Can two contradictory things be true at the same time? Reflexively and logically, we say no, of course not. But more deeply, while there may be just one true thing at the bottom of the dogpile, we often experience that truth in different ways that all feel true at the time…and more importantly, that give us more of a sense of the scope and nature of that one truth.
The ancient world understood this in ways we have since lost. We have to keep reminding ourselves that the writers of Judeo-Christian scripture were much more Judeo than Christian. Much more Eastern than Western, more ancient than modern. That as ancient, Eastern, Judeos, they looked at life and the world much differently than we, and that those differences are coded right into the language they used.
Scripture states that God will never leave or forsake us, yet both David and Jesus wail, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” A verse in Exodus states that Pharaoh hardened his heart against allowing Moses to take his people home, but a few verses later, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. Which is it? Why are these contradictory statements allowed to stand? Ancient Jews didn’t practice non-contradiction in their spiritual lives. They knew that truth looks one way from God’s perspective and another from our own. That a successful spiritual journey requires the ability to hold seemingly contradictory and paradoxical truths together in one embrace. Unresolved. Unharmonized. Yet unified and somehow complementary. Just like life.
The Scriptures speak of God as Father and yet also as spirit. We don’t have much trouble accepting this seeming contradiction as we simply spiritualize our understanding of Father and move on. But less famously, these same scriptures speak of God as Mother, and two thousand years of paternal programming makes Mom very hard to swallow–even emotionally blasphemous for many.
The Hebrew word for father is ab, which literally means strong house. Father was understood as the one who brought strength to the house, supported it. His was the world of objective accomplishment. Mother in Hebrew is em: strong water–meaningless to us until we learn that ancient Hebrews dressed livestock hides by boiling them, which released into the water a thick, sticky substance–strong water–used as an adhesive. Mother was strong water, the glue that holds family together, and her world was that of subjective relationship. Without both strong house and strong relationship, there was no family. It’s not either-or, but both-and. Jews knew God as Mother, and her name was hokhmah, wisdom personified as female. Where our Father is the knowledge of the ages, our Mother is the application of that knowledge in day to day experience.
We know the earth is round, but we experience it as flat and build our homes and lives on that plane. Viewing God as Father, we see the majesty of creation and the depth of his abundance, but only through God as Mother is the distance between us and Father bridged, finding ourselves held in intimate embrace. And just as an infant relates first to mother’s care and caress and grows into the world of father’s accomplishment, we may believe we believe our Father in heaven, but we’ll never know him and trust him until we experience him as her.
We need to lose our fear of our Mother in heaven, the feeling that somehow we betray or blaspheme Father’s name by expanding his role. At the bottom of the dogpile, God is one non-contradictory thing: spirit, and as such is neither male nor female, father nor mother. But standing on our flat earth, he is all these things functioning as one, with each thing pointing back to the unity of his truth.
In one of his poems, T.S. Eliot speaks of music heard so deeply that it is not heard at all, that we are the music while the music lasts.
As long as we’re trying to understand Father as the one thing we imagine he is, we miss experiencing Mother as another thing she is. We need them both: to begin with Mother, and after long journeys with Father, to return to her–to pure experience, pure relationship and being, to music heard so deeply it is no longer heard, but simply become. When we are the music, while the music lasts, we are holding Mother…who is always holding Father because after all they are one and the same down there at the bottom of the dogpile.
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