Relatives converging from different parts of the country to eat a family-style meal together inside is seeming less and less like a good idea with COVID-19 numbers spiking in many states.

Given the extremely divisive election year that still has us reeling, it might be a relief to have a virus change our plans. But if we do not go to grandma’s for Thanksgiving or Christmas, what will we miss?

We can talk on the phone, but it is the physical stuff that we may miss most. The smells of everyone’s specialties, the embrace of aunties and grandmas hovering to check that everybody has enough on their plates are the “mothering” all of our senses will miss.

But we will not be bereft of our mothers. Even if others are making choices that do not feel safe without you, even if you are alone, when in any other year you would be at a crowded feast, please know you are held close by a mothering God.

Father may be the default parenting metaphor for God that many Christians use, but take a look at some of God’s behaviors and whom will you recognize?

In my book, Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God, I name many of God’s behaviors in the Bible that mothers, or those who have been mothered by someone, know intimately.

God sews handmade clothes for Adam and Eve. God voices divine anger with the people, so that Abraham and Moses can bargain and talk God out of wiping them off the face of the earth for their sins.

God in the person of Jesus changes what he is going to do after a conversation with a desperate child of God, a Canaanite mother begging for crumbs of healing for her daughter.

From the cross, Jesus makes a plan for his own mother – since our caregiver relationships reverse as we age – and his beloved disciple to have family once he is gone.

The Holy Spirit is ever-present, not drawing attention but there when you need her, motivating and preparing us to face the world.

Are these not mothering behaviors?

The sense of belonging and value that our best mothering influences create for us is available to us from God, whether we make it to family holidays or not. God sets the table and fusses over us and disciplines and gives until it hurts in Scripture and today.

While God is as close and available as a mother to a newborn, we can also recognize God nurturing us from a distance by working through those who are able to be close to us.

Like a working mom who has to entrust her young ones to a daycare provider in order to work, God speaks to us and physically cares for our bodies through others. Moses even compares himself to a midwife, resenting the surrogate caregiver role.

Christians claim to be the body of Christ in the world, so that God cares for people through us. We are not meant to be receivers only, but just as my children’s snuggles or surprising insights strengthen me, God too equips us to be nurturing caregivers for each other.

We can step into mother’s place this year, with God’s mothering behaviors as a guide, and make it our business to fill everyone’s plate.

When our traditions are disrupted, we are more likely to see clearly that not everyone experiences an ideal nurturing experience from their families. Yet God desires to draw all of us together like a mother hen.

Who is close enough for you to bring under those wings? What might we gain this year – as individuals or churches – if we examine how the mothering figures in our lives create community and adapt who is responsible for caregiving in our lives? How does God “mother” without being physically nearby?

Without the template of family traditions and dynamics exactly as they have been before, we have an opportunity to see caregivers with new eyes and indeed to become the ones who mother in the faith.

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