Images of God in Prayer
We are now including the psalms every week in our worship, singing them j as they were originally meant to be shared in community. The Book of Psalms has been called the “prayerbook of the Bible.” These 150 remarkable prayers, each with its own character, have an amazing capacity to address us in the midst of whatever situation in life we are facing at a given time. In our worship life, the psalm is not a “reading” but is a response to the Old Testament reading in a way that anticipates the Gospel reading. It can be thought of as a bridge from the Old Testament to the Gospel. Study the texts on a given week and you will see how that works!
It’s hard for me to pick a favorite psalm. If someone were to ask I’d say “whichever I read most recently.” But Psalm 131, one of the shortest, is especially close to my heart:
O Lord, I am not proud;
I have no haughty looks,
I do not occupy myself
with great matters,
or with things that are
too hard for me.
But I still my soul and make it quiet,
Like a child upon its mother’s breast;
My soul is quieted within me.
O Israel, wait upon the Lord,
From this time forth and forevermore. (ELW translation)
The psalmist invites us set aside all our worldly concerns and become like children, opening ourselves to God in utter trust in God’s loving caretaking. This is especially useful to us now, as we once again face the uncertainty of the pandemic. What are some ways, then, that we can think of God? Who IS God, to each of us?
To Jesus, God was “My Father,” but at times both Jesus and Paul called God “Abba,” an Aramaic word that literally means “Daddy.”
You may be surprised to hear that there are also compelling scriptural images of God as “Mother.” For Isaiah, “God formed me in the womb” (49:5) and God says through the prophet, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (66:13). Human beings, male and female, are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27, 5:1-2). In Matthew we have the beautiful image of Jesus desiring to gather his children to him “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (23:37), while John’s Gospel uses a woman in labor as a symbol of the resurrection (16:21).
Early Christian writers bring in maternal images when speaking of God; John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (d. 407 AD) names God not only Father but Spouse, Sister, and Mother. Best known, though, are the feminine names for God used regularly by medieval women mystics and especially Julian of Norwich (d. ca. 1416): “But our true mother, Jesus, he alone bears us to joy and to endless living.…”
Our hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, contains a beautiful hymn based on Julian’s writings, “Mothering God, You Gave Me Birth.”
1 Mothering God, you gave me birth
in the bright morning of this world.
Creator, source of ev’ry breath,
you are my rain, my wind, my sun.
2 Mothering Christ, you took my form,
offering me your food of light,
grain of life, and grape of love,
your very body for my peace.
3 Mothering Spirit, nurt’ring one,
in arms of patience hold me close,
so that in faith I root and grow
until I flow’r, until I know.
As we ask ourselves, “With what shall I come before the Lord…?” (Micah 6 :6), let us open ourselves to new ways of experiencing God that will unleash God’s creative power in each of us. More than ever, the world needs that creativity that resides in each of us to help sustain our community through this time.Amen.
Yours in Christ’s peace,
Pastor Nancy Raabe