I quickly exited the simple chapel where the congregation was gathered to rush into the restroom. Newly pregnant with my second daughter, morning sickness was striking with a vengeance. I returned in time to sing the final hymn before I approached the stool where I usually preached. I didn’t feel like preaching. I felt like going home to sleep.
Holding the trouble-making baby in my belly, I preached a sermon that, like most sermons, was forgotten. We rarely remember the exegesis and applications, but, instead, recall the moments that Jesus captures the preacher’s voice and body with a confrontation that makes you feel something. If we are feeling, we are receiving. In the middle of a sentence, I glance over to check on my unusually quiet oldest daughter to see her standing still on the bench staring at me. Unmoving and transfixed.
Feeling ill, tired, and trying to be both mother and clergy, I flashed back to a dozen other moments. My husband and I sharing the joy of a pregnancy with our congregation then the pain of experiencing postpartum depression, my oldest sitting in a stool next to me while I preached or standing first in line to receive the Eucharist. My congregants weeping through a Christmas sermon when I drew parallels between my motherhood and Mary, the mother of Jesus.
My children, and therefore my motherhood, was disruptive to my clergy role. Babies that made my body ill and tired. Toddlers who do not care about the words I have to say, but come dancing to the Table, undoing our ideas about reverence and thanksgiving. I find the idea that clergy are representatives of God uncomfortable – perhaps because it seems sacrilegious to imagine God descending to our level, but more likely it is the disturbing hubris to imagine us ascending to God’s.
We are, every one of us, created in the image of God. In all our diversity, every person testifies that God is not one thing. Her beauty and complexity can only be seen in the sum of us all. In my daughter’s eyes, I saw God, and myself anew. A woman preaching, praying, and serving the Eucharist. A woman sitting beside the dying and grieving, the joyful and hopeful. My body swells with life then heals from the trauma of bearing it. Mother and clergy, we say, God looks like this too. God is a mother.
This post is part of the book launch blog tour for Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God. Embodied includes reflection questions at the end of each chapter, to instigate conversations that lead to support and new perspectives. The book is available this September from Bookshop.org, Amazon, or Cokesbury.