A few days ago, as I was looking for a photo to use for my post on feminine images of God, I was taken by (and indeed ended up choosing) an image of a woman blowing bubbles with a small child. It took me a few minutes to realize that this photo was so striking to me because it reminded me of an old family story about my grandmothers.
When my older siblings were young, my family lived quite close to both sets of grandparents, and so the extended family was a big part of my brother and sister’s early life. (We moved away when I was one year old, so I had a very different experience of family.) My grandmothers were both forces of nature in their own ways. Grandma Root was the quintessential grandma, filled with hugs and kisses, who served milkshakes with meals, always had at least three desserts on offer, and always had gum. Grandma Sleight for her part, was (is, she is in her centennial year and still a force of nature) a grandmother of a very different kind: stern, hard-working, and above all else, proper. And so, as family lore would have it, Grandma Root taught my sister how to blow bubbles; Grandma Sleight taught her how to blow her nose.
This struck me as amusing when thinking of feminine images of God. It’s easy to imagine Grandma Root in this way: loving, protective, maternal, bountiful, gracious, and fun. Fun is not a word I often associate with God. But, living as we do in a world where there are terrestrial birds and aquatic mammals, where platypuses, axolotls, and birds of paradise exist, and in which play seems part-and-parcel with life, God must have a keen sense of fun, play, and joy.
It’s a little less easy, at least at first thought, to see Grandma Sleight as an image of God. But this does her a great injustice. She is surely an icon of God too in her own ways: She is strong and tenacious, and her life has been marked by incredible acts of service, sacrifice, commitment, and resilience. And while less effusive perhaps in her love, she expresses it in her concern for the safety of her children.
Of course my grandmothers are far from perfect. But that’s the point of icons and images, our symbols and metaphors for God. None of them match perfectly, but they can still point the way and help us understand something of God. As the saying (attributed to Thomas Merton) goes, “Behold the rabbit, and behold the rabbithood of God.” And so it is with the people in our lives. Made in the image and likeness of God, they can point the way to something true about their creator.