In my seven years of bearing and nursing babies, my body has gone through quite a metamorphosis. And if I'm honest, I feel less like a butterfly than a cocoon, stretched and emptied and stretched and emptied and repeat and repeat.
And now things, well, things are stretched...and empty.
But it is more than physical, this transformation, this widening. My soul, too, is expanding, jagged with stretch marks as God and my children grow ever bigger.
And I wonder, if I'm made in the image of God, then doesn't my body--my stretch marked body, have something to do with His Image?
I recently learned more about one of the names God gave Himself. All I knew about El Shaddai was the Amy Grant song, so I was surprised to discover the meaning of the Hebrew word "shad" in Shaddai. It means "a woman's breast". (I doubt we would have sung this song in youth group had we known that.)
Although El Shaddai is commonly translated "The Almighty" in scripture, many scholars believe that El Shaddai is more literally rendered the All Sufficient One, the God who Provides, or the Pourer-forth. Because, breasts. That's what they do.
We often hear traditionally masculine analogies for God and kingdom life. But what if we are missing something vital about God's character by only thinking of Him in rough-tough burly man terms? When God revealed himself to Abraham, He didn't call Himself "the God who Coaches" or Touchdown Jesus. He did not say He was the Ultimate Ninja Warrior God, or even our Father. He called himself El Shaddai.
It was as El Shaddai, literally the breasted God, who made covenant with Abraham, promising this Patriarch would become the father of many nations. The name El Shaddai puts a different face on power than we are accustomed to. This isn't military prowess or brute force. El Shaddai, the Pourer-Forth, holds the power of the breast: the power to create and sustain life, the power of nourishment and growth, peace and comfort. This is not a power that coerces. This is not a power that overthrows. This is a power that beckons, "Come."
El Shaddai invites us to turn to him like a baby to her mama's arms, equipped only with our own weakness, our mouths open and expectant. He wants to fill us up; His desire is to fulfill every need. He meets every need for love and connection in his All-Sufficient presence.
photo credit: Susan Nield
I've breastfed four babies, and I can attest to the power of producing everything your offspring needs to thrive. I've also known the pain of trying to feed a baby who will not eat; sometimes even a well-loved child is too fussy, too sick, or too busy to receive nourishment and comfort. There is a physical ache in a mother's breasts to satisfy her children--a stretching out, a filling up to pour forth.
So yes, God is our Father, but we cannot miss what he reveals to us through the name El Shaddai: God manifests, perfectly, the tender and nurturing power of a mother.
This picture of God--this feminine facet of His character-- is repeated throughout scripture. God the Father holds his lambs, his people, close to his heart. The Holy Spirit comes to us as Comforter. Jesus compared himself to a mother hen, longing to gather his children under his wings (the word "wings" here can also be translated as skirt--I love that!). Jesus was publicly overcome with emotion at the grave of Lazarus, only moments before He himself resurrected his friend from the dead. This world feminizes emotion, assuming it indicates a lack of strength. But the life of Christ redeems emotion, and His example teaches us that tenderness--that femininity--does not equal weakness.
God's character reflects the distinct value of a woman's heart. Even more than that, He identified Himself with women--with their physical bodies, their breasts-- when He called himself El Shaddai. His word says, "Long for pure spiritual milk!", "Taste and see!" and "Open wide your mouth so I can fill it! His very nature is to pour out His grace on our lives, that we might be satisfied with His nearness.
The Almighty One stretched out for us, full of power and glory and grace, so that He might be emptied like a mother's breast, to fill His children with Himself.
And women bear His image, the image of El Shaddai.
Stretched and empty.