Many years ago in the 1970s, I wrote the following poem, which is a Good Friday poem. So I titled it, “Nativity” and included this epigram: “John 19:34.” I may have overestimated my readers’ desire to dig out the Gospel of John, so I’ll include that verse here.
But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear,
And at once there came out blood and water.
Here’s the poem.
and there poured forth water
the breaking of the amniotic sac
and there poured forth blood
the placental afterbirth
and there sounded a shout
the pain of labor and the victory of delivery
and the kingdom of God lifted up its infant voice
It meant a lot to me to consider that in the crucifixion of Jesus was a moment that was essentially maternal. I thought at the time that my insight was original, and it was to me, but it was not in the life of the Church Universal.
First of all, Jesus described himself as a mother in this passage, Matthew 26:37: “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you kill the prophets and stone them which are sent to you: how often I would have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not.” This maternal imagery is in line with imagery from the Old Testament which refers to taking refuge under God’s wings, a maternal metaphor.
Second, I discovered the following prayer from the 11th century, which set my heart ablaze.
Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you:
You are gentle with us as a mother with her children;
Often you weep over our sins and our pride:
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgment.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds:
in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us.
Jesus, by your dying we are born to new life:
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.
Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness:
through your gentleness we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead:
your touch makes sinners righteous.
Lord Jesus, in your mercy heal us:
in your love and tenderness remake us.
In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness:
for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.
And I came to Anselm’s lovely prayer from preparing to teach about Julian of Norwich, who wrote the following in her Revelation of Love (translated by John Skinner).
Our own true Mother Jesus, he who is all love, bears us to joy and endless living. . . . He is compelled to feed us, for the precious love of his motherhood makes him a debtor to us. The mother may suckle her children with her own milk, but our precious Mother Jesus, he may feed us with himself. . . . The mother may lay the child tenderly to her breast, but our tender Mother Jesus, he may lead us homely into his blessed breast by his sweet open side and show within in part the Godhead and the joys of heaven, with spiritual certainty of endless bliss. . . . The property of true motherhood is kind [natural] love, wisdom, and knowing, and it is good. . . . And even though some earthly mother might allow a child of hers to perish, our heavenly Mother, Jesus, may never suffer us to be lost, for we are his children. . . .
. . .
. . .
Thus our life is grounded in our true Mother Jesus in the foreseeing wisdom that he has from without beginning, with the might of the Father and the high sovereign goodness of the Holy Spirit. For in taking our humankind he brings us life, in his blessed dying upon the cross he bore us to endless life. And from that time until now, and even until Doomsday, he feeds us and helps us, according to the high sovereign kindness of his Motherhood that answers our kindly needs of childhood. (New York: Doubleday, 1997.)
It is so meaningful to me to have the Motherhood of God affirmed from the Old Testament on through the Gospels, and to have Jesus specifically named in the prayers and revelations of saints of the Church as our Mother in his work of redemption and restoration. If you, like me, have a need for a compassionate Mother in the heart of God, the Church has room for you.