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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dear Mother of God, my hair!

Today’s posting is inspired by two facebook posting I saw today. I think these two are related, but for now (so I don’t spend all of this beautiful day in the house at the computer!) I am just writing about both of them, if anyone wants to comment on possible connections, I would love to hear it!

The first posting that inspired me today (re: pushed my buttons!) was a friend posting about her son having to cut off his mohawk so he could be serve as a altar boy. Someone else commented on her post “ …. learned a valuable lesson, a mohawk or serving at church. He made his decision and I applaud it.” I then posted “Jesus weeps- I hear tell that about two thousand years ago the follows of some radical teacher were these dirty unkempt fisherman and these women of questionable reputation that people didn't want to sit next to in the little things have changed. I thought church was about worshiping God and understanding the teachings of Jesus, not worrying if one is dressing appropriately so as not to offend someone else's sensibility of how people are supposed to look on the altar.”

Apparently, if you want to be part of this church there are rules about your hair, and I am guessing your clothing. I can hear my father’s voice raging about the hypocrites in church and how church was just another place where people went to make judgments about others. I remember trying to convince my Dad that the spirituality the church should be leading us to was so much more than these things. While I hope that is true, Dad’s observation is also true.

About ten years ago I used to wear an earring. During that time, I spent one summer working for the Episcopal Church in Panama. I was invited to preach one Sunday, but I was asked to first remove my earring. (That same church seemed VERY uncomfortable with asking the female students in our group to preach on the altar…I don’t think these are unrelated.) Somehow, my appearance, my self-expression has not compatible with preaching. Even though I never once talked about being gay with anyone in the church in Panama, one of the priests made in clear that the earring would push the “gay” button with some people in the congregation. They never once asked me what the message of my sermon was, but they were very concerned with how I would look to the congregation. It is just me, or were their priorities turned upside down?

At churches, mosques, synagogues, Hindu temples and other places of worship around the globe people spend so much time looking at each other or what the people leading the worship look like that they forget they are there to look upward to the divine and inward into their own heart. Don’t get me wrong, I think people coming together reflect on divinity and explore the ways to healthy, morally upright relationships with the other people is a very good thing. However, being upset or judging how the others look or choose to present themselves in worship/meditation/reflection not only seems to miss the point, it actually seem to spoil the whole reason for coming together in the first place.

I understand a little better why Dad stopped doing to church….

The second posting was by a former employee of mine reminding folks that for many Orthodox Christians today is the feast of Dormition of the Theotokos. I won’t explain the details of this feast in huge detail here, but feel free look it up; Wikipedia has an interesting summary,

This feast is a different version of story Roman Catholics tell in the feast of the Assumption of Mary. It is about the death of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her relationship to the divine. I LOVE the way my friend put it on her facebook page, “Happy Theotokos day everyone! We are all called to be mothers of God for God is always needing to be born!” That statement both talks about the relationship of all woman (and I believe by extension all people) to God and also calls to mind the idea that these feasts are only references to one event several thousand years ago, but can windows, icons, pointing to a reflection on the nature of our ongoing relationship to God.

In Catholic and Orthodox theology, Mary isn’t simply the human mother of Jesus, but she is referred to as “the Mother of God (Theotokos.)” This has historically has been at the annoyance of some more protestant Christians, who think seeing Mary as any other than the human mother of God is heresy.

Yet the idea of “Mother of God” is very very ancient. The feminine in the nature of God was very common around the world and definitely in ancient Middle East and in Judaism. If you want to know more, check out Merlin Stone’s very important book When God Was a Woman or spend a few minutes on the internet and you find many more resources.

For me, this is one interesting way of seeing something of the feminine in the understanding of God that exists within the Christian and Jewish traditions. Unfortunately, these concepts have been twisted by history and culture to convince women at their ONLY scared place is in the home as mothers. How limited, how sad! To me this is disrespectful to women and to the idea of motherhood. Fortunately, these concepts are so full and rich that we can look beyond (Above? Below? Underneath?) the sexism imbedded in such a limited interpretations.


  1. Chris you may appreciate the medieval image of Jesus as mother

  2. You are right Joe I love that stuff! Te medieval mystics had some amazing insights most people have no idea about. If you know of something particularly good, please fell free to post it here.