Shuck and Jive

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Divine Mother: A Sermon

Cultural and national holidays make a special challenge to those constructing worship services. Mothers' Day is one of those challenging days. Mother's Day is not a day of celebration for everyone. Uncomfortable with the pressure to turn worship into a Hallmark celebration, I tended to ignore it altogether or I managed to take a vacation when Mother's Day came around.

I suppose that is avoiding the issue. Lately, I have taken a different approach. Mother's Day can be a day to honor the Divine Mother as well as offer rituals that acknowledge the range of emotions we can feel on this day.

So I played this tune, read this prayer, found some interesting readings, and for the children's sermon gave them each a dollop of hand sanitizer and told them I was their mother concerned about germs.

Now the sermon:

The Divine Mother
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

May 10th, 2009
Mother’s Day

Non Credo by Lucy Reid

I want to say No.
I want to stand up and proclaim
as boldly
as any believer
the creed of my unbelief.

I do not believe
in God as an Almighty Father,
the King of kings, and Lord of lords.

I do not trust in that God of power and might
for there is too much blood
on his hands.

He is the god of genocide,
the god of savage crusades
and holy wars.

He is the god who commands
perfect obedience.
Punishment, death and hell
Are his weapons.

He is the Godfather God,
watching us from a distance
and judging all our deeds.

He allows immeasurable pain,
permits undeserved suffering
for reasons beyond our knowing.

His ways are inscrutable
as far beyond us as heaven
from earth.

We are not worthy
to gather up the crumbs
under his table.

But I do not want those crumbs.
I decline the invitation to that table.
I do not believe in that God
so I have to say No.

I will shout it and sing it.
I will weep it and pray it.
I will paint it on my walls
and wear it on my clothing.

And after a thousand years of saying No to him,

I will be ready

to say Yes

to you.

This is how Anglican Priest, Lucy Reid, begins her book, She Changes Everything: Seeking the Divine on a Feminist Path. It is her Non Credo.

Her non credo is the beginning of her search. It is not the end. In order to say yes, we may need to say no. She doesn’t say no and then say I am finished with all of this business. She says no and then her search begins--a search to find to what she can say yes.

Catherine Keller, author of On the Mystery: Discerning God in Process wrote this helpful piece about losing faith in God:
Of course, some can catch subtler meanings behind the popular cliches of a God-man who "comes down," presumably from Heaven Up There, dons a birthday suit, and after gamely sacrificing himself "for our sins" soon gets beamed up again....But far too many thoughtful people, through too much early exposure to the Big Guy in the Sky, develop life-long God allergies.

Allergic reactions, I hear, can only be treated with a bit of the original allergen. In other words, the literalisms of God-talk can be cured not by atheism but by an alternative theology.
My point in quoting Catherine Keller is not to criticize or mock someone’s theology. Nor is my desire to change anyone’s theology. I am suggesting that we can continue the quest even when the theology we inherited breaks down. What we might think of as a ‘loss of faith” can be the beginning of a quest.

Theology is a way of asking what it means to be human. Theology has to do with the way we will negotiate life individually and in community. It is the quest to discover who we are and our place. It is a pretty tall order. The best we can hope for is to find a series of provisional truths rather an absolute truth.

It isn’t just a matter of playing with symbols. It is not a game of academic abstraction. It is a matter of heart. It is asking or being willing to ask at the deepest level,
  • “Who am I?
  • What am I here for?
  • To what should I commit myself?
  • What is my relationship to all of these other people asking the same questions?
  • Where is my home?”
It may seem odd that I have chosen Mother’s Day to ask those big questions. It reflects where I have been struggling with my own faith and theology. This struggle is my personal quest to find my place. More than that, it comes from a concern (at times downright fear and grief) for our future on Earth.

The theology that has been in the driver’s seat for our so-called first world nations has been one of dominance, control, and exploitation. It is a masculine oriented theology of conquest. It is a theology that regards Earth as a commodity to be exploited. It regards our real home as an imaginary heaven above. Its co-conspirators have been patriarchy, racism, and empire-building. Its legacy has been ecological catastrophe.

Kurt Vonnegut, one of our modern day prophets wrote in the final book before his death the following:

The crucified planet Earth,
should it find a voice
and a sense of irony,
might now well say
of our abuse of it,
"Forgive them, Father,
They know not what they do."

The irony would be
that we know what
we are doing.

When the last living thing
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
from the floor
of the Grand Canyon,
"It is done."
People did not like it here.

That was Kurt Vonnegut from his last book, A Man Without a Country.

It appears that if humanity is going to make it through the 21st century we are going to need help from Mom.

The Divine Mother, personified as Gaia, represents a return to an ancient way of being on Earth. Earth is our home. We are Earthlings. We belong to Earth. We are Earth. Not separate nor superior, but intimately connected with all living things. Our fate is the same as Earth’s fate. The oceans, the trees, animals, insects, streams, mountains and rivers live in us and we in them.

It is appropriate on this Mother’s Day, to acknowledge that Earth is our mother. The mothering God is within each of us as well. To honor the Divine Mother, to honor Gaia, we make a commitment to love fiercely that which our Mother loves, including ourselves.

Where do we begin? In her article, Ecofeminism: The Spiral of Life, Lucy Reid writes:
Beginning with ourselves, but in small groups of those who share the global concerns, we must start the process of metanoia, of deep turning around and away from destructive life-styles, politics, theologies. We must challenge the thinking and practice which make human poverty and war seem inevitable, and earth’s degradation a necessary evil. From base communities we can create a mental and spiritual climate which makes it possible to dream, create, invent, lobby, organize, activate for a better world. Together, in local and global partnerships, we can co-create the kingdom of heaven (or kin-ship of God) on earth.
I think this community is one of those base communities. As we struggle together making commitments to be a green congregation, to discover the beauty and the fragility and the sacred power of nature, to raise our awareness regarding injustice in any form, to nurture each other, celebrate with, grieve with and embrace one another, we discover the Divine Mother within.

As Lucy Reid put it in her spiritual autobiography:
But when God is she, there is more than a shift in vocabulary; the very air that we breathe is changed. I recognize something of myself in God, and I see something of God in me. The hesitancy lifts; I no longer need to justify my vocation or apologize for my difference. There is a new norm, a new starting point, the possibility of a new heaven and a new earth. P. 21.