This past Sunday, we heard diverse language referring to our God. The Gospel reading from John spoke of “father” no less than 13 times. Of course it did: springing from a patriarchal culture like the other faiths in our Abrahamic tradition, God as father figure was the source of authority and wisdom, the provider and protector. All good.
Sunday was Mother’s Day, and the choir offered Bobby McFerrin’s version of Psalm 23 for the motet, where all the references to God are feminine. McFerrin, the great American jazz vocalist and conductor, explained that he’d been “thinking about God’s unconditional love and … realized one of the ways we’re shown a glimpse of how God loves us is through our mothers. They cherish our spirits, they demand that we become our best selves, and they take care of us.” Also all good.
We’re not talking about gender-bending political correctness here. We seek God, we relate to God through the lens of our own story. My story is that both my father and mother were wonderfully loving, forgiving and tender parents. But while I like to think this is the rule, it may be the exception; many people have experienced little such love, and some have been abused, often by the father. For them, God-as-father is neither comforting nor welcoming. We need to honestly express how and in whom we feel God’s power and presence.
I am deeply moved when I sing McFerrin’s lyrics, they are so true to my mother and me. I believe I came to recognize God in my life because I had first seen God in hers.
“She restores my soul; she rights my wrongs.
She leads me in a path of good things and fills my heart with songs.
Even though I walk through a dark and dreary land,
There is nothing that can shake me, she has said she won’t forsake me,
I am in her hand.”
Our wonderful teen preachers on Sunday acknowledged their varied experiences of God, relating them to the “many dwelling places” we are promised in the kingdom. Since Easter, we’ve considered how we would recognize Jesus on our Emmaus road and how we might identify good shepherds in our life story. They may be fathers or mothers or daughters, male or female, old or young. Thank God that Jesus came to dwell among us and is very evident in lives that may be close to us. Look deeply into your own story. You will find the ones in whom Christ dwells and who will lead you “in a path of good things.”
Listen to Bobby McFerrin’s Psalm 23 by at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9fzWq-d8jU