We often personify objects, whether concrete or abstract. Ships, nations, cities, powerful storms are gendered as ‘she.’ We can joke about hurricanes (HER) and the temperamental woman; however, I think that rather, we engender objects as female that which gives us life and sustains in some way or when we talk about the powerful destruction of a storm, it is because the same elements which give us life take that life away.
As you can imagine, Country Roads, West Virginia’s anthem, as been playing a lot, which is normal during tough times like these. It is a song which all West Virginians are connected to – even those who aren’t native. It captures, in rhythm and lyric, that quality of West Virginia which is otherwise indescribably etched upon the very souls which inhabit these mountains. It plainly calls West Virginia our mother, giving her voice which calls the wayward home. Her sons, and even a few daughters, have toiled deep below those mothering mountains for a century or better while and some never left. Some of her children have left and still feel the hearkening home. She has been known to adopt a few of us stragglers, those with no homes to speak of. It is here, I tell my family in Louisiana, that I wish to reside for eternity. There is a connection to the land here, which many West Virginians feel and to them, it is very much a mothering presence.
Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge mountains, Shenandoah River.
Life is old there, older than the trees,
Younger than the mountains, growing like a breeze.
All my mem’ries gather ’round her,
Miner’s lady stranger to blue waters.
Dark and dusty painted on the sky,
Misty taste of moonshine, tear-drops in my eye.
I hear her voice, in the mornin’ hour she calls me
The radio reminds me of my home far away.
And driving down the road I get a feeling
That I should have been home yesterday,
Country roads, take me home,
To the place, I belong,
West Virginia, mountain mama.
Take me home, country roads.
So too did the Hebrew writer of Proverbs describe an attribute of God, Wisdom. Wisdom is the mother who stands and calls to her people, to come to the Lord, to be joyful and to find life:
Listen as Wisdom calls out! Hear as understanding raises her voice!
On the hilltop along the road, she takes her stand at the crossroads.
By the gates at the entrance to the town, on the road leading in, she cries aloud,
“I call to you, to all of you! I raise my voice to all people. (Proverbs 8:1-4 NLT)
“And so, my children, listen to me, for all who follow my ways are joyful.
Listen to my instruction and be wise. Don’t ignore it.
Joyful are those who listen to me, watching for me daily at my gates, waiting for me outside my home!
For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the LORD. But those who miss me injure themselves.
All who hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:32-36 NLT)
The Greek writer of Wisdom (of Solomon) found too that the best method of describing the living essence of God as a mother. For the author, she was a companion, a teacher, an instructor, the one who gave life and gives eternal life. Sophia cannot be likened to materiality, not to be brought down so low that a mortal man could ever debase her, contain her, or describe her without tarnishing her. She is preferred above power, authority, wealth and all others.
Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.
I preferred her to scepters and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her.
Neither did I liken to her any priceless gem, because all gold is but a little sand in her sight, and silver will be accounted as clay before her.
I loved her more than health and beauty, and I chose to have her rather than light, because her radiance never ceases.
All good things came to me along with her, and in her hands uncounted wealth.
I rejoiced in them all, because wisdom leads them; but I did not know that she was their mother. (Wis 7:7-12 RSV)
But she is more than the superficiality of what cannot be seen, but is too the sum total of everything that a man needs to live:
I learned both what is secret and what is manifest, for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me.
For in her there is a spirit that is
loving the good,
free from anxiety,
and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent and pure and most subtle. (Wis 7:21-23 RSV)
The Apostle Paul, nurtured by the Wisdom tradition, doesn’t give us a new mother, but like a dutiful son, honors our aged and ever-young mother:
But the other woman, Sarah, represents the heavenly Jerusalem. She is the free woman, and she is our mother. (Gal 4:26 NLT)