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11 July 2005
  Mother Earth without Feminism

Intolerant Elle raises the question of the use of "mother earth" in Christian discourse &mdash specifically, in stanza 2 of the hymn "When Seed Falls on Good Soil."

Personification is an accepted metaphor in Scripture and Christian theology. "Mother" earth is, of itself, a good term, "pregnant" — as an old prof used to say — with meaning. Just as the Church is the womb which bears and the mother who nurtures spiritual life, so the earth is the womb which bears and the mother who nurtures physical life. This appears to be behind Job's resignation: "And he said, 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return....' (1:21 ESV)" I think that Job, like Nicodemus, clearly understood that an adult cannot crawl back up the birth canal into his mother's uterus. Thus, the "womb" must the the same earth from which Adam and all his children are born.

I have no great problem with the hymn: Indeed, I appreciate the way the metaphor is used. "The soil [passively!] receives the seed." She doesn't beget life, nor does she choose what life grows where. The Initiator, the Life-Giver, the Begetter is our Father. The hymn is not to mother earth; it is (partially) about her.

Cranach - The Sower
Clement of Alexandria, in his Exhortation to the Heathen, wrote of the folly of worshiping created things or of forming gods from them:
Why, I pray you, have you assigned the prerogatives of God to what are no gods? Why, let me ask, have you forsaken heaven to pay divine honour to earth? What else is gold, or silver, or steel, or iron, or brass, or ivory, or precious stones? Are they not earth, and of the earth?

Are not all these things which you look on the progeny of one mother — the earth?

Clement obviously didn't confuse motherhood with Godhood. The problem comes when we elevate Mom or her offspring to divine status.

Tertullian used mother earth to expound On the Resurrection of the Flesh:
The flesh, too, has her departures for a while — in waters, in fires, in birds, in beasts; she may seem to be dissolved into these, but she is only poured into them, as into vessels. And should the vessels themselves afterwards fail to hold her, escaping from even these, and returning to her mother earth, she is absorbed once more, as it were, by its secret embraces, ultimately to stand forth to view, like Adam when summoned to hear from his Lord and Creator the words, "Behold, the man is become as one of us!" — thoroughly "knowing" by that time "the evil" which she had escaped, "and the good" which she has acquired.


I want to be careful with a hymn under copyright, but would address a bit more the other half of Elle's title; i.e., "What about Father God?" I think that the prayer to the Lord in stanza 3 establishes that it's not "mother earth," but "Father God" who's responsible for the earthly planting, growing, and harvesting. In it, we implore God to "do the verbs." We ask Him to "plow" the hard-packed path, "clear" the rocky soil, "tear" the harmful growth, and then to "sow the seed." Applying it directly to ourselves, we conclude by seeking Him to "prepare" each one of "our hearts," that the seed might fall on fertile ground.

On the other hand, I concur with Elle that the deification of the earth is wrong, shameful, and sinful. Feminism, goddess worship, and the like creeps like kudzu throughout the fertile soil of Mother Church. Sometimes, we can rip the weeds out; in other instances, it appears that we must wait until the final harvest and the burning of the tares. For those who improperly understand our alma mater as a goddess worthy of worship, I offer a bite on the backside, courtesy of this sarcasm from the seventh of The Seven Books of Arnobius Against the Heathen:
To mother Earth, they say, is sacrificed a teeming and pregnant sow; but to the virgin Minerva is slain a virgin calf, never forced by the goad to attempt any labour. But yet we think that neither should a virgin have been sacrificed to a virgin, that the virginity might not be violated in the brute, for which the goddess is especially esteemed; nor should gravid and pregnant victims have been sacrificed to the Earth from respect for its fruitfulness.... For if because the Tritonian goddess is a virgin it is therefore fitting that virgin victims be sacrificed to her, and if because the Earth is a mother she is in like manner to be entertained with gravid swine, then also Apollo should be honoured by the sacrifice of musicians ...; Aesculapius ... by the sacrifice of physicians; ... Vulcan by the sacrifice of artificers; and because Mercury is eloquent, sacrifice should be made to him with the eloquent and most fluent. But if it is madness to say this, or, to speak with moderation, nonsense, that shows much greater madness to slaughter pregnant swine to the Earth because she is even more prolific; pure and virgin heifers to Minerva because she is pure, of unviolated virginity.
 
Comments:
Thank you, Pr. Aardvark. My pastor (and Erica's as well as Dan the Geologist's) is very careful in picking the hymns for the divine service.

Honestly, I reacted the same way as Intolerant Elle. But my pastor explained it in a similar manner as you did. He was NOT violating the first commandment.
 
I finally got to adding you to my Lutheran Kung Fu Master blogroll. Thanks for the link!
 
Thanks for the context presented here.
 
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