The Image of the Mothering God

I gave this talk in my ward today.

As a man tasked with speaking on Mother’s Day, I feel that my job is to “look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen,”[1] in the sense that I have to testify of things that I have grown up not knowing how to see, but which I believe are true. So, I begin in gratitude for the women in my life who have taught me to see, although for my part it is still through a glass, darkly.

In the first creation account in Genesis we read: “So God created humankind in his image, / in the image of God he created them; / male and female he created them.”[2] One question that this passage immediately raises is what it means for women to be created in the image of an apparently male God. On Mother’s Day, this question seems worth pondering. Can we think Lorenzo Snow’s couplet—“As man now is, God once was; / As God now is, man may become”—beyond the ostensibly universally-human “man” and toward something specifically feminine? In Mormon terms, if we cannot imagine exalted womanhood, I do not think that we can imagine women fully human. I have friends—faithful churchgoers 51 weeks out of the year—who stay home on Mother’s Day because they see the version of motherhood presented in our discourse as too cramped and narrow for their experience. Perhaps there are women in our own ward who make a similar choice (if you know one, go knock on her door and give her a hug, or a fist bump, or whatever seems right). Our talk of “angel mothers” seems exalted, but is it really “image of God” material? My friends’ experience suggests not.

Why does this matter? When asked about the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus answered: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’”[3] If we collectively do not know what it means for women to be created in the image of God, can any of us—female or male—truly see the image of God in ourselves, enough to love ourselves as we ought? Are we then loving our neighbors in impoverished ways? Is our love of God, however ample it may be, only half of what it could be?

Whatever the answers to those questions, God surely loves us fully, and the scriptures convey a crucial part of that fullness by describing God in feminine terms. Isaiah—whose words Jesus counseled us to search diligently—gives us images of God as a nursing mother and as a laboring woman.[4] These remarkable scriptures can guide us toward an understanding of the image of God that includes femininity—and that therefore also opens our hearts to a more capacious love of ourselves, our neighbors, and God.

The image of the nursing mother is familiar from the Book of Mormon, where Nephi quotes Isaiah 49 in 1 Nephi 21. In a modern translation, the biblical version reads: “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, / my Lord has forgotten me.’ / Can a woman forget her nursing-child, / or show no compassion for the child of her womb? / Even these may forget, / yet I will not forget you.”[5] This section of Isaiah addresses Israel in exile. In the ancient Near East, people understood their wars with other tribes as wars between their respective gods, and the losers would often turn to worshiping the victors’ gods rather than continue worshiping the gods that had so obviously failed them. When Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and hauled its inhabitants into captivity, then, abandoning Yahweh for Marduk might have seemed like a perfectly sensible thing to do. Isaiah, though, writes prophetically to urge Israel’s continued faithfulness to a God he suggests has not abandoned them at all.

The image of nursing mother is appropriate to this purpose, for several reasons. First, it serves as a fitting counter to the hyper-masculine image of a warrior god. In contrast to other cultures in the region (and arguably also to its own past), Israelite monotheism insists that the masculine and the feminine must be part of the same god. If the male warrior seems not to have fared too well, the nursing mother still remains. God, in other words, is claiming the role of a person whom war tends to leave very vulnerable. War may bring glory to men, but it often brings intense suffering to women. (Yes, men at war suffer, too, and yet talking about that suffering seems unmanly. There’s a place for soldiers to see their own image in God the nursing mother, too.)

Second, God as the nursing mother invites us to understand our relationship with God in terms of the deep intimacy between a mother and her nursling child. A friend now expecting her second babe (as she likes to say) recently shared an article by Angela Garbes that explores this intimacy. “To produce breast milk,” Garbes begins, “mothers melt their own body fat.” As a professor at my alma mater of Arizona State, Katie Hinde, explains, this self-giving has remarkable effects: because body fat stores nutrients collected over the mother’s lifetime, “You have information about your whole life span that could be in your milk. Milk is telling the baby about the world its mother has lived in.”[6] Nursing, then, is God’s way of communicating to us about the divine world, not with words, but by sharing God’s own substance with us. The great English mystic Julian of Norwich quite fittingly applies the image of a nursing God to the sacrament: “The mother may give her child [to] suck her milk, but our precious Mother Jesus, he may feed us with him self and doth full courteously and full tenderly with the blessed sacrament that is precious foode of very life.”[7] When we take the sacrament, then, as we just did, we are nursing at Jesus’ breast, receiving spiritual food created at the literal expense of his body and blood, and in that food Jesus communicates to us the nature of the heavenly life.

This sacramental connection to nursing opens up powerful spiritual possibilities. According to Garbes, “Within [the] vacuum [created when a baby nurses], the infant saliva is sucked back into the mother’s nipple, where receptors in her mammary gland read its signals.” This means, she continues, that “breast milk is a private conversation between mother and child. While my daughter lacks words, breast-feeding makes it possible for her to tell me exactly what she needs. The messages we are sending each other are literally made of ourselves, and they tell us about what is going on in our lives at that very moment.”[8] When we take the sacrament, eating of Jesus’ body and drinking his blood, we are promised that the Spirit will be with us, and this Spirit is the milk that flows from Jesus’ breast to our infant mouths. Nursing, in other words, is not only nutriment, but also prayer. As Sarah Coakley puts it, “[T]he dialogue of prayer is strictly speaking not a simple communication between an individual and a divine monad, but rather a movement of divine reflexivity, a sort of answering of God to God in and through the one who prays.”[9] We cannot receive the milk of the Spirit without giving back in ways that tell Jesus exactly what we need.

Prayer brings me to the second image, from Isaiah 42: “For a long time I have held my peace, / I have kept still and restrained myself; / now I will cry out like a woman in labour, / I will gasp and pant.”[10] This image invites us to picture God squatting and sweaty, breathing as only laboring women do, while giving vent to the earthiest of human vocalizations, the cthonic song of life. Lauren Winner draws on a friend’s observation that nearly every birth story includes a moment when the laboring woman says, “I cannot do this anymore,” to connect this moment of labor to Jesus: “We don’t have to brood uncertainly about whether God ever feels this way: we know that, in the Garden of Gethsemane, before the labor of the cross, Jesus prays, ‘Please, Lord, take this cup from me.’ For a moment—before Jesus faithfully intones, ‘But not my will but thy will be done’—Jesus is the mother in labor saying, ‘I cannot do this anymore.’ Jesus knew that new life would be born out of His suffering on the cross, yet he still asked God to take away the cup.”[11]

Jesus, Winner suggests, became a laboring woman when he prayed—or, rather, when he came up against what he felt was the limit of his ability to pray. Do we not all experience the same? I love the way that Paul puts it in Romans: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”[12] Jesus labored as we labor, pregnant with thought and intent to speak our very souls to God, and he like us felt unable to give birth to that deepest heart-prayer. Is it not, then, a comfort, that the Spirit comes and intercedes, groaning to God as we only wish we could? The Psalms depict God as a midwife, delivering us into life: “Upon you I have leaned from my birth; / it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. /My praise is continually of you.”[13] In a similar way, the Spirit serves as the midwife of our prayers, bringing our deepest longings forth from the womb of our self-unknowing and presenting them to the Father of our souls. Jesus, too, labored to bring our deepest longings to life, and, to me, he was never more human, and never more divine, than when he groaned for us like a laboring woman.

We realize, then, the divine image in ourselves through a process of laboring as Jesus labored. Again, this laboring is not the work of a warrior god, mowing down sin and death with a submachine gun or beating them into submission with a club—or even just destroying them on the basketball court. There is too much suffering in the world to quite believe in such a god. But when God labors like a mother to deliver us, we learn about a new kind of strength, one closely bound up with vulnerability. In Lauren Winner’s words: “The image of God as a laboring woman puts together strength and vulnerability in a way that tells us something about God and how God works. The point is not just that God is vulnerable, although that itself is startling. The point is that in the struggles of labor, we can learn what strength is. If our picture of strength is a laboring woman, then strength is not about refusing to cry or denying pain. Strength is not about being in charge, or being independent, or being dignified. If our picture of strength is a laboring woman, strength entails entrusting yourself (to medicine, or to the wisdom of your own body, or to the guidance of someone who is there in the room with you). Strength even entails giving yourself over to the possibility of death.”[14] Laboring as God labors, that is, can show us the path from “Let this cup pass from me” to “Not my will, but yours be done,” by showing us that we do in fact have the strength to deliver our wills to God.

As Paul writes in Romans 8, a chapter at the very heart of his writings, we await our discovery of this strength with all creation, as we groan together like laboring women:

[T]he creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.[15]

We, too, are subjected to futility, unable to vanquish our challenges like conquering heroes, and we groan for the time when we will be set free. The thing that will deliver us is love—love of ourselves, love of our neighbor, and love of God—but we strain to bring it forth, and our attempts to love are all in bondage to decay. In Gethsemane and through the scandal of the cross, Jesus labored to bring forth the children of God. Two thousand years later, we are still in utero, and yet, though Jesus remains an expectant mother, his love for us who in some sense have yet to be born led him on through the darkest hour of his labor, when he didn’t want to go on. Because his love led him on to the moment when he could say “It is finished,” and then to the moment when he birthed us all into immortality by emerging from the tomb, he can be the perfect midwife of the loves we labor to bring forth.

The vehicle for these loves is the church, which Paul calls the body of Christ. The Spirit, as Paul writes in Romans, works so that we may be “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son.”[16] The Son’s image, as the passages from Isaiah have shown us, contains the female as well as the male. Paul writes elsewhere that “in Christ Jesus”—which is to say, in the church—“there is no longer male and female.” This is not to say that masculinity and femininity disappear in the church, but that in prayer women and men alike must sometimes knock like the Bridegroom on the chamber door, at other times must wait like a bride for Christ the Bridegroom, and at other times still must groan like laboring mothers. “It is as if,” Sarah Coakley says, “prayer in the Spirit both takes up and transforms the usual societal implications of gender, and renders them both labile [that is to say, subject to change] and cosmic.”[17] In this way, prayer is what makes it possible for us to love our neighbors as ourselves, because in its essence prayer involves opening ourselves up to experience someone else—experiences that take different gendered forms at different times. The body of Christ must be female as well as male, and we cannot afford to say “I have no need of you” to any of its members; instead, we must receive all of them in charity, just as we hope for Jesus to receive us to his breast when his labor pangs are over.[18] Prayer in the Spirit is how we learn to do that.

So far I’ve looked at the question of what it means for women to be created in the image of God by exploring several scriptures that invite us to think about God as a mother, but these images alone are not enough. The Doctrine and Covenants tells us that Jesus descended below all things.[19] ALL things. Can we imagine him as an infertile woman, wanting children but unable to have them? Can we imagine him as a single woman in a Church that tends to define her by marital status, trying to forge a meaningful life for herself? Can we imagine him as a rape victim? What about a divorcée, broken free from a bad relationship? Or a single mom, juggling work, childcare, and school? A refugee woman, widowed by war? Women’s experiences are incredibly diverse: there is no one narrative that fits every woman’s life. Only when we can see the face of God in each of those stories will we begin to know what it means to love our neighbor—because only then will we also be able to see God in our own stories. Only then will we begin to know what it means to love God. The children of God have not yet been revealed: all of creation groans, and God groans with it. That we may heed their call is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, our perfect Mother, Amen.

[1] 2 Cor. 4:18 (NRSV).

[2] Gen. 1:27 (NRSV).

[3] Matt. 22:37-39 (NRSV).

[4] 3 Nephi 23:1.

[5] Isaiah 49:14-15 (NRSV).

[6] Angela Garbes, “The More I Learn about Breast Milk, The More Amazed I Am,” The Stranger, 26 August 2015. http://www.thestranger.com/features/feature/2015/08/26/22755273/the-more-i-learn-about-breast-milk-the-more-amazed-i-am

[7] Denise N. Baker, ed., The Showings of Julian of Norwich (New York: Norton, 2005), 94. I have modernized spelling.

[8] Garbes.

[9] Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 113.

[10] Isaiah 42:14 (NRSV).

[11] Lauren Winner, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God (New York: HarperOne, 2015), 147-48.

[12] Romans 8:26 (NRSV).

[13] Psalm 71:6 (NRSV).

[14] Winner, 151-52.

[15] Romans 8:18-23 (NRSV).

[16] Romans 8:29 (NRSV).

[17] Coakley, 115.

[18] 1 Corinthians 12:21 (NRSV).

[19] D&C 122:8.

Comments

  1. Joseph Stanford says:

    Amen

  2. melodynew says:

    Oh, friend! You have done a good thing here. This is one day of the year when I am thankful my sacrament meeting starts late in the day — so I can read this perfect sermon as the initiation to my sabbath worship. Thank you for your thoughtful and courageous words. Happy Mother’s Day to you and yours.

  3. Wonderful. (“Of course” but that only in the most positive sense.) For the day appropriately focused on women’s experience, but valuable for all of us, women and men, who do not always resonate to the image of a warrior God.

  4. BHodges says:

    That’s a wonderful sermon.

  5. Thanks, Jason.

  6. The spirit touched me, actually overcame me, as I read your talk. Very thought provoking. Thank you.

  7. Miranda says:

    Thank you Jason!

  8. Duuuuude. Yes.

  9. Kristine says:

    So rich and soul-nourishing! Thank you, Jason.

  10. Karen H. says:

    This is so affirming. Thank you for saying these words to your ward, and thanks for sharing them with us.

  11. Wonderful.

  12. This makes me want to sing “amen!” from the rooftops. I don’t know a lot of things, but I can know that Jesus is our perfect mother, because that’s in the scriptures. Boom. Thank you, Jason :)

  13. Olde Skool says:

    Amen, JasonK.

  14. eponymous says:

    Wow, a powerful Mother’s Day sermon indeed. This makes my heart leap with joy.

  15. Your talk made me think of a lecture I recently listened to again:

    In the creation, this is preceding chapter of Genesis chapter 1, the creation of man is described:
    “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female
    created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and
    replenish the earth, and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:27 – 28) [You see, when it comes to the image of
    God, the image of God is both male and female. That is who the Eloheim are. When we talk
    about the “Eloheim” a singular verb is used. That is, the Eloheim “is.” This singular verb is used
    despite the fact that the word “Eloheim” is plural. Why would you use a single verb with a plural
    noun? The reason you would do that is they two are one. It is because there is no difference
    between the Father and His Consort, the one about whom so little is said.
    ….In the scriptures the voice of God is described as the sound of waters, rushing waters, mighty waters. If I were going to stage the endowment, the voice you would hear whenever Eloheim speaks would be the voice of a man and a woman speaking in unison. It would not be the voice of a man alone, nor would it be the voice of a man in an echo chamber, and I would not use sound effects…
    If you want to know what the image of God is, the scriptures declare plainly: “…in the image of
    God created he him; male and female created he them.” [That is the image of God. That is what
    God, if you look at His image, should look like. This is the reason why, when you have the
    Father throughout Scripture on display, it is always with a Host. He appears with the heavenly
    Host because our God, in the end, is not the image of a single fellow standing about in a robe. It is this image, male and female. They two are together.]
    You see this in scripture in a passage that has been read by Latter-day Saints perhaps more than any other denomination. It is in 1 Corinthians Chapter 11 beginning at verse 11: “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.” [The modifier here in the King James translation, works marvelously well. Because as you think about what is being said here, the woman is of the man, all things are of God, and the man is by the woman. Woman of man, all things of God, man by the woman. That’s how men get into the world is by the woman…
    Think of the image of God. Then think of what is said here about it “not being good for man to
    be alone.” That is, the image of God includes the notion of companionship. That is what makes it “good.”
    Think about multiplying and replenishing. The image of God includes necessarily, offspring. As
    a separate and single individual you are finite, each of us is finite. But when you put together the man and the woman, it is in the image of God because they become potentially infinite. Despite the fact we are in mortality, we become infinite, meaning we have no end, by multiplying. Sitting in this room today, we are all descendents of Adam and Eve. They are present here today in you, because they continue, despite the fact they died. Until they come back from the grave, it still does not matter they are dead, they are yet present through the people who are their offspring.
    They became in the image of God. This is at the core of redemption, this is at the core of the
    work of God, this is at the core of what it means for God to complete His work and to have the
    continuation of the seeds. This is what God does. This is what Gods do.
    (Denver Snuffer 7-26-14, Lecture 9 St. George, Utah)

  16. Thank you, Jason.

  17. Wow, this was soul-stirring and felt so refreshing. Thank you.

  18. Neylan McBaine says:

    I wish i could write/research/process like this. Truly stunning. I’ll be referring back to this for years to come. Thank you.

  19. Kristen Howey says:

    Wow. I’ve read this three times now and I’ll be rereading it more in the future. Thank you for this.

  20. Creative, insightful, provocative and healing – a true sermon. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Special K says:

    I super appreciate that you, as a man, not only see the connection between nursing and the sacrament/atonement, but taught it as well. Our ordinances are so rich with birth symbolism, but we rarely talk about it explicitly. So many of those symbols ‘clicked’ in my my mind the first few days after I gave birth to my first child.

  22. Why are you people so concerned with an image of God that is male and female? My Heavenly Mother, and Heavenly Father are two separate beings. They strive together as one, just like the Godhead! When I see the painting of Joseph Smith seeing God the Father, and Jesus Christ, I know my Heavenly Mother and Jesus’s mates are being protected by them! That is why they did not come with them to establish the Gospel back onto the earth! I have NEVER FELT that Heavenly Father is just a male. He is my Heavenly Mothers mate, they are equal, just as I am equal with my husband. We are striving to return to BOTH of them, or, as I see the big picture, ALL OF THEM. MY Heavenly Mother may not be YOURS, BUTthe women who bore our spirits are just as important to me as our Father, and his Son! I feel both their love, just like I felt love from my earthly parents. I feel sorry for you brainiacs, who have to delve into things that are so simple and make them complicated! Be as a little child and just BELIEVE what your instincts tell you. They will not lead you astray.

  23. jerry clark says:

    I like the idea that is presented in Luke 3:38, that gives women credit for birthing Adam and eve. After all Brigham Young said, “The only method used by God for peopling worlds, is the birthing process. Luke clearly states that God was the Father of Adam, and McConkie confirmed that devine process.

  24. Jason K. says:

    Karma: I certainly don’t mean this talk as an attack on your beliefs. The feminine divine is an area little explored in official church teaching, which leaves it open for private searching. Far be it from me to say or even imply that you’ve got it wrong. I’ve just worked it out a bit differently in my own mind and heart, and I take it as given that your own process has been sincere. Please forgive me.

  25. Elder Wach says:

    What a Christlike response, Jason to Karma. We would expect no less if we truly love our neighbors. Thank you for practitioner what we all believe in the Gospel of Christ.

  26. Remember, this talk is based on scriptures written by Isaiah and Paul who made the comparison of mothering to Christ. Jason K. did not invent this. The interpretation is entirely orthodox, more orthodox, perhaps, than impulses to overly masculinize or genderize Jesus Christ by downplaying the very powerful descriptions used by Isaiah and Paul, from which we are meant to learn something real about the attributes of God.

  27. Jason K. says:

    I wouldn’t claim too much orthodoxy for it, John, if only because I’m not sure there really is an orthodox position on this stuff. There’s room for the Spirit to work differently on different people (which is appropriate, given that Pentecost is around the corner). That said, I do think that we should be more attentive to feminine imagery in the scriptures, even if people end up interpreting it differently than I do.

  28. Thank you for this, Jason. As a woman, I ache to find any image of myself in what I see and hear at church and in our cosmology, and I often hope for oblivion instead of fundamentalist interpretations of the afterlife. You have given me hope.

  29. Very true, Jason, but my point was more to highlight who actually said this stuff about nursing, labor, etc. — it wasn’t you or annoying Mormon “brainiacs,” it was Isaiah and Paul.

  30. I often hope for oblivion instead of fundamentalist interpretations of the afterlife

    That is such a powerful sentiment and you might be surprised at the number of men who feel the same way.

  31. Jason, this is great. I remember having similar thoughts about nursing and the sacrament (and, not to get too esoteric, but also about how that all relates to the navel scar, which our temple liturgy puts special emphasis on) after my wife gave birth to our oldest. Every mother’s day I hope that somebody in my ward quotes Julian of Norwich, but it hasn’t happened yet. :)

    And, to further echo what you say here, even the phrase “born of God” casts God as a mother. The phrase is not “sired by God,” but “born of God,” “born of Christ,” born of the Spirit,” etc. The other place where we see that “born of” construction in the scriptures is in the prophecies that Jesus would be “born of a woman.” The remarkable thing about that, of course, is that this phrase is not remarkable in gospel discourse, but is almost commonplace.

  32. Patricia Bellino says:

    This was a very interesting talk and I thank you for publishing it. I’m going to save it and re-read it over and over again.

    From the title of your talk I thought you were going to talk of a Heavenly Mother. I’ve always loved the 3rd verse in “O My Father”:

    “I had learned to call thee Father,
    Thru thy Spirit from on high,
    But, until the key of knowledge
    Was restored, I knew not why.
    In the heav’ns are parents single?
    No, the thought makes reason stare!
    Truth is reason; truth eternal
    Tells me I’ve a mother there.”

    I’ve always taken that to mean that we do have a Mother in Heaven, too, but because of Heavenly Father’s sanctity of her being she is not mentioned. That would be an interesting topic for another talk.

  33. Lovely, Jason. Thank you.

  34. Readers might be interested in this article which highlights how much doctrine we do have concerning Heavenly Mother.

    https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/mother-there-survey-historical-teachings-about-mother-heaven

  35. Wonderfully done! I was also blessed to speak on Mother’s Day, last year, and also shared it online. Hopefully this helps someone: http://bookofjeffrey.blogspot.com/2015/05/motherhood.html

  36. Jason, I am in awe. This is the most artful, beautiful, and profound talk about feminine deity I’ve ever encountered. You have captured the exquisite power and depth of earthly and divine nurturing that encompasses both the excruciating and the majestic aspects of “mothering.” Thank you.

  37. Emily U says:

    This is the sermon I would like to hear every Mother’s Day from now on. I’ll refer back to this often.

    I found the comparison between the two-way flow of fluids in nursing and the two-way communication in prayer especially profound.

    Thank you so much.

  38. Patricia Bellino says:

    Thank you very much Jody.

  39. davidsonlaw says:

    It is unsurprising that the readership of BCC would love this, but it is surprising that you would give such a talk in Provo, Utah and make it to the end with the microphone still working. I would expect that giving such a talk would be the most effective way to never be asked to speak again in that ward and to get released from your calling.

  40. Jason K. says:

    Actually, I got a calling right after giving the talk, and some of the high priests suggested making it the subject of our third-hour discussion. Provo turns out to be more complex and diverse than its reputation suggests.

  41. It is sad to see davidsonlaw take such a view of Isaiah and Paul’s mothering metaphors.

  42. davidsonlaw says:

    john f., I made no comment about my thoughts whatsoever on the talk. I was expressing surprise that the leadership of a ward in Provo Utah would allow this talk to stand unchallenged. I still find it surprising.

  43. Jason K. says:

    Pleasantly surprising, I hope.

  44. Jason K. says:

    Thanks also to all the women who have commented. You are the teachers without whom I never could have conceived the ideas I shared here. Your kind words have impressed that debt on my heart. Thank you!

  45. Isaiah isn’t making a mothering metaphor, he is saying it is easier for a nursing mother to forget and neglect her sucking child than it is for God to forget us.

    This is not a mothering metaphor, it isn’t a nursing metaphor it is an analogy on the ability and likelihood of one entity fidgeting another.

    But hey if you’re going to wrest scripture who needs context and accurate reading right?

  46. This isn’t wresting scripture. Frankly, your antipathy toward the metaphor is disturbing to me. Of course you’re free to interpret Isaiah’s nursing and labor metaphors and Paul’s labor metaphors however you like, including by undermining their significance as mothering metaphors for God’s attributes. The Isaiah and Paul materials say what they say.

  47. Jason K. says:

    drewsarge: if it’s analogy rather than metaphor, either way we’re dealing with figurative language (and arguably analogy is the less figurative of the two, because it operates on likeness rather than difference). The figure does two things: it invites us to think of God as a nursing mother, and then it points beyond that image. With my mystical bent, I think that most of our language about God does this. Even a straightforward statement like “God is love” simultaneously suggests an important truth through something relatable and challenges everything we think we know about love.

  48. Andrew Sargent says:

    Yes and the likeness is one of THE POSSIBILITY OF FORGETTING not an actual nursing of a sucking child.

    <>

    No it doesn’t invite us to thing of God as a nursing mother. It invites us to realize His Fidelity to US is far Greater than any mother could possess despite our infidelity to Him.

    Further Isaiah 42:14 is a verse about destruction not mothering. With the Gasp and Pant and Pain, The Lord will lay waste to the mountains and forests and like a mother in delivery prepare a space for her coming offspring.

    I’m sorry but you’re forcing a view into scripture not taking what the scripture is telling you..

    Your view is eisegesis not exegesis.

    Whether you want to admit it or not this actually matters

  49. Jason K. says:

    I’m not claiming to be doing peshat here, but derash. This is a sermon, not commentary. Go read the sermons of Origen or Gregory of Nyssa, and you’ll see what I mean. The proof of this stuff is in whether or not it moves people to do good, and I hope that my homiletic aims of encouraging us to see God’s image in basic details of female life (in keeping with a rich medieval interpretive tradition), letting that lead us on to greater appreciation of the sacrament, and calling us to deeper prayer are unimpeachable. (I take it you accept my reading of Paul.)

    That this approach may not work for you is fine. No sermon can speak to everyone. But why begrudge the people for whom it does work the experiences they recount in this thread? If you’re uncomfortable, as a guy, with having to see God in a gendered image other than your own, women have to do that all the time. Join the club.

  50. I simply don’t think it is required to wrest scripture to see women as created in the image of God.

    I actually don’t even see a need to redirect the thoughts of the saints to something to help them see the image of God in Women. We know more than just men took part in the Creation, it is implicit in our teachings I know of no LDS person that actually struggles to see the Image of God in Women, I know of people who struggle to see themselves in the image of God, I think we all fall victim to such self defeat at times

    But I see no need to erroneously interpret scripture to make a point that it doesn’t seem even needs to be made.

    But hey maybe my life and experience for 35 years are an aberration and exception to everywhere else in the church.

  51. And spare me the progressive “gendered image” crap. D&C 131 is explicit for one to be exalted they must do it with one of the opposite gender. Truly neither is the Man without the Woman in the Lord.

    For our Heavenly Father to be what HE is, there is unquestioningly a Mother at His side and They together operate for the salvation and Exaltation of Their Children.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because some of us prefer not to speculate, that we have any trouble recognizing the Godhood of Women in the Eternities

  52. davidsonlaw says:

    And with that I have decided that I am not pleasantly surprised. My opinion of your paper above is that it is a damnable heresy. I choose those words intentionally. You assert that the test of your words is whether they move people to do good, but that isn’t the test that matters. The important question is whether or not they lead people to Christ, and it is in that aspect that I find your paper lacking, as it would lead people to your characterization of Christ, which differs markedly from the Christ evident through the restoration. By setting up an alternate interpretation of Christ, one that is necessarily false, you lead people to believe in a false Christ.

    It isn’t a matter of what works for you or individual members of an audience. It is a matter of truth, or a lack of truth. You haven’t lead to a greater appreciation of the sacrament, you’ve created an alternate interpretation separate and distinct to that taught in the scriptures and by modern prophets. You haven’t lead people to deeper prayer, but to pray to some imaginary god bearing no resemblance to the True God. That’s some work for a visiting assistance professor of english at BYU … it’s no wonder you don’t sign your full name to your work here.

  53. Jason K. says:

    God will be the judge of that, and I pray that we may all find mercy before the bar.

  54. Given that Jason gave this sermon in public in his own ward suggests that he is not hiding behind anonymity in sharing these ideas. It is a fine sermon; provocative yes, but a “damnable heresy”? What utter tosh.

  55. MDearest says:

    I read this post on Monday, and found it soothing to my spirit, which is not generally soothed by a lot of other observances of the day. Thank you for that.

    I’ve followed the comments as best I can during another busy week, and haven’t felt to chime in till now. Parsing Isaiah isn’t my forte, and I don’t claim that my 50-ish years of life and experience in the church must apply to everyone else, but based on that experience, I can totally relate to God as a nursing mother. That metaphor really sings to me. Based on my life experience. Thought I’d let you know.

  56. Jason K. says:

    Thanks, MDearest. The way that Drew’s vast experience magically invalidates that of so many women who have commented here and elsewhere is truly charming.

  57. Jason K. says:

    Ultimately, I gave this talk in hopes of giving my sisters in Christ who find the usual Mormon mode of Mother’s Day sermons either painful or unhelpful something to hold on to. That some people are so blithely indifferent to their experience honestly just makes me sad. I didn’t ask to speak in church on Mother’s Day, but like a good Mormon I said yes when the bishop’s counselor asked. I searched my conscience carefully in preparing these remarks, and I still feel nothing amiss (although I am of course fallible). That not everyone experiences words spoken over the pulpit in the same way is a premise of the talk, so I suppose I can’t be surprised when people react to it differently. That’s fine: the body of Christ is inherently diverse. I own both Drew and davidsonlaw as fellow members of the body. As I suggested near the end, I’m in no hurry to say “I have no need of you” to anyone. My ward is not a “progressive” bubble, and thank God for that.

    Having said that, I think that this thread’s turning into a forum for men (including me) to debate the feminine divine is unfortunate. I believe that in such matters we should listen far more than we talk. I’m closing comments.