The Mother of All the
by the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts. May 10, 1998
1:26-28; 2:18-23; 3:20 Eve the mother of all the living
said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;
and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of
the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth,
and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.
created humankind in his image. In the image of God he created him; male
and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be
fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion
over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every
living thing that moves upon the earth. . . .
Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will
make him a helper as his partner." So out of the ground the Lord God
formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought
them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man
called every living creature, that was its name. the man gave names to all
cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but
for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God
caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one
of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord
God had taken from the man he made into a woman, and brought her to the
man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called "woman," for she was taken out of man. . . .
named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.
Born of God
beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and
without him not one thing was made. In him was life, and the life was the
light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness
has not overcome it.
There was a
man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to
the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the
light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which
enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in
the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did
not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not
accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave
power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the
will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
the Sacred Scripture #67 Father and mother
your father and your mother." People think of "father and
mother" as their father and mother on earth, and all who serve as
parent figures; they understand honoring father and mother to mean
respecting and obeying them.
spiritual angels think of the Lord as their father and the church as their
mother, and they understand honoring them to mean loving them.
heavenly angels think of the Lord's divine love as their father, and the
Lord's divine wisdom as their mother, and they understand honoring them to
mean doing good things from the Lord.
named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all the living. (Genesis
I am struck
by that phrase, "The mother of all the living." Here in the
church on Mother's Day we do have mothers with two, three, and more
children; we have grandmothers who can see further generations coming
along. But "the mother of all the living!" If we take
this Bible story literally (which, of course, we don't), there can only be
one mother of all living. She is the first woman created by God,
and as the story goes, she and her husband are the only people
created directly by God. All the rest are created through the
reproductive ability with which God created those first two. So Eve then
becomes the mother of all the people on earth, in all their succeeding
generations, right up to the billions who are on earth today.
scientists would never accept such a proposition. Or would they? Not long
ago, a scientific theory was floated, quite seriously, that we all could
be traced genetically back to one woman who lived in ancient prehistoric
times, and who, of course, was immediately nicknamed "Eve." Of
course, the theory does not postulate this "Eve" as having been
a special creation of God. Neither does it consider her to be the only
early human who existed at that time. Rather, as I understand it, it
states that the progeny of this particular woman were more biologically
successful than other early humans, and eventually grew stronger than the
others so that the species was continued through her children. Children of
other mothers, of course, would have married into this growing clan, so
that there were other foremothers as well. But this particular woman would
be the ancestor of all. A fascinating theory, and one that gives the
possibility that there is a literal "mother of all the living,"
even if it did not happen literally the way the Bible describes it.
Religion and science sometimes do make strange bedfellows.
fascinating as that theory may be, it only scratches the literal surface
of the story of this "mother of all the living." I am fully
convinced that the Lord has no need to give us a textbook of biology or
cosmology; we can figure those things out for ourselves. From a
Swedenborgian perspective, arguments about whether the world was literally
created in six days, and whether there were two literal figures named Adam
and Eve, are not worth the paper they are written on, or the energy it
takes to put these arguments together. For there is something much more
precious in these stories, and that is the story of our spiritual
development--the story of our relationship with God.
Bible story itself hints that the story of Adam and Eve is not about two
individual human beings. The word usually translated "Adam"
means "humankind," and it is often referred to as plural: as people,
not a single person. The text itself begs us to think of this narrative as
the symbolic story of an early race of human beings, and their
relationship with God, who created them. That relationship is stated very
compactly in Genesis 1:26, 27:
said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. . . .
So God created humankind in his image. In the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
course, this passage is saying that humankind was created by God.
We have a relationship with God as created beings with our creator.
But we are
not simply separate and unrelated creations. We are created in the image
and likeness of God. In a superficial sense, we are created to look
like God. But the image and likeness of God goes much deeper than our
physical form. Being created in the image and likeness of God means that
we are created with a mind and a heart--with the ability to understand and
love, and to act from our understanding and love. This is precisely how
God created the universe; out of love, and through wisdom, God acted to
create the universe. The love in God was a love for other beings that God
created. The wisdom, at the most practical level, was the
"know-how," to use a colloquial term; it was the knowledge of
how to go about creating a universe with humans in it. And when these two
got together, they resulted in the ultimate act of creation.
one more message about the relationship between us and God in these two
brief verses. We are not simply created all the same in the image of God.
We are created male and female in the image of God. For
those who have trouble with the idea that God is both male and female,
there is no need to look further than this passage in the very first
chapter of the Bible to find that, indeed, God has both male and female
aspects. For we could not be created male and female in the image of God
if both were not in God in the first place.
not necessarily mean that those of us who grew up with male images of God
have to toss those images out the window and put a picture of a female and
male God before our mind's eye when we pray. Personally, my primary image
and inner experience of God from childhood has been of a male being; so
far the female aspect of God has not come alive for me in a visual way.
But it does mean that it is a good idea for us to be open to the
possibility that our own limited and human view of God may leave vast
areas and aspects of God uncharted and not experienced by us personally.
It requires that we keep our minds open about just who God is, and not to
reject others' conception of God if theirs may be primarily female, or
encompass both male and female, both father and mother.
And we need
not make a sudden jump to a father-mother God, for both the Bible and
Swedenborg give us an intermediate step in our conception of father and
mother. This is stated most clearly in the passage we read from Doctrine
of the Sacred Scripture #67. As Swedenborg explains it, our first
conception of father and mother is, simply, of our earthly father or
mother--or whoever it was who raised us, if it was not our biological
father and mother. Our father and mother give us a pattern or role model
that we hold at a very deep level of our being, and that shapes all our
later conceptions of the higher levels of father and mother. This is one
of the awesome tasks that both mothers and fathers face: that of being the
primary people that will shape the deepest attitudes of our children
toward the world in general, and toward God and the church in particular.
next level of mother and father--the one that is most commonly mentioned
in Swedenborgian circles--is that of the Lord as our father and the church
as our mother. In our reading from Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture,
Swedenborg explains that this is the conception of father and mother that spiritual,
or thinking- and intellect- centered angels, hold to. This, of course,
also comes from the Bible, where the church is often symbolized as a
woman, and as the bride and wife of God. In Catholicism, this relationship
is brought to a very literal level: priests, monks, and nuns are
considered to be married to Christ, and therefore, the belief goes, it
would be improper, even adulterous, for them to take a human spouse in
addition to their divine Spouse. Other Christians do not take this quite
so literally. The main point here is that the idea of the Lord as father
and the church as mother is not unique to Swedenborgians, but is shared by
many Christians due to its source in the Bible.
been nowhere near as common in Christianity is the view of mother and
father that Swedenborg says is held by the heavenly, or heart-centered
angels. For these angels, both mother and father are in the Lord alone.
And in a reversal of the usual assignment of love to women and
understanding to men, they think of the divine love as their
father, and the divine wisdom as their mother. For these angels,
the words of John in the opening chapter of his Gospel make perfect sense:
we are not born of blood, or of the will of flesh, or of the will of man,
but of God, whose love is our spiritual father and whose wisdom is our
connect this all back to our theme, "the mother of all the
living." At the literal level, we may or may not have some common
biological mother whose genes we all carry. That is a fascinating, but
spiritually a largely irrelevant, issue. However, moving to the next
level--the spiritual--we begin to see deeper meaning in the idea of Eve as
the mother of all the living. For if, in these early mythological,
symbolic stories, the Bible is really talking about our spiritual
development as a race, then Adam and Eve represent the development of our
first spiritual orientation; they represent our very earliest religious
era. In Arcana Coelestia #287, Swedenborg explains the meaning of
passage, "the man" means a man of the very earliest religious
era, or a heavenly person. "Wife" and "the mother of all
the living" mean our religion; it is called "mother"
because it was the very first religion, and "living" because of
its faith in the Lord, who is life itself.
us to a deeper level of meaning for "the mother of all the
living." Spiritually, those who are "living" are those who
have faith in the Lord. Without faith in the Lord, any spiritual life we
may think we have is dead, because we are cut off from the source of all
life and all faith. Our faith in God is what makes us come alive
do we find that faith? We find it in our religion--in our church. Religion
and churches are the mother of all who are spiritually living,
because it is from the church and from our religion that we learn what it
means to have faith in God, and it is the church that nurtures that faith
in our minds and hearts into a living, moving force. It is a force that,
if we open ourselves to it and respond to it, gradually transforms our
entire lives so that we can truly be in the image and likeness of God. We are
in the image and likeness of God when, like God, we love each other even
more than we love ourselves, and from that love we continually do our best
to understand each others feelings, thoughts, and needs, and then, from
our love for them and through our understanding of them, we serve their
needs in a way that gives them happiness.
So in a
spiritual sense, religion of all kind is the mother of all the living,
since it is from our religion that we are conceived as spiritual
beings, and it is our religion and our church that raise us to spiritual
there can be only one final source of all that is in the universe and all
that is in us. There can be only one true father and one true mother of
all the living. That father and that mother are one and the same: they are
God. All of our other conceptions of mother and father melt into our
single divine Parent when, like the highest, or heavenly, angels, our
lives become focused directly on God. These heavenly angels do continue to
attend Sabbath services and have what we might call a church or religion;
yet they are only a means to keep them pointed toward the real Source and
Creator of all.
So as we
think of mothers and of Mother's Day, we can continually move upwards in
our conception of just who our mother is. Those of us who had good and
loving earthly mothers can always hold that mother with affection
in our hearts. And as we move into adulthood, there is another mother that
we can turn to for the spiritual nurturing and support we need to
continue growing--growing to emotional and spiritual maturity. The church
can continue where our physical mother left off.
as we approach spiritual maturity, we will find that, just as a good
mother will lead us to the church as the source of deeper care and
nourishment in our lives, the church exists to lead us to a still higher
mother and father. For we all share a common divine Parent, encompassing
both the qualities of father and the qualities of mother. God is the
mother and father of all the living, because only from God can we truly
live to the fullest of our human potential for mutual love, understanding,
and service. Amen.