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5 The Divine Mother-Father

When we were Hebrews, we were orphans
and had only our mother,
but when we became Christians, we had
both father and mother.
Gospel of Philip 6

You do not realize how much you listen to your gods, and how vigilant you are on their behalf. Yet they exist only because you honor them. Place honor where it is due, and peace will be yours. It is your inheritance from your real Father. You cannot make your Father, and the father you made did not make you. Honor is not due illusions, for to honor them is to honor nothing.
Course in Miracles Text 10:III:10 7-8
I am formless, as if I have not yet taken shape.
Like an infant not yet received by his father,
but with nowhere to return.
Tao te Ching 20


Was death giant? O, how will he find his
father? They are so close. Was death a gust?
By which door did it come? All the day's doors
are closed. He must go out of those hours, that house,
the enfolding limbs, go burdened to lean:
you must sing to be found; when found, you must sing.

~ Li-Young Lee ~
(The City in Which I Love You)


5. The Divine Mother-Father

The Stephen Mitchell translation of this passage from the Tao is "like an infant before it can smile.1" But Ellen Chen's commentary on this passage2 implies quite a different meaning. From The Book of Rites, she cites that when a child is three months old, he's presented to his father who gives him his personal name and smiles at him. In a 1930 description of the ceremony, Marcel Granet writes, "...the child is not really in a position to possess a superior soul until it is capable of laughter. It is the father who teaches it to laugh and straightaway gives it that personal name (ming) which the Chinese rites show to be identical with the superior soul, with destiny, and with life itself. At the third month the child, which up till then has been kept in seclusion, is at last presented to the father who greets it with a smile. This solemn ceremony coincides with the first arrangement of the child's hair and with the mother's resumption of her place in the family, purified by three months of abstinence, from the bloody stains of child-birth."

The image of the infant who hasn't learned to smile is picturesque, but the reality behind this sweet phrase is patriarchy. The newborn baby is "kept in seclusion". How does that work? Oh, they mean with the women, who don't count. The father teaches it to laugh? Okay, if they say so. Does the mother strictly refrain from smiling at the baby in the meantime, to keep the baby from smiling back? Does a three-month old who's never been smiled at suddenly gurgle and coo contentedly at this stranger they call her father? The baby gets a superior soul from his father, with the name identical to his destiny. No wonder the rest of this passage from the Tao claims the inferior soul as its preferred state. Nothing could be less Tao than the desire to be superior.

But what men do to save their pride doesn't necessarily hurt us. Three months, relieved of all family duties, to bond with a newborn is heaven. What a balm to sanity if the other women tend to you, take care of your family and help with the transition. A three-month abstinence after childbirth seems more designed to curb the husband than wife - let them call it purification if they like. As deftly as a tai kwon do master, Lao Tzu flips the patriarchal system through its own imbalance. He rejects the infant's rite of passage into society and status when he ends, "I alone drink from the breasts of the Divine Mother." To be removed from society is to move backwards into the time of being sequestered. The origin of the word "sequester" comes from Latin sequesterāre, to place in safekeeping, derived from sequī - to follow or one who attends. What a delightful state: to be in safekeeping, sequestered to attend to the Divine Mother's breasts.

The God of Abraham is Not a Girl

As seen from the Genesis Gunsmoke saga in #2, the Hebrews were as patriarchal as the Chinese dynasty. Philip is socially correct in his era to call a child who has only her mother an orphan. The Hebrew father names the child on the seventh day, which is when he publicly claims her as his own. The Greeks and Romans did the same, with an announcement in the public square3. Without that, the child had no status and was an orphan with no rights. The means of life was denied her, so it's true that the personal name from the father was synonymous with destiny and life itself, although not in the way that Marcel romanticizes.

Is Philip doing something revolutionary or merely claiming the superior status of Christianity by saying that, as Hebrews, they knew only their mother? Even when the God of Genesis evolved into the God of the Covenant throughout the Torah, He remained He. Was the God who parted the Red Sea a girly-kind of God? How about the booming voice from the fire on Mt. Sinai? It seems the ultimate insult to say that the Hebrews knew only their mother. But maybe the emphasis should be on having a mother, not "only" a mother, and maybe not all the Hebrews had her.

Who is the divine mother of the Hebrews? The gnostics were an intentional mystical community born of the Spirit. Through ritual, they invited revelations from the Spirit. Through the synagogue, they shared the insights of the Spirit. Through the law, they honored the intentions of the Spirit. The Spirit would seem to be the voice of their Mother. The relationship to the Spirit is a unique, one-to-one communication. It's an actively receptive state, a way of being dependant and creative at the same time, like a child to a mother. The ancient word for the Spirit was Sophia, or Wisdom. You can't choose to receive Wisdom, as a child can't feed themselves. But perhaps Sophia didn't refuse her breast to anyone who reached for it.

If the Hebrews had achieved this level of communal, mystical readiness, they were far ahead of us as Christians today. Both the Tao and A Course in Miracles stress not-doing, the non-striving way of letting right-action come to you. Although Christianity has a contemplative tradition, it's considered an exceptional way of life for a select few. We have no dialogical community sharing the insights and revelation, like the synagogue. Prophecy and visions among the congregation are not encouraged. If we're drinking from the breast of the Great Mother, we'd better keep it to ourselves. So if we've forgotten our mother, do we stand a prayer of discovering our father without her help?

The Father You Made Did Not Make You

The Judeans were only one sect of Hebrews, and within the Judeans there were several schools of thought. One of those was the "Abba" movement - those who repositioned God from a ruler and judge to a father. We know that Yeshua wasn't unique in referring to God as Abba; it was common within a certain theological group. But how do we imagine the divine Father? Genesis is the story of patriarchs who are not only rulers and judges, but partial and unfair. The God of this era seems a father made in their own image. Yet Yeshua envisioned God as a father who loves equally and includes all - daughters as well as sons, slaves as well as heirs, last-born as well as first. In this simple statement of relationship is his entire revolution of Judaism.

I can't help but suspect that Joseph helped him to this realization by being an example of a fair and equal father. Whether Yeshua's brothers and sisters were by blood or step-siblings, we know that several of his disciples, men and women, were family. If Yeshua were the youngest of much older step-siblings, as the infancy narrative of James indicates, it's particularly remarkable that he would be supported as the leader. James is a well-respected rabbi, yet he becomes a follower. There's no evidence of contention or competition among family members. If nothing else within the scriptures is, this alone is evidence of miracles.

1 Mitchell, Stephen. Tao te Ching. New York: HarperCollins Pubs, 1988. passage 20.
2Chen, Ellen. The Tao te Ching. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 1989. p. 104.
3The Courtesan's Daughter by Pricilla Galloway is young adult fiction that tells the story of a birth dispute, determining a girl to be slave or free woman. It elaborates in a fascinating way the fine points on which status stood.
4The Infancy Gospel of James. The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version. Miller, Robert J., Ed. Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press, 1994.