"And again Jesus said, 'To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.'" Luke 13:20-21
"God, like a bakerwoman, you bring the leaven which causes our hopes to rise. With your strong and gentle hands, shape our lives..." (excerpted from a prayer written by Ruth Duck)
"In my Father's house there are many dwelling places." (John 14:2)
I've heard many prayers in my life. But recently it seems that many of the prayers I've heard start like this, "Father God, we just..." And these prayers, as meaningful and heartfelt as they are, are peppered throughout with, "Father God, we just..."
I suppose this recent experience was why, last Sunday when I introduced a song we were about to sing, I told the congregation that, sometimes, I sing the words "God's glory" instead of "the Father's glory". In other words, I desired a more inclusive, less gender specific name for God.
Now, I know I sound a bit picky, but for me it really matters how we name God. Because in naming God, we image God, and for me, the image of Father, as wonderful as it can be, when it is used exclusively, becomes tired, narrow, and limiting. There are so many rich images for God throughout the Bible that exclusively calling God "Father" is like going into a candy store and choosing to eat peanut brittle over and over again instead of delighting in the variety available--fudge and toffee and dark chocolate and pralines and...well, you get the idea. And I'm getting hungry.
I can't remember who wrote this, but they point out that, in the Bible, "God is likened to various parts of nature such as a whirlwind, a cloud, and a pillar of fire and to such animals as a hen, an eagle, and a lion. God is pictured as a tower, a shield, and a garment. God is described as a creator, potter, shepherd, father, birthing mother, and bridegroom. God is assigned human qualities such as intelligence, will, memory, anger, and forgiveness. God is spoken of as possessing human form, with eyes, arms, and hands, as walking around, and speaking with a voice."
All these evocative images for God, and instead of calling upon them when addressing God in prayer (like Ruth Duck's "Bakerwoman God" above) so many simply repeat, "Father God, we just..."
How about, "Fiery God of Justice" or "Tender God, like a mother hen" or "Majestic God, like and eagle" or "Refining God, who purifies with love" or "Gracious God with open, merciful arms" or... You get the idea. So many images for God, and too often all we hear is "Father God, we just..."
Yes, I know, I know. Jesus referred to God as "Abba" which literally means "Daddy." Yes, I know, God is referred to as Father throughout the Bible. Yes, I know that masculine images of God take front and center.
But still, we know that God is beyond gender and, ultimately, cannot be limited to any human reference. And so I say, let us use our God-given creativity to name God in delightful, surprising ways mindful that they are just a few of the multitude of names that we might use to address our God.
I pray that you will find a name for God that allows you to meaningfully connect with God in prayer. If it's "Father," that's great. If it's "Mother," I promise that you won't be struck down for it. If it's "shepherd," that's wonderfully Biblical.
I even knew a woman who called God "Bill." Hey, it may not be a Biblical name, but she and "Bill" sure had a close relationship!
And that's what matters most of all.
Blessings on your week,