Evensong Homily by the Rev. Dr. Cheryl McFadden on Sunday, March 7, 2021.
As truly as God is our Father, so just as truly is God our Mother. Amen.
If I were a betting woman, I might bet that 90% of us participating in Choral Evensong always view God as a male figure? Am I right? Why wouldn’t we. All through Scripture, all through the Book of Common Prayer, there is a preponderance of male pronouns referring to God. Yet, if we look closely in the first chapter of Genesis, we get a different take on God as only the Father. Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; … So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27). When God created human beings, He said, Let us.” This implies that God is more than one. God created males and females as a reflection of the male and female images of God: God the father and God the mother. The use of the word image is often interpreted to be a spiritual likeness between God and humanity. This explains why the original Hebrew text refers to God as Elohim, which means Gods. Elohim – God the Father and God the Mother – have been working together for our salvation since the creation of the world.
If I were to continue with my betting, I would also bet that most of us if not all of us, grew up in households were God was referred to solely as a male. Am I right? Let me tell you all that the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHMs), did not teach my brother and me that God was both male and female. Oh, no. God was only referred to as God the Father, the most important male figure in Scripture, life eternal, and our earthly life.
My opening prayer are taken from the words of Julian of Norwich, an anchorite of the middle ages (1353-1416). She wrote the best known surviving book in the English language written by a mystic, Revelations of Divine Love. Also, it is the first book written in English by a woman. Equally important, her theology was revolutionary at the time and continues to be so in contemporary society. I am grateful to Jamie Hitel and Jonny Vaughn chose in our of International Women’s Day, March 8th, for our anthem a beautiful piece of music composed by William Mathias from the words of Julian of Norwich. How wonderfully fitting to choose a woman from the middle ages who is noteworthy on many accounts.
In 1373, Julian, at age thirty, became seriously ill and thought she was on her deathbed. During this time, she received a series of visions or “shewings” of the Passion of Christ. She recovered from her illness and two version of her experiences, the earlier one being completed soon after her recovery, and a much longer version, known today as the Long Text, being written years later. When I was in seminary at Yale Divinity School, one of the professor’s life research was on Julian of Norwich and I was blessed to have taken a class with him.
For most of her life, Julian lived in seclusion as an anchoress in her cell which is attached to St. Julian’s Church, Norwich. The choir was supposed to be on tour their last summer and I was wishing that Jamie and Jonny would choose me to accompany them. I have been to this church many times and every time I make a pilgrimage to Norwich, I am awakened with a revelation about my life. I am so enthralled with her writings that I often carry around a hazelnut to remind me of her wisdom. I gave the women who participate in our Fire and Wine gatherings, a hazelnut to remind them of one of her teachings.
But perhaps the one teaching, the one piece of wisdom, that resonates with me is this concept, this theology, that God is both our father and our mother. In her writings, she describes the strength and goodness of Fatherhood and the wisdom of Motherhood. Julian writes, “For the almighty truth of the Trinity is our Father, for he made us and keeps us in him. And the deep wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, in whom we are enclosed. And the high goodness of the Trinity is our Lord, and in him we are enclosed and he in us.” Describing God as both mother and father was quite audacious in Julian’s time. She called Jesus our “true Mother” from whom we receive our beginning, our true being, protection, and love. In terms of gender, she reflects, “Our high Father almighty God, who is Being, he knew us and loved us from before-any-time. Of which knowing, in his full marvelous deep Charity, by the foreseeing endless counsel of all the blessed Trinity, he willed that the second Person should become our Mother, our Brother, and our Saviour. Whereof it follows that as truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother. Our Father wills, our Mother works, our good Lord the Holy Ghost confirms. And therefore it belongs to us to love our God, in whom we have our being . . . for in these three is all our life. . . .”
Thank you, Mother Julian for your wisdom to us. Thank you, for opening our eyes to see God as both our father and our mother. Amen.