I have spent the last two years completing my certification in spiritual direction from the Haden Institute. My work towards this certification has led me to explore how the images of God that we develop as a child affect our relationship with God as an adult. My final project has been to create a portfolio of children’s drawings that reflect what they think God looks like or what comes to mind for them when they think about God. I have collected about 50 drawings for my project.
Studying the ways that children perceive God has been a meaningful and spiritual experience for me.
One six-year-old little girl drew God with pink pants, long brown pigtails, and extremely large brown eyes. She said, “I think God is related to me. I think of God as a never-ending mother, because moms are so nice and fun and helpful and never leave you. That’s what I love about God.”
A nine-year-old girl pictured God as a best friend who will comfort her and to whom she can tell anything. Some children pictured God as a loving king and some as a bodyguard. Eight-year-old George drew God as a big bright star, and he said, “I see God as never-ending light."
Richard Rohr says, “There is an absolute connection between how we see God and how we see ourselves and the universe. We need to see God in some way in order to relate to God, so we create an image of God that works for us and is shaped by our environment, especially our childhood.”
It seems that we have a need to give God a face. Often that face reflects us, our environment, and those who have nurtured us (or not) in our faith.
As we come to the second Sunday of Lent, we find Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem in the gospel text for this week, which is Luke 13:31-35.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you are not willing!”
In scripture, we find many images of God. We read of God as light, joy, love, wisdom, beauty that fills the earth, the rock we stand on, fire that purifies, and many other images. Then in his frustration over Herod – that old fox – Jesus likens himself to a hen. A hen?! Come on Jesus, at least consider comparing yourself – your God-self – to a rooster, not a hen! Of all the animals you could have chosen, why not a tiger or a bear, or at the very least an eagle – but a hen?
I think that Jesus selected this image very carefully. He intentionally chose to compare himself to a mother hen, whose chief purpose in life is to protect her young. She doesn’t have the spurs or talons of a rooster, all she has is her squawky voice and her fluffed up feathers to put between herself and danger.
But more importantly, the other defensive technique that she has is her hope that she can save her chicks by satisfying the appetite of the fox herself. She is willing to lay down her life.
In this image of Jesus, we see God as a mother hen with chicks tucked securely underneath her protective wings. This way of imagining God turns our thinking upside down. There are foxes in our lives. There are things and people who want to steal us away from God; people who want to crush our spirits and weaken our resolve. It is in these situations that we look for God to be our shield, our fortress, and our rock. Those are the powerful metaphors that we lean on, but here Jesus gives us an alternative metaphor.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus speaks of hens and chickens. The journey that Jesus is on is leading to the cross, and in this case, God isn’t coming to us as a powerful mother bear protecting her cubs or an eagle ready to snatch us up to safety. God is unpredictable, and often God’s way is the way of the meek and the lowly. Luke gives us a God who shows up like a mother hen, a God who weeps with us, and a God who knows what it is to lose.
Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem is because, again and again, his children have behaved like a cunning fox. Jesus has chosen a better way – the way of the hen – the way of laying down his life for the sake of another, so that all may live. In God’s kingdom, the way of the mother hen wins against the fox.
Lent is a season for us to decide how we want to live our lives. Do we put our trust in the power of the mother hen, or do we prefer the ways of the world and the sly fox? Do we seek to offer shelter to those in need or do we only provide for ourselves? Are we willing to stand between those who are weak and the enemy? Will we model our lives in the ways of the mother hen or follow the path of the fox.
In all of the drawings that I received from children for my project, it was no surprise that no one drew God as a mother hen. However, many of them depicted God with motherly qualities. Their drawings and words reflected a God who is present and protective. They spoke of a God who feels real and close. Children and baby chicks know who their protectors are. They know who loves them and will shelter them under their protective wings.