Sunday, June 17, 2012

God as Mother

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious is making news, and my desire to make this blog not just interesting and varied but also relevant prompts me to talk about Julian of Norwich.

Mystics—people who attain knowledge of the divine not by rational study but by a direct connection or intuition, often during a state of ecstasy—are known in all faiths and all eras.

Julian of Norwich was an anchoress (a female anchorite, a hermit; she lived a life of religious seclusion) who had a series of mystic visions of Jesus in 1373 (she was about 31 years old) while on what was thought to be her deathbed. She recovered on May 13, and wrote down a short version of the visions. In about 1393 she wrote a much longer version, Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love, possibly the first book written in English by a woman.

One of her most controversial habits is to refer to God and Christ as Mother as well as Father. One such passage:
And thus I saw that God rejoiceth that He is our Father, and God rejoiceth that He is our Mother, and God rejoiceth that He is our Very Spouse and our soul is His loved Wife.
God is Very Father and Very Mother of Nature...
Church authorities at the time did not challenge her. This cannot be because she wrote in obscurity: there are plenty of contemporary references to her, and she was operating in Norwich, the second most populated city in England. Either the church did not consider her ideas likely to become influential, or they were not shocked by them. After all, she did not say God was solely mother; she simply allowed for feminine qualities as well as masculine. Perhaps this all-inclusive approach was sufficiently non-threatening to be accepted as non-heretical. Perhaps the Middle Ages was willing to embrace the importance of the feminine along with the masculine.

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