On Feb. 17, the Methodist Church in England introduced a new worship book that for the first time includes a prayer referring to God as "our Father and our Mother."
For some people this is controversial. For others, there will be surprise that everyone doesn't find it natural.
People who pray often yearn to understand God's nature. When we turn to the Bible, it is remarkable how many different ideas about God emerge. Deity is referred to as Creator, I AM, Lord, Alpha and Omega. God is compared to an eagle, a lion, the sun.
In addition, the Bible frequently speaks of qualities that might be called the feminine attributes of God - attributes that have been familiar and reassuring to worshipers for centuries. The sense of nurturing and caring, of wisdom and love, fidelity and purity, constancy and order - all of these offer hints into the nature of God's motherhood.
An article in the London Independent (Feb. 18) quotes Rev. Neil Dixon, who served on the committee that worked on the new Methodist liturgy. He emphasized that God is neither male nor female: "God is not a person. God is spirit and without gender. The fact that we've used male imagery so extensively has in a sense reinforced the picture of God as a man, and the fact that Jesus is male has done that as well, but if all human beings are created in God's image, feminine as well as masculine attributes must reflect God's nature."
The Holy Bible is a valuable guide for learning more of the nature of God. The Bible acts as a prism, revealing the nature of God in an ever-widening spectrum. Each term, or attribute, for God enriches our understanding of Him/Her. Think of the ideas that come to thought as we consider God as King and as Shepherd. Then add to that ideas of God as the Almighty and the Ever-present. Jesus emphasized that God is Spirit, the life-giving and animating force of being. His disciple John spoke of God as Love.
How is this spectrum enlarged when we add the terms Father and Mother? In "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mary Baker Eddy referred to Father-Mother as the name that described God's "tender relationship" to you and me (pg. 332). Further on she wrote, "Spirit duly feeds and clothes every object, as it appears in the line of spiritual creation, thus tenderly expressing the fatherhood and motherhood of God" (pg. 507). "Father-Mother" may be a new note to some ears, but in its ideal sense it can bring comfort and reassurance to those who love God.
Fear disappears when we know we are cared for. God seems less abstract and distant. If we are in pain or mental distress, we can find healing power in the arms of divine Love. A masculine sense of this may remind us that God is the Lawgiver and Law-enforcer, our protector and deliverer; a feminine sense may impart the idea of tenderness and reassurance, of dependability and security. In point of fact, the masculine and feminine are interchangeable, but depending on our own point of view, each sparks new and healing ideas about God and our relationship to God.
Mrs. Eddy's discovery of Christian Science included the idea of God's motherhood. The Puritan sense of God as a great judge, which she grew up with, was transformed by an ever-growing sense of God's love. A concept of sternness yielded to a deepening sense of God's mothering care. Sometimes when she was ill, this feeling of God's tender, powerful, ever-present love healed her. Later it enabled her to heal others. It continues to aid those engaged in Christian healing today.
The idea of God as Mother does not cancel or replace the long-revealed idea of God as our Father. Instead, they complement and enrich each other. If we can withdraw from the smoke of controversy that might surround these new steps in religion, and quietly ponder in our hearts what attributes constitute our highest sense of motherhood and fatherhood, we'll probably be reassured to discover that those ideals have their origin in the divine nature - and come from God.
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