to self-empty,
To neither slumber nor sleep,
so attuned You are to cries in the night—
Offering the comfort of Yourself,
and assurances of “I’m here.”
To be a Mother is to weep
over the fighting and exclusions and wounds
your children inflict on one another;
To long for reconciliation and brotherly love
and—when all is said and done—
To gather all parties, the offender and the offended,
into the folds of Your embrace
and to whisper in their ears
that they are Beloved.
To be a mother is to be vulnerable—
To be misunderstood,
For the heartaches of the bewildered children
who don’t know where else to cast
the angst they feel
over their own existence
in this perplexing universe
To be a mother is to hoist onto your hips those on whom your image is imprinted,
bearing the burden of their weight,
rejoicing in their returned affection,
delighting in their wonder,
bleeding in the presence of their pain.
To be a mother is to be accused of sentimentality one moment,
And injustice the next.
To be the Receiver of endless demands,
Absorber of perpetual complaints,
Reckoner of bottomless needs.
To be a mother is to be an artist;
A keeper of memories past,
Weaver of stories untold,
Visionary of lives looming ahead.
To be a mother is to be the first voice listened to,
And the first disregarded;
To be a Mender of broken creations,
And Comforter of the distraught children
whose hands wrought them.
To be a mother is to be a Touchstone
and the Source,
Bestower of names,
Influencer of identities;
God as Mother is a powerful metaphor that does not need to replace “God the Father,” but should surely be given a place alongside it. We need the masculine and feminine energies of the Divine to bring about the fullness of creation.
If “Mother” is what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God, then here I am. Even my inner critics grow quiet in the face of the truth that they too need a “mother” to hear their complaints and soothe their fears, to acknowledge their stories and encourage them in Love to a greater purpose and fuller expression of all they long to be. Truly, if God is Mother, I can honor the vocation my authentic self claimed for me so many decades ago.
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I just love you…I love your heart, soul and your amazing vulnerable writing!!! Each and everyone of your blogs is a gift to me and I do not say it nearly often enough!!! Your are a beautiful person!!!
This is Martina. I do not know why it is going as anonymous. 🙂
Martina! This is so very kind of you to say and words like yours keep me going – writing and publishing!
I loved this post on so many levels! Thank you, Ali
Alison, as usual I like what you have written. But I very much dislike the poem “God Our Mother,” which limits “mother” to those who have given birth, nursed, had children who look like them. In my 34 years of parenting, I have encountered that idea far too often. For that reason, I choose for myself the more encompassing word “parent.”
I get your point about the poem to be sure. It does cling tightly to one definition/image of mother as one who has given brith and raised their own children, but the energy of “mothering,” which can certainly be framed as parenting as you wisely pointed out, was what resonated with me. Far before I even dreamed of having children of my own, I had an instinct to “mother” – to lead with love and acceptance and to nurture and encourage the people around me. Some of the best coaches and teachers I’ve had have been “motherly” in that way, though they were men.
It’s a conversation I’ve had many times – if it is actually necessary to highlight/ embrace the feminine nature of God and use feminine pronouns. Many would prefer to go to straight to a general neutral idea of God, and that it what I do in my writing most of the time. It’s where I’m most comfortable actually, but something about this poem and podcast challenged me to consider the useful and perhaps necessary counterpoint to the God as Father metaphor, which has dominated Christian theology.
Thanks for the discussion!
I loved this reflection. To me this is your “essence”. I completely relate to everything that you wrote here. Even though I’m not a great poem lover- the one here by Allison Woodard really “spoke” to me. I loved it. Thank you again for sharing such wisdom with everyone.
Thanks! You would know my essence best, so I’ll trust you on that one!
It’s so cool to see your handwriting and hear your reflection as your younger self. I read something like that of mine indicating I hoped to be a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader. I am chalking it up to the idea that I truly wanted to have the white shiny boots. 🙂 You are so thoughtful and I always look forward to reading your blogs. The poem spoke to me too. I love how you bring in such interesting literature and passages to add to your thoughts. Miss you! XO–Jill
Love the cheerleader dream and could have totally seen you pulling it off if you hadn’t come to CA for college and met the love of your life! Shiny high white boots? Bring it on for JPB! Thanks for the kind words Jill. Hope we can reconnect one of these days.
i loved seeing the 8th grade you! All of the versions of all of the Ali’s you have ever been. Ive known many but i didnt get to know that one- but now feel like I’ve met a small piece of her. What a gift. Helps me understand even more why i love and admire you so.
Loved the poem and the post, Alison. Beautiful words from a beautiful soul. Thank you.