Revd Alison Tyler
When I was a child I was terrified of the dark and consoled only by either the presence of my mother, or her sweater or a scarf to cuddle.
When my own children were babies I noticed the same thing about both of them, they were also scared of the dark and needed me or an item of my clothing to comfort them. As an adult I am still afraid of the dark, but it’s a different kind of darkness that scares me now. The darkness of violence, of ignorance and intolerance, the darkness of unkindness and lack of concern, the darkness of the blame and entitlement cultures all these and more, scare me now. I still wish my mother could sort them out for me, but sadly human resources are somewhat inadequate here- a whole culture shift would only begin to touch the surface of our limitless human capacity for generating darkness.
Some of the reasons that Christians traditionally had a whole day and night cycle of prayer was firstly to ensure that that God was worshipped continually, and secondly to reassure those early Christians that they were not alone in the dark. It’s also the origin of fire worship as a provider of warmth and light. So here we are as evening draws in praying for light in the darkness. Today we remember the birth of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who like anyone who has been a mother or had the responsibility of mothering will have been crucially intimate in her relationship with her son Jesus. And thinking right back into history the mothering relationship has been fundamental, the ancients worshipped the goddess in many different forms, from virgin, to mother to crone or old woman, and there is a long tradition of understanding the earth as our mother.
A pagan friend of mine says that might be why humans treat the earth so badly, because they have lost respect for their mothers. There is a Jewish tradition to the effect that because God could not be everywhere, “He made mothers”, which may account for the long OT tradition of God as our mother;(alongside that of God as Father) for example, God in Hosea (11) teaching Ephraim to walk, healing and feeding them, leading them with bands of love and kindness, all traditionally motherly behaviour. Images of God protecting young eagles and young bear cubs. So the OT shows us the motherliness of God - Deuteronomy going as far as an image of the God who gives birth in Ch 32 ‘You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”
And our reading this evening from Isaiah 66:shows us God as a comforting mother As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you. Likewise psalm 131 - Jesus in the NT calls God his Father and tells us when we pray to say ‘Our Father’ but he also says in both Matthew and Luke. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
It is not really profitable to spend too much time thinking about images of God as either male or female, Father or Mother because God is both and neither and the roles that any person can exercise are roles that are open to God as creator of all of them, and more besides. And this is both a great joy and a great comfort – a joy because of the universality of God’s capacity to love and to know us, all are welcome, all are one in Christ and a comfort because there is The consolation comes from knowing that comfort, stressed in Psalm 131, that total relaxation of the weaned child, who as they fall asleep in your arms somehow get heavier, relaxing into God, and again in Isaiah we can receive that comfort and joyous nurture from God, we can access that solace in the dark places of our lives because God will deliver, in every sense of the word. It is an invitation to pray, an invitation to open ourselves to God, so that when we are in a dark place and scared God like the best of parents will be there with us to comfort restore and refresh us.