Julian’s metaphor of mother

Julian of Norwich

Along with Mother’s Day, yesterday was the feast day in some churches for Julian of Norwich. Julian was born in 1342, authored the Revelations of Divine Love, and was, in fact, the first female author in the English language! She is noted, among other things, for being the first to praise God in motherly and feminine terms.

But this is not altogether accurate. We have simply forgotten or diminished all the prophets who have spoken of God birthing us, nursing us, tenderly caressing our cheek, and teaching us to walk with “bands of love.” We often brush aside Jesus’ nurturing words of a mother hen protecting and comforting her chicks as merely a metaphor. The unspoken assumption is that metaphors are not to be taken seriously, or at least not literally.

And yet.

My assertion is there is nothing in Scripture that is not delivered to us in metaphor. How can we understand the vastness of a Creator, or the genuineness of a deliverer without being given a story, a metaphor, or a sensorial image?

Metaphors enliven our imagination and make it possible for us to connect to the divine. They are a thing of beauty inasmuch as they point to the good, the true, and the beautiful. Because they depend on feeble human language, however, they will eventually break down at some point. In other words, metaphors are an imperfect illustration of truth. They are the shadows of the heavenly reality, as the Hebrews writer describes them.

And so, let’s not argue over whether God is male or female, as if the completeness of our Creator could be bound by a mortalized gender. Let’s not grow anxious that orthodoxy is under attack because we are welcoming the capaciousness of our common God. We are not shunning masculinity, but affirming femininity.

We say yes to the Cloud of Unknowing by embracing all its metaphors: Father, Mother, Body, Spirit, Friend, Ezer, Wisdom, Reconciler, Savior….

“Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come. Between God and the soul there is no between. The fullness of Joy is to behold God in everything.” – Julian of Norwich