Addie Zierman has invited people to synchroblog with her as her book Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark is released, helping her feel less alone in the fears and darkness. I’m more than happy to join in; it is always nice to know our journeys in the dark are not done alone – there are plenty of us in here.
I thought I would share some of my own story which includes a bit of exploring and finding God in the darkness.
My work involves me looking closely at language, the implications from different word choices, deliberate or not.
Over time, this close analysis of language got me quite frustrated with reading the Bible. All I could see was the way different authors had put their own spins on stories, emphasising different elements, minimising others, shaping it for their own purposes.
For a while all the songs at the church we went to seemed to be constructing God in a very different light than how I saw God. I was a distant God, authoritative and judging, sitting up in heaven – far away – looking dour.
Not Emmanuel, God-with-us, living and burning in our hearts, caring about us finding a carpark or lost schoolbook, a God called Love, full of Grace and Mercy, tenderly loving us – God’s children.
I found the language used in that church increasingly stifling and painful. It was no longer life-giving like I knew the Gospel should be, it no longer showered me with Love and drew me close.
How could I relate to this distant God of harsh judging light? It scorched. The Father image of God repeatedly presented just kept sparking off automatic reactions I have after years of difficulty with my own father. It didn’t speak of open arms, unconditional love, but harsh words and bitter disappointment.
Clinging by my fingernails to Emanuel-God-with-us, I looked elsewhere for the life-giving water God promises us, the rest and peace, the gentle mercies that would draw me into relationship, not push me away.
My pregnancy with our second child was a faith-saver.
When I am pregnant I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about, praying over, and loving on my babies. Being quite sick for nine months gives me little energy to do much else.
In that pregnant space I considered my unborn child, and I held them as precious, I loved them unconditionally – whatever came forth from my womb I would love, however they developed, whatever their likes and dislikes, personality traits, quirks, I would love them, no bars held. It came as a revelation that this was how God loved me, just as I was, precious, and held save and close like my unborn child was in my womb. The darkness simply made me more precious and cradled more carefully.
In this space I finally felt the freedom to completely turn the languaging of my faith upside-down because that womb was a feminine place, that sense of being held in God’s womb, loved like an unborn child, was a feminine image.
The Bible names God as our father, but I’ve never been a father, I don’t know what it’s like, and my relationship with my own father has been rocky over the years.
To me, in that pregnant space, if God is to be a parent, Mother seemed a more potent image, so much closer to home.
And I rediscovered a lot of the feminine imagery of God within the Bible. Some examples include:
as a comforting mother (e.g. Isaiah 66:12-13),
as a midwife (e.g. Psalm 22:9),
and El Shaddai, usually translated as Almighty God, can be translated as breasted nourisher and strength-giver (see Schofield’s commentary of El Shaddai http://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Bible.show/sVerseID/399/eVerseID/399/RTD/SCO),
there are many other instances of the mother metaphor being used throughout the Old Testament as God’s way of relating to the world.
I also discovered that throughout the Old Testament the Holy Spirit was referred to using feminine language, something English doesn’t have, but is there in the original Hebrew (e.g. Genesis 1:2).
I wondered if the labelling of God as a loving parent, which was mostly ungendered in the Old Testament, had become gendered as masculine because of the patriarchal society Jesus had lived in.
I found freedom in calling God ‘Mother’.
Let me be clear, God did not change for me, just the way I felt able to relate to God because of tipping one word on its side.
The safe, loving, darkness of a Mother’s womb was also a potent image.
So often we talk about God as Light, but God can also be that safe, dark cave to bury ourselves deep;
that dark, warm womb where we are loved unconditionally and cradled close to our Mother’s heart.
In a time when I couldn’t read the bible because all I saw were people playing language games, putting their slant on stories, God drew me close, and God used language to do it.
God used my love for symbolism and metaphor, gave it a shake, and used it to draw me close once again. Nothing I could do, all the working I was doing seemed to be taking me away from God, not closer.
But God is faithful, and by God’s grace I was drawn close again.
And we named that second child Aria Grace, which means the Grace of the Lioness.
The darkness no longer scares me, I know that God is there, cradling me close, like an unborn child in Her womb, loved so dearly and desired so fiercely.
Now the darkness is life-giving too, maybe even more so than the harsh light of day, or maybe that’s the aversion to light I get with regular week-long migraines or “honesty” and fundamentalism that smack more of judgment and condemnation.
Yes, the Bible says that “darkness is as light to God” (Psalm 139:12), but God is also in the darkness, holding us close, pouring out God’s very being upon us – Love.