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"I took them up in my arms, I led them with cords of compassion and with bands of love … I bent down to them and fed them." (New Revised Standard Version) This quote is from the ancient Hebrew prophet Hosea speaking for God. This week, I am reflecting on the picture of God as the mother of a young child, beginning with remembering our own childhood. For some, memories of childhood are painful, thoughts of home bring sharp stabbing memories of pain. If that is the case, skip this column. You might read Hosea though for he learned of love in the context of a difficult home life.

For the first four years of my life, my father's father lived with us. He was a strong quiet presence in the house. I knew I could depend on my grandfather. I wonder, when you think back to early childhood, who was that kind of presence in your life?

An infant cannot provide for themselves. Hungry disturbs their belly, their body, and milk appears. Once solid food is possible, a routine of sitting and being fed develops. Then, there is a tray with cherrios or little pieces of banana that the child can pick up themselves. Mom bites a grape in half and reaches down to put the other half in the toddler's mouth.

Hosea pictures God as the mother who bends down to feed the child.

An infant can't move themselves around. They need to be carried where they want and need to go. There is a thrill of independence the first time they can roll themselves over, and some will use rolling to get all the way across the room. Some children will learn to stand by pulling themselves up at a bed or couch. Many will let a parent reach down and take their hands and lift them to their feet. The toddler grips those hands with tiny fists as they learn to get their legs to work.

Hosea pictures God as the mother who reaches down and lifts the child to their feet, who walks across the room at the toddler's pace.

Young children get tired. Often, they cannot walk the whole way that the family needs to travel. They certainly can't hurry to get where they need to go. The child is scooped up and carried in the mother's arms, placed on the father's shoulders. From this secure location, they get a different view of the world, get to hurry to their destination, get to fall asleep in Mom's arms.

Hosea pictures God as the mother in Africa who carries their child on their back, as the mother or father here who scoops up the tired child to carry them.

I value the intimacy of Hosea's picture of God. And the idea of God as mother. In our time, dads are offering more infant and toddler care, which is wonderful. In Hosea's time, the young child was in the mother's care for the most part. This is a picture of God as mother.

The care that an infant and toddler experiences teaches them security. When they are hungry, food appears. When exhausted, they are sung to sleep. For Hosea, this picture of needs being addressed teaches us that we can trust in God's eternal love. Even when we wander like a three-year-old, despite disappointment, even anger, God's compassion will win out.

Hosea knew that family life is not always that dependable. His own marriage was fragile as best, torn and broken most days. It is helpful to know that even as Hosea affirms the absolute dependability of God's love, the prophet also understands that this isn't always our human experience.

Hosea wrote, "It was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up in my arms, I led them with cords of compassion, and with bands of love. … I bent down to them and fed them." (NRSV) As the child grows and makes their own choices, they won't always be the best ones. Our parents and God do not hold us so tight that we can’t make mistakes. Rather, we are held warm and close enough that we recognize wholeness and peace, we see when we’re straying, and we know where we want to get back to.

Cathy Hird lives on the shores of Georgian Bay.

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