Julian of Norwich on the Motherhood of God

A time of pandemic is a time for bringing back feminine energies.  No theologian in the West has more thoroughly developed the rich theme of the motherhood of God than has Julian of Norwich. “Just as God is truly Father,” she writes, “so also is God truly our Mother.”

“Sophia” by Mary Plaster

For her the recovery of God as mother is also the recovery of divine wisdom—a theme we saw earlier when treating of cosmic consciousness:

The deep Wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother. In her we are all enclosed.

She connects divine motherhood with panentheism in an explicit way once again when she says that God is “our true Mother in whom we are endlessly carried and out of whom we will never come.”

Here we have an image of the cosmos as God’s womb. Being enclosed is, as we have seen, an essential image of the maternal side of God. Julian says:

As the body is clothed in cloth and the muscles in the skin and the bones in the muscles and the heart in the chest, so are we, body and soul, clothed and enclosed in the Goodness of God.

Mother Goddess, Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan, India, 6th – 7th cents., National Museum of Korea, Seoul. Photo by Richard Mortel. Wikimedia Commons.

She relates the motherhood of God to a deepening awareness of God as Creator and lover of all of nature:

God is the true Father and Mother of Nature, and all natures that are made to flow out of God to work the divine will shall be restored and brought again into God.

The motherhood of God is a welcome thing on God’s part, Julian assures us. Divinity does not consider motherhood a burden to bear for “God feels great delight to be our Mother.”

To recover the motherhood of God is to recover compassion:

“Mother’s Love” Photo by Andrae Ricketts on Unsplash

Compassion is a kind and gentle property that belongs to a Motherhood in tender love. Compassion protects, increases our sensitivity, gives life, and heals.

Thus we see that the recovery of the theme of the motherhood of God flows naturally from other themes of cosmos, earthiness, blessing or goodness, and panentheism.

A motherhood-of-God theology is no mere trifling kudo handed out to keep feminists content. It confronts the basic issue of letting go of the one-sided God of patriarchy and learning more about the God whose image we are.

Therefore it is also about learning more about ourselves and about our power for birthing and creativity. Today it is especially urgent that men learn deeply how all persons, men included, are motherly as well as fatherly. 

Tender fatherhood. Photographer unknown; from Pexels.com

Julian tells us what constitutes the work of motherhood when she says: “A mother’s service is nearest, readiest and surest.”  And she attributes motherhood ultimately to Divinity when she adds, “This office no one person has the ability or knows how to or ever will do fully but God alone.” 

Divinity alone knows the work of motherhood.  Notice that her understanding of motherhood centers not on an “exalted” position but on work and service—this signifies a decisively non-sentimental understanding of motherhood.

Translations from Brendan Doyle, Meditations with Julian of Norwich, pp. 103, 90, 99, 29, 106, 85, 81, 105.

See Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, pp.123-141. 

See also: Matthew Fox, Naming the Unnameable: 90 Wonderful and Useful Names for God…Including the Unnameable God, p. 49.

Banner Image: The Triquetra, formed of three interlaced vesica pisces, is one of the oldest symbols both of the Mother Goddess and the Holy Trinity. Photo by Lika1985 on Flickr

Queries for Contemplation

What difference does it make to recognize the Divine as Mother (as well as Father)? 

Pick one of Julian’s teachings in this meditation and be with.  Let it wash over you and through you.  How does it move you and affect you?

Recommended Reading

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God …Including the Unnameable God

Too often, notions of God have been used as a means to control and to promote a narrow worldview. In Naming the Unnameable, renowned theologian and author Matthew Fox ignites our imaginations by offering a colorful range of Divine Names gathered from scientists and poets and mystics past and present, inviting us to always begin where true spirituality begins: from experience.
“This book is timely, important and admirably brief; it is also open ended—there are always more names to come, and none can exhaust God’s nature.” -Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, author of Science Set Free and The Presence of the Past

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4 thoughts on “Julian of Norwich on the Motherhood of God”

  1. Avatar
    Patrick Mahon

    Reading this turns me back to Thomas Merton’s Hagia Sophia where he came to understand his feminine side. God is mother is mercy upon mercy. True wisdom is knowing that love, mercy and compassion are characteristics of those living God as Father and Mother.

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