A God of Compassion…

Rediscovering God’s Feminine Side: Part Seven

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

When Moses wanted to see God’s glory, God hid him in a cleft in the rock and passed in front of him, declaring:

Yahweh! The Lord!

The God of compassion and mercy… Exodus 34:6

Interesting isn’t it, that compassion is almost the very first thing God chooses to declare about God’s self. Not power or might or intelligence or the ability to create a cosmos capable of producing kangaroos, but compassion. Throughout the Bible, God is described as having compassion.

The English word compassion comes from the Latin, meaning ‘to suffer with’. It has the implication of not only feeling deep sympathy and concern and identifying with someone’s suffering but also a desire to get involved and do something about it.

While we think of emotion as being a matter of the heart, the Hebrew understanding of emotions was very much that they are centred in the belly. The idea of gut feeling. And the Hebrew word for compassion shares its root with the word for womb. So compassion then arises from the belly of the woman.

Of course, compassion is not the sole prerogative of women. Of course, men can be compassionate — but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Hebrew words for compassion and womb are so close.

Motherhood is a journey of self-giving compassion. Emotionally healthy adults result from bonds with mothers who are deeply in tune with the needs and feelings of their young children and able to respond to those needs and feelings.

Even when it’s inconvenient or when, from an adult perspective, the anguish expressed isn’t really warranted. Maternal compassion provides the gentle, steady kindness and empathy that children need to thrive and grow into emotionally healthy adults.

Maternal compassion has the strength and capacity to keep loving and giving way past the point when physical and emotional endurance should, by rights, have run out. There is often talk, these days, about the ‘sandwich generation’. That is people, mainly women, who find themselves sandwiched between multiple caring responsibilities.

Often with children still at home, elderly relatives who need care and support and professional jobs that are often also about providing care and support to others in some way.

These women will do a demanding job at work, which is topped and tailed by mothering responsibilities at home and still find the energy and time to go and do shopping or housework or sorting out care packages for the elderly relatives who also rely upon them.

This kind of compassion is partly about innate capacity and ability. It is also partly the result of being in a caring role over a long period of time. It’s not that men can’t offer the kind of compassion that women do, but more that it has tended, through history, to be more often required in the kinds of roles that women have performed.

Men, as well as women, show a rise in oxytocin, sometimes called the ‘cuddle hormone’ when they are actively involved in caregiving. So the connection between femininity and compassion is partly culturally determined, but that doesn’t make it any less real.

Knowing that the compassion of God is a feminine characteristic gifts us a wealth of metaphor and understanding on which to draw that we don’t get if we view it in a neutral or essentially masculine way.

To know that God comes alongside me with the love and compassion of a mother, even when my pain and my concerns could be regarded, from a certain perspective, as being somewhat trivial, is deeply consoling. It means that I don’t have to make excuses for the way that I feel. I can just trust that I am understood and loved.

I know that while I am held by this compassion, which treats my metaphorical grazed knees and lost teddy bears as worth taking seriously, I will also find the perspective to know that they are grazed knees and lost teddies, and I will find my centre again.

My feelings and wounds are still treated tenderly. As if they matter.

That grace helps me to treat my own wounds and those of other people softly and tenderly.

The compassion of God is a love that is soft and tender and steadying and wise. And practical. It’s easy to think of compassion as purely an emotional thing, but compassion is just as much about actions as it is about feelings. As James points out in his letter in the New Testament, if you see a brother or a sister with no food or clothes, just telling them to keep warm and eat well isn’t going to do much good.

Often we experience God’s compassion through the practical actions of other people who just happen to bless us with their love at just the right moment.

In my years as a single parent, time and again, help has arrived when I’ve needed it — helping me to know that I am surrounded by love and that my mother God is with me and sees me and has compassion on me.

Some women are particularly graced with this ability to love, nurture, and provide practical care. If you want to understand God’s compassion, there are very probably women that you know or have known whose capacity for love and practical care gives you a good picture of what our compassionate God looks like in the flesh.

Those people who enflesh God’s compassion for us can give us courage, as we pray, to allow our souls to soften into the bosom of God’s compassionate love.

If you enjoyed this, you might quite like my Loved Called Gifted podcast, available on most podcast platforms, or you can find it here.

I offer spiritual direction and coaching. The Loved Called Gifted course, available online and in person, will help you to discover your life calling. Discover these things and other bits and pieces on my website.

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Articles, reflections, rants, thoughts and discourses on how the historic Christian faith can still be relevant as the world moves into a post-pandemic ‘new normal’

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Catherine Cowell

Adoptive parent, follower of Jesus, spiritual director, coach, writer. Lover of coffee shops, conversations and scenery