Guest post by Becca (Exile Fertility)
What if our Torah was the five books of Zipporah–a birdsong instead of a patriarch’s tale? What emphasizes would have shifted, how would God’s hand have been named? Would his arm still be the sword-bearing muscle slashing out new nations? Or would it be the blood-bathed skin of a midwife drawing forth new life? What of the ways my mothers told tales of Yahweh’s work to each other as they sat in the red tent braiding hair, nursing the young? What name did they whisper of Elohim, of Jehovah? Did they name him God-of-the-angel-armies? Or did some other nomenclature roll off their tongues? How did they describe the events of my past? Why is it lost, so lost, those songs, those stories? And after so much time can I ever see God they way they saw that divine being – newborn and salted, still being named, still being described, before only men spoke, only men wrote, only men named from the things they knew and the phrases they held so commonly on their mouths. Will I ever be able to peel back the layers, not of lies, but of the one-way-truth so that I might see the whole of the divine? Can that ever be done now, so long passing?” —Birdsong, Rachelle Mee-Chapman
I read these words on the desktop in the cluttered study of the house that saw me grow from girl into a woman. It was 2004, a fresh college graduate I worked days as a waitress in a diner and nights as a cook in a tiny Italian restaurant. I needed these months desperately, to discover the sacredness of food and service, to work hard alongside people so different than myself, to exhale from four years of study and hopefully let a bit of what I’d read make some sense with my life.
It was late at night when I clicked the link to “Birdsong” and read these words that would mark me. I was given permission to question how God had been named, to lay out the canvas and let God be named again and again – through the stories and hands of women. We had been encountering and naming the Holy One for thousands of years, whether we realised it or not. Would I tune my ear to the song?
There was no Pinterest or Facebook for sharing so I printed the words and kept them in my folder full of special, beautiful things. Over the next few years I spent time in West and Southern Africa, India, the Middle East – I drank tea on dirt floors, felt the promise in pregnant bellies, sweated under the same sun with women so very different from myself. Occasionally I’d unfold that paper and read aloud this Birdsong to a friend. In sharing this woman’s writing, even though I knew nothing about her, I felt as if I was sharing something of myself.
It makes me laugh now considering how I utterly consume online writing, how I click and skim and share and very rarely digest anything. Oh how I digested this Birdsong. What if I really could re-imagine the names of God? What if God wanted to be revealed in the rites of passage that are witnessed and whispered almost exclusively among women? Is there a revelation of the Divine in my menstrual cycle, my labour pain or or how I can physically become sick when my infant is away from my breast for too long?
I wonder what Shiprah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives in the first chapter of Exodus, knew of God, where did their courage in the face of systematic oppression and ruthless murder come from? What did they imagine when they heard the name Yahweh? Who did they see? As they welcomed the new life they’d been given strict orders to destroy, did they know they would re-write history?
I’ve been extremely fortunate to have highly skilled midwives attend all three of my births. My life and the lives of my children depended on their watchfulness, decision-making and care. They were not in control of my birthing processes but were able to use their resourcefulness, intelligence and compassion to empower me to do what only I could do. Their presence gave me confidence and courage, their quiet voices comforted me deeply. My firstborn son was very literally rescued from death by my midwife’s actions. Another midwife was present through one of the longest and most painful nights of my life as I laboured with my daughter; when she was born my midwife laid her on my chest, sharing deeply in my joy and my relief. In my third (and most peaceful) birth a few months ago, it wasn’t until I saw pictures that I realised how closely involved my midwife was throughout the process, how much I needed her quiet hands in my most vulnerable moments.
If our mothers had named the Holy One, would God have firstly been midwife, continually welcoming new life in even the most excruciating circumstances? I have never found God absent in my darkest nights, even when the pain has threatened to swallow me, even when I’ve wished that I would die because the future felt too chaotic. When my heart was utterly broken, when my body was tangled unconscious, when I bled out my first baby and was separated from my firstborn after birth, even when I’ve been in the middle of a painful conflict with a trusted friend. God has always stayed close, putting pressure on my lower back, whispering truth to my inconsolable heart, hands covered in my blood, tears falling with my own. She hasn’t been in control of or responsible for my pain but always present, always welcoming the most possible good, the healing, the new.
About the author: Becca grew up in Pennsylvania, married a Canadian, and they live with their three young ones in Australia. She roams the neighbourhood looking for friends and haven’t had a full night’s sleep in years. The working out of faith and justice and beauty and non-violent parenting are on her mind. She talks about it heaps and sometimes writes about it on Exile Fertility and on Facebook.
Also in the Motherheart of God series:
God As A She? by Adriel Booker — “In Sunday school they taught us about God our Father and—if we were lucky—perhaps about Jesus our Brother. In youth group we learned about Jesus our Best Friend and in college and careers group we were taught about Jesus our Husband (or perhaps Lover, if you were the sort of dude that felt awkward with ‘Husband’). But no one ever taught me about God our Mother. I had to learn that one on my own. . .” continue reading>>>
Relentlessly Tender by Megan Kimmelshue — “Jesus is, as Brennan Manning puts it, “relentlessly tender” with me and oh, how I need that tenderness as we brave these waters of the little years and the hormonal fluctuations of the postpartum months and sleep deprivation. I need to be nurtured, to have a safe place to cry my tears of frustration or those tears of I don’t know why I’m crying but I am. To stay with me while I tantrum, ranting and raving over little things that are hardly of any consequence but that mean something to me at that moment.” continue reading>>>
Strong, Fierce, Wild by Bronwyn Lea — “I’d gone into motherhood feeling I was taking a leave of absence the rich, cultivated spiritual lands of Ministry and Regular Quiet Times. I was expecting a wilderness. . .But God met me in the nursery and planted an oasis just beside the rocker-glider. God met me aching, tender, weeping, nurturing, delighting in my children’s delights, holding them through the sadness, rejoicing in their growth, participating in their adventures, relishing getting to know them as little people. And time after time, in those moments of quintessential mothering, I heard God’s heart whisper to mine. . .” continue reading>>>
A New Picture by Bethany Bassett — “The fierce intensity in Charlton Heston’s eyes, his dominating stance, the power symbolized by his arm-cuffs, even his thickly silvered beard—all of it filled in my mental image of God as neatly as if Charlton himself had graced the pages of my Bible. That God was a muscly Caucasian man in his sixties, I had no doubt. Perhaps that had already been suggested to me through Bible cartoons or maybe it was a projection of my own small worldview, but I knew exactly what I was seeing when Moses spread his arms across our church’s TV screen: Father. Judge. Ruler. Smiter. The Divine Patriarch. The All-Powerful Begetter. God.” continue reading>>>
Upcoming Motherheart of God posts in the series from: Megan Tiez from Sorta Crunchy, Amy L. Sullivan, and Michaela Evanow