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The Divine Feminine—The Theology of Immanence

The Divine Feminine—The Theology of Immanence

History has shown us time and time again how God-images impact the way a religious culture treats its female members. Cultures ruled by a misogynistic conception of the Divine, cannot help but treat its women in a barbarous manner. Indeed, a society that hates its women becomes incapable of loving anything else. Conversely, a religious culture that respects and values the maternal aspects of the Divine Feminine produces a community of believers where life becomes sacred and holy. The reverence for life—across the ideological spectrum—becomes the basis for all societal evolution and development.

Indeed, the new feminist theological movement offers to liberate men and woman from the shackles of a pure masculine anthropomorphic spirituality while expanding their theological horizons about the mysterious nature of the Divine that conceives, carries, and gives birth to all life-forms. Every metaphor of God in the Tanakh paints its own unique picture for how the divine interrelates with the world. The metaphor of God as Mother reveals relationships that in some ways go beyond the limitations of paternal imagery.

The fact that the Tanakh uses such language indicates that the feminine engendering of God is not necessarily a dangerous or syncretistic concession to the ancient Canaanite religions. Feminine nuances found in the Scriptures indicate how dynamic God language can actually be. Ancient prophets were not opposed to sometimes using bold feminine imagery to convey the nature of God’s pathos and concern.

Maternal representations of God are–consciously, or unconsciously–embedded in Hebrew language and until recently, have been more the most part  largely ignored. Consider the following examples, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” ( Isaiah 49:15). Similarly, in Isaiah 42:14, the prophet also depicts God’s bio-centric passion for justice in feminine terms: “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant” ( Isaiah 42:14).

Isaiah’s imagery of God as the nursing mother poignantly describes the organic nature of God’s love for us. Just as the baby needs the mother for nurture, so too does the mother yearn to provide nurture for the suckling.[1] If the mother does not nurse the child, her body feels intense pain. Such imagery reveals an organic view of the universe where we as creation are a part of “God’s body.” One of the most important maternal names of God is שַׁדַי (šaDDay) might be related to the Hebrew word for שָׁדַיִם (šädaºyim) “breasts” and שָׂדֶה  (Sädè) “field.” Both nuances signify sustenance and nurture.

Images of God acting as a mother giving birth to her child portrays a God Who is present alongside those people who are trying to midwife a new world where human degradation, apathy and suffering no longer exist. This organic depiction of God does not portray the Divine reality as being extrinsic or unaffected by the harsh presence of evil that is incarnated by malevolent people.

The Talmud and the Midrash both describe the unfolding of the Messianic Redemption as the חֶבְלֵי-מָֹשִיחַ (Heblê müšîªH)—the birth-pangs of the Messiah. According to the Talmud, the Messiah was born on the day of Tisha B’ Av, the Ninth of Av for the number nine symbolizes birth and new life. One of the most popular and intimate rabbinic names for God is רַחֲמָנָא Rachamana – “The Merciful One.” The Hebrew word for “compassion”רַחֲמִים  (raHámîm) comes from the root רֶחֶם (reºHem) for “womb.” God’s compassion and mercy are not extrinsic for in a metaphorical sense, we come from “God’s womb,” so to speak.  The womb is the place where all life is mysteriously conceived, carried and born.

Perhaps one of the oldest Kabbalistic teachings is a belief that the entire Creation forms from God’s very own “mystical body.” Every aspect of Creation is symbiotically bound and organically interrelated to its Creator much like the embryo depends upon its mother for its existence. All this suggests a profound mystical view: God’s Presence is wholly inseparable from the world. It was only later in the Kabbalah (and subsequently in Hassidut,) the creation of the physical and spiritual cosmos occurs through process of the Tzimtzum—Divine contractions. These contractions resemble the contractions and movements a mother has culminating in the birthing process of a human being. The bond between mother and child continues beyond pregnancy—a mother’s love never ceases to flow even when a child behaves disrespectfully. As a spiritual metaphor for the Divine, the mother/child imagery represents both interdependence and relatedness.