God is also a mother, writes children’s book author Teresa Kim Pecinovsky

(RNS) — “You know God the Father, but God is also your Mother.”

This is how the children’s book “Mother God” by Teresa Kim Pecinovsky begins. The picture book, with beautiful, vibrant illustrations by artist Khoa Le, was published in March by Beaming Books.

The feminine, motherly imagery of God in the Bible is something Pecinovsky says she – like many – did not encounter until she was an adult, in preparation for her Master of Divinity degree from Vanderbilt Divinity. School.

The idea came to Pecinovsky, a hospice chaplain and former elementary school teacher, during the lockdowns at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unable to see many of her patients, she said, she began writing letters and cards and dabbling in different types of art, including watercolors and paper cut-outs.

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When two of her images of female biblical figures – the midwives Shiphra and Puah and the daughters of Zelophehad, who successfully pleaded for the right to inherit the land – received praise on social media, she d first thought of writing a children’s book on lesser-known subjects. women in the Bible. When her editor directed her to write about female imagery for God, she was so excited—”I don’t like to use the inspired phrase,” she said—that she completed a draft in a few days.

The book not only includes images from God’s scriptures like a protective mother hen and a fierce mother bear, but also includes illustrations of people of all ethnicities, ages, and abilities, including a nursing mother next to a book about postpartum depression that reminds Pecinovsky of her first Mother’s Day as a mother.

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The way the church she attended described motherhood as “all flowers and rainbows” was far from her experience, she said. It certainly did not reflect her relationship with her first mother as an international adoptee.

“I think if we can see God represented in the weakest and most vulnerable mothers in society, that really enriches our spiritual lives,” Pecinovsky said.

The author, who is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), told Religion News Service why it is important for people of all ages to also see God as a mother, and how the story of Hagar and of Ishmael, the servant and firstborn son of the biblical patriarch Abraham, resonates with her.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Are people surprised to realize how many female images of God there are in the Bible?

Honestly, the majority of people I hear from – men, women, and non-binary people – tell me, first of all, that they cried reading the book because they’ve never seen this genre representation of God, especially in a children’s book. . Parents who read it to their children — and I’ve heard it over and over again — choke on reading it to their children.

It’s sad for me because it shouldn’t take a lifetime of non-exposure before you see it in a children’s book to realize how much you’ve been missing. And I’m really, really thrilled to think of the children who read this book and grow up seeing God in female imagery as a natural part of their spiritual development, instead of having to wait until they’re adults. and to deconstruct and reconstruct.

Is this a controversial idea for some?

Most people just see the cover and make very emotional expressions based on it – lots of “God is father”, “Jesus never calls God ‘mother'”, “God chooses to be called ‘he'” . How dare you portray God as a woman? and several other sincere questions on: “Are you saying that God is a woman?”

My answer is still no. I believe that God is beyond gender. But because Scripture includes so many different images of God, we need to be able to see them all in male, female, and non-binary terms to be able to appreciate how we are created in imago dei.

Why is it important for children—and people of all ages—to see God as a mother?

For me, a big part of my theology on humanity is that we are made of imago dei — in the image of God — and so if we are only taught images of shepherds or kings or fathers, then there is a whole handful of people who can only see a part of themselves represented in divinity.

I was really amazed at some of the reactions from the kids. This tells me how deeply ingrained fatherly images of God are in society. For example, a friend of mine is a very progressive pastor (United Church of Christ)…and I know she raised her children with very progressive views on theology. I was surprised when she told me that she had read the book to her daughters, and her 4-year-old daughter turned to her and said, “So God is not a boy, and the girls can be just as strong? You think about the implications of the converse of that: if God is a boy, then girls aren’t as strong and girls are weak. Somewhere along the way, her 4-year-old son had already internalized this.

It will take more than one children’s picture book to change this change. It’s even (will take) more than truly dedicated parents who are committed to showing their children an expanded view of God. This is something that the world of education and childrearing has known for decades: representation is always important, not because we are trying to be politically correct, but because of the meaning it has. for children to see themselves represented.

Do you have a favorite female image of God in the book?

One of my favorite broadcasts is “God Sees You” based on Hagar and Ishmael. I didn’t want it to be a literal representation of Hagar and Ishmael. I wanted it to be relevant for modern readers. It started out as a white mother (crying on the couch with her son), and I said, “No, it has to be a black mother and son”, not only because it’s Hagar and Ishmael and that they were Egyptian, but also because, to me, it represents very well the black and brown women who mourn their sons unjustly targeted by violence in our country.

I’ve had several reactions from people who resonate really strongly with this, not only because it’s so beautifully illustrated and so moving, but if you think about 2020 and 2021, how many of us were lying on couches, crying , because we are so anxious and unsure of what is going on in our world?

I also see it in my work as a hospice chaplain. So many patients, family members and colleagues just want to be seen. To be seen and to be validated is such a strong human desire and need, and so to imagine a God who sees you and knows you fully is, I think, very, very powerful. I had people from non-Christian and non-religious backgrounds who were particularly drawn to this broadcast, too, because I think it’s such a universal theme.

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Alycia R. Lindley