Jesus as Mother

by Caroline

Recently I’ve discovered Julian of Norwich, a 14th century female mystic and theologian. I love her optimistic view of a loving, compassionate God and her radical ideas about universal salvation.

And I particularly love the way she talks about Jesus as mother. Listen to this:

“The human mother will suckle her child with her own milk, but our beloved Mother, Jesus, feeds us with himself, and with most tender courtesy, does it by means of the Blessed Sacrament, the precious food of all true life…. The human mother may put her child tenderly to her breast, but our tender Mother Jesus simply leads us into his blessed breast through his open side, and there gives us a glimpse of the Godhead and heavenly joy, the inner certainty of eternal bliss.” *

Julian also describes Jesus as our mother in whom “we grow and develop,” and our mother in mercy and grace who “reforms and restores us.”

This liberated mixing of male and female are exhilarating to me. By describing Jesus with female traits, she both exalts women and emphasizes Jesus’ ability to transcend typical gender boundaries.

Does Jesus transcend gender when you think about him? Do you question whether a male Jesus can understand concerns and sorrows that are particularly female? Are you comfortable thinking of him in mothering imagery?

*quotes taken from Eleanor Mclaughlin’s essay, “The Christian Past: Does it Hold a Future for Women?”

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Does Jesus transcend gender when you think about him?

    No. God loved us so He sent His *son.” The gender of a son is always male.

    Do you question whether a male Jesus can understand concerns and sorrows that are particularly female?

    No. Sorrow and concern are just that: sorrow and concern, regardless of the reason one is feeling sorrowful or concerned. It’s not necessary, in my opinion, for Jesus to have a full understanding, empathy if you will, in order to give me the comfort and strength of which I am in need.

    Are you comfortable thinking of him in mothering imagery?

    Nope. I think of Him as a nurturer, and a comforter, yes, but nurturing and the ability to comfort are not female-only abilities. On a daily basis I work with young children with disabilities in their homes, and I always have at least a couple of kids on my caseload whose fathers stay home with the children full- or part-time and who are very much nurturers and comforters.

    Interesting post … thanks for making me think. : )

  2. Azúcar says:

    You might be interested to read a fiction book called The Illuminator. I had my issues with the book, but Julian of Norwich plays a central role. The author has Julian dialogue with several characters as a way of exploring the feminine side of divinity. Definitely check it out.

  3. Zenaida says:

    I’ve never thought about it specifically in terms of transcending gender before, but I think I did expect him to yes, because we are told that Jesus experienced our pain and suffering along with paying the debt for sin, so somehow I expected him to know exactly what being a woman is like and how that influences my particular concerns and sorrows.

    I think the mothering imagery is a beautiful way to look at our relationship to Him. It makes me feel like there is less of a hopeless divide between male and female. That is not to say that I think of Him as feminine or some blend, but the imagery contains very poignant metaphor.

  4. RoAnn says:

    Does Jesus transcend gender when you think about him? No, in the sense that I always think of him as the Son of God, not some androgynous being; but yes, in the sense of him being, for me, a perfect role model of character for both men and women.

    Do you question whether a male Jesus can understand concerns and sorrows that are particularly female? Not at all. Like Zenaida, I believe that his Atonement included his experiencing all the pains and sufferings of women, as well as men.

    Are you comfortable thinking of him in mothering imagery? Not in the way Julian of Norwich does, which includes referring to Christ as “Mother Jesus.” But, like Anonymous (11.20 pm), I don’t think that nurturing and comforting are “feminine” traits. To me they are God-like traits to which all humans may aspire. One of the names of the Holy Ghost is the Comforter. I think of all three members of the Godhead as being perfect nurturers and comforters.

  5. Caroline says:

    How interesting.

    For me, Jesus does transcend gender. He’s not a role model for only men, but for all human beings. In my mind, he’s above and beyond gender.

    And as for thinking of him using mothering imagery, Julian of Norwich is in good company. In the New Testament, Luke 13:34, Jesus says,

    ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings”

    A beautiful female metaphor for Jesus.

  6. Caroline says:

    And thanks for the tip about The Illuminator. I want to check that out, Azucar.

    And Zenaida, I love the way you put this: “It makes me feel like there is less of a hopeless divide between male and female.” I feel the same.

  7. Alisa says:

    I love Julian of Norwich, and I think she does an excellent job of using Christian doctrine to show the certain aspects of the Savior that are more feminine. I believe that “gender” is socially constructed (I say “gender” here as a set of outward behaviors and expectiations, as opposed to “sex” which is biological; just so it won’t be raised, I think the Proclamation uses “gender” to be a cleaner way of saying “biological sex,” not how I’m using it here).

    As gender expectations shift over time and between cultures, I think the Savior is above it all. They are, after all, the inventions of mortals. Does Christ nurture us in his bosom? Yes. Does he feed us in our vulnerable state with his own flesh like our mothers did? Absolutely. Does this create a special bond between the sinner and Savior? You bet. I love it.

  8. Ayla says:

    I love it! I think that Jesus does most certainly transcend gender boundries! I think of him first and foremost as the Holy child of Heavenly Mother and Father.

    I’m really excited to research this concept further!

  9. Anonymous says:

    As the child of an abusive father, I really struggled with the masculine God image. I didn’t want anything like a father. Because Jesus didn’t experience being female, I didn’t feel that he could understand me, or how it felt to lose a baby before it was born, how it felt to be raped. I just could not relate to him at all. My problems were more how I had been treated than my own sins, so I needed someone to provide justice for me, not mercy for sinners. I totally rejected Jesus as Savior for many years because of this. It wasn’t until I got into feminest literature that I began to see some of the sexist ways that religion is taught and realized that the problem was not with me or with Jesus but it was with the exclusive male leadership of our church and an emphasis on forgiveness of sin, rather than that Jesus felt all of our pain and sorrow. I didn’t hear that concept until I was in my 50’s. Kind of a long time to be in the Mormon church and never hear the other side (the victim of sin’s side, rather than the sinner’s) of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I needed justice and no had ever taught me that there was ever going to be any.

  10. Jessawhy says:

    To tonight I read this book. called “Big Momma Makes the World” to my 5 yo son.
    In it, a woman with a baby tell the story of the creation loosely from Genesis.
    I was more comfortable with this version of the story than I expected. It was almost soothing, how the Mother makes the world for her baby, then adds people for interaction.
    As far as picturing Jesus as a mother, I think this also has value, and adds to my self-image as a mother. I remember from the Peacegiver, the author uses Abigail from the OT as a type of Christ. Seeing her this way was moving for me, as is seeing Christ in the nurturing role of mother.
    thanks for this post.

  11. Caroline says:

    I love hearing your responses, everyone. Thanks for commenting.

    Anonymous, what horrible things you’ve endured. No wonder you have a hard time with a masculine God image. It’s situations like this that make me yearn for a more open embracing of and relationship with Mother in Heaven. Sometimes some of us just need our Mother.

  12. JKC says:

    It’s not just Julian. She does it overtly, but look at the images that describe the crucifixion in the Gospel of St. John. John quotes Jesus comparing his own sufferings in the garden and on the cross to labor pains (16:21). He then makes it a point to show us that when the soldier pierced Jesus, a great quantity of blood and water came out (19:34), just like a mother’s water breaking. And the very idea that Jesus gives (new) birth to us puts him in a mother’s role.

    I once blogged about Julian’s metaphor in more detail, but I don’t want to thread-jack and I don’t want to leave an annoyingly long comment.

  13. TT says:

    This is an interesting post. I am sorry that I am just coming across it a little late!

    I think that it is worth thinking about a few aspects of this thought.
    1. What does it mean to “transcend gender”? To be both male and female like a hermaphrodite? To be neither male nor female? To challenge gender norms like a transvestite or transgendered person? These are the major issues in queer/gender theory right now, and figuring out exactly what is meant and how we imagine Jesus in this way is important. How exactly is Jesus’s gender-bending meant to be understood here?

    2. It seems that masculine and feminine traits are taken as stable, given categories that Jesus can mobilize. In what way does saying that Jesus is ‘mother’ actually reinforce those categories of father/mother as separate? Instead of being transgressive, we can reinforce these gender-essentialisms by continuing to assume their stability, wherein Jesus is the exception that proves the rule.

  14. Amanda says:

    Yes, I absolutely believe that God transcends gender! I don’t see him as “genderless” but as “gender-full”, meaning He has attributes of both genders, and that not only can He be described in metaphors of human genders, but also as animals (lion, lamb, bear, hen, etc.) and as inanimate objects such as a rock or a vine. =3

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