Until the other day, I had thought of penguins as slightly comical birds, maybe the punch line of a joke. Then I saw this summer's surprise hit film, "March of the Penguins," and my perspective changed. Maybe it's not too much to say that now, in penguins, I see more evidence of divine action.
The film is a beautiful narrative of the courtship of these lovely and graceful creatures and of the tender self-sacrificing care they exhibit toward their young.
Once the potential father and mother have found each other, the care of the egg and nurturing of the young have to happen through the wholehearted cooperation of both. They take turns getting food, braving predators, and hunkering down against the Antarctic winter.
That they do it at all successfully in the harshest environment on Earth is an inspiring example. As documented in the film, the penguins' way of life has illustrated to me some aspects of how God is parenting us.
The film caused me to think of one way in which the founder of this newspaper described God: Father-Mother. While Mary Baker Eddy was not the first to so characterize Deity - indeed, ample evidence exists in the Bible that early prophets and writers had a clear sense of the motherhood of God as well as the fatherhood - she was perhaps the most systematic in our age to do so.
In her major work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mrs. Eddy wrote, "Father-Mother is the name for Deity, which indicates His tender relationship to His spiritual creation" (p. 332). God creates, nurtures, protects, and nudges us along. God urges us to have a better understanding of ourselves as His-Her reflection. God comforts us and loves us.
I learned something about the motherhood of God a few years ago. My wife and I thought it would be a great adventure to travel cross-country on the train. One night during this trip, somewhere in western Kansas or eastern Colorado, the air conditioning went into overdrive, and it became excruciatingly cold. The man sitting behind us was coughing and sneezing. Soon I found myself with the same symptoms. I thought, "Oh, no, it's my vacation and here's a cold coming on."
I turned in prayer to God at that point and affirmed that God was right there with us and that no material conditions could change what God always had for us: His perfect love. What came next was a bit of a surprise. It was almost as though I heard an inner voice saying, "Think about the motherhood of God."
I don't think I had ever seriously considered the mothering aspect of God before. That night, I reasoned that my Mother, God, was loving, that She cared for me completely, and that She would protect me from harm. I thought about the warm omnipresence of Mother-Love, and how all of us on that train were under Her tender care.
Right away, although the air conditioning stayed arctic, the symptoms started disappearing. As I fell asleep, I realized that I was no longer hearing the coughing and wheezing from my fellow traveler. In the morning, we all woke happy and refreshed; and while I remember some good-natured grousing about the nighttime temperature, nobody was suffering from a cold.
It's a small experience, one that I hadn't thought about for years, until the penguins brought it back to me. The motherhood of God shields us from harm and brings us through the cold night.
He shall cover thee
with his feathers,
and under his wings
shalt thou trust.