Father God, Mother God, Baby God

By Johanna Hatch

“God is not only fatherly, God is also mother who lifts her loved child from the ground to her knee.” –Mechtild of Magdeburg

For much of my young life, I struggled with the image of God the Father.  In terms of parental imagery, my mother loomed much larger in my life than my father.  My parents had divorced when I was young and I spent most of my time with my mom.  Because of that, my mom was the person who attended school functions and dance recitals, helped me study for tests, encouraged me to try out for plays, and punished me when I was naughty.  In my mind she created miracles not unlike the wedding at Cana or multiplying loaves and fishes – turning shapeless fabric into elaborate holiday dresses and table scraps into rich, earthy compost for the garden.

Because of her fortitude and faith, my feminist identity and theological inquiries started at an early age. Consequently, my frazzled CCD teachers were faced with my demands to know why the Mass didn’t use feminine language for God and how a God that is beyond human notions of sex and gender could be categorized as “Father” and not “Mother” with equal ease.  I studied up on ancient religions and images of the goddess, looking for a Divine Mother, a concept of God I could relate to.  Eventually, it brought me back to my Catholic roots – Elizabeth Johnson’s She Who Is, bringing to light the Motherly God from the Christian tradition, who was waiting for me in the scriptures the whole time.  Before long, Mother God brought me back to Father God.  I finally took to heart that the God I knew – gentle, compassionate, forgiving – was the same God that Jesus had called not “Father,” but “Abba.”

It wasn’t until my son Liam was born that I fully grasped the radical implications of calling God “Abba” or “Daddy.”  As I watched my spouse Evan’s relationship with our son unfold, I finally understood: Daddy was gentle and strong. Daddy wanted to protect you always but knew that you’d have to learn to roll, then crawl, then walk, all on your own. Daddy’s love was unconditional.  And that was the kind of God I could believe in.

Having Liam has also caused me to reflect on the Incarnation in deeper ways than ever before.  While we often look upon the Nativity at Christmas, I rarely considered the infancy of Jesus and what it means that the God of Creation became a flailing, mewling infant, completely vulnerable and dependant upon his earthly parents for survival.  As I watch Liam grow and change, I am struck by how startling and delightful this world must be through brand new eyes.  If I say that I believe in Jesus, then I must believe that God’s love was so great that God could no longer remain separate from us, and so came into this world just as my little man did.  And if I truly believe that Jesus is fully human, he must have struggled and learned, just as my boy is doing now, to take in the world around him.

It is through my relationships that these common metaphors for the Divine are finally made tangible – the Father God of our common language and prayer, the Mother God I sought for so long, and the Baby God whose birth we celebrate.  It is through these relationships that God continues to teach me how to love and be loved.

Johanna Hatch is a feminist activist, writer, and amateur hagiographer. She currently resides in Wisconsin with her spouse Evan, son Liam, and their mostly blind dachshund.

This is the first blog in a month-long series by Johanna about being a new mother.

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