Arcabas, “Le solei dans le ventre”

The Groanings of a Mother

A post by the Spacetime Travelers post #2

Metaphor brings us into relation with the world. It enable us to distinguish and connect mystery and specificity. Christian theology is abounding in metaphors, yet too often Christians tend to limit themselves to only a few. No single metaphor wholly epitomizes God, but we argue that we cannot think of God without them. The images used to describe God invite us to fertile imagination and revelry — allowing us to wrap flesh around some of our claims.

What if we started thinking about the Holy Spirit as our divine mother? Most seem perfectly comfortable with God as Father, Jesus as Son, and the Holy Spirit as a kind of loving life force between. Moltmann’s (1997) work, The Source of Life, traces a thread of the feminine character of the Holy Spirit through the Christian tradition and concludes that the image of God including God Father, God Mother, and God Child is “much better than the ancient patriarchal picture of God the Father with two hands, the Son and the Spirit” (p.37). In our developing understanding, the Holy Spirit is the birthplace of life, the mother of beings, and the indwelling of the sacred essence in creation. The virgin Mary is a witness, and in the form of the narrative of Christ’s origin, she also embodied the indwelling of the life-giving Spirit, just as we do today.

What would happen to the way we lived together in communities of faith if we allowed the Tri-unity to affirm the goodness of femininity? Perhaps we might be a church that reflects the image of God: a community of free and equal brothers and sisters. This true community is born in, with, and through the Holy Spirit herself. Moltmann (1997) notes that the motivating power of this new life is the mercy of God, the Hebrew word used describing a love as strong as labour pains. How can we resist the image of a mother breathing in and out, laboring with the rhythms of her body, as she pushes out new life through her being? We are invited by God to return with Nicodemus to that quiet evening and listen in wonder as Jesus whispers, “unless you are born of water and spirit…you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3). We are in need of a fuller picture of the family of God: a people who have been birthed and nurtured by the mercy of a divine mother.

In the experience of trauma, the groanings of this Mother/Spirit meet the groanings of our bodies. Trapped in fear and immobilization, we need someone to stay with us, to take our hand in hers and simply remain. The kind Mother provides a sense of peace, containment, and orientation. Her presence is felt in our bodies as we are held safe. Levine’s (2010) work, In an Unspoken Voice, gives practical ways the therapist might join in the movement of the kind mother. The first step in helping someone in trauma is to establish an environment of relative safety. By safety he means, “an atmosphere that conveys refuge, hope, and possibility” (p.75). The therapist embodies the kindness of the Divine Mother in herself, providing a holding environment. She does this with her gaze, touch, breath, and scent. She regulates those in distress; bringing their social engagement systems back online.

And yet the Divine Mother does not only provide the peace and rest we so need. She also frees us to movement. According to Levine, if therapists only provide a sense of safety, it will make their clients increasingly dependent. They will not be able to live and move and have their being in the world. The therapist must gently guide the client toward capacity for self-regulation and agency. In a way she always remains with them, but ultimately it is the role of the Kind Mother to send her children out into fullness of life.

These metaphors lead us to the confrontation and joining of a traumatized body with Spirit. As Spirit, mother, and therapist are linked in their impact on the human body, a new question begins to take shape. Are our bodies meant to “mother” us as we move through a traumatizing world? They contain us, move us, protect us, soothe us, and bear truthful witness to our experiences. When we consider emerging concepts from Moltmann (1997) and Levine (2010), we wonder if this curiosity is, in fact, the core of our integration. Our mothering bodies, nurtured by the Divine Mother, might be the very place we find God in our trembling.

Where Soul Meets Body:


Levine, Peter A. In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2010.

Moltmann, Jürgen. The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.



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Chelle Stearns

Chelle Stearns


Associate Professor of Theology at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology