A Children's Prayer Book Addressing God as "Mama"
With still a huge need for resources that families can use to show kids a more holistic and open view of God, "Dear Mama God" comes at the perfect time.
Brand New Children’s Book Coming Soon!
With my youngest turning 11 this month, my four kids are all pretty grown up. It’s been years since those lovely nights of reading books to our babies at bedtime.
However, if we did still engage in this holy practice, you bet your bottom dollar that we’d be adding Dear Mama God to the rotation!
Created by Daneen Akers, the brilliant mind behind Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints, this gorgeous children’s book looks to not just fill the hole of “good and reliable books to read to kids,” but also provide an early foundation for imagining God as more than just a man in the sky.
Right now, Dear Mama God is in pre-production via a Kickstarter Campaign. That means a couple things:
You can pre-order the book now and get it at a cheaper cost,
Your pre-order support actually helps to fund the making of the book,
Once the Kickstarter Campaign gets fully funded (it’s at 81% of its goal as of my writing this) the book will move to production and be shipped sometime next year.
I had the chance to sit down with Daneen Akers last week to ask her about this project that I believe in with my whole soul!
Hey Daneen! Thanks for taking time to share about your newest project, Dear Mama God. Can you tell me a bit about where the idea for this book came from?
I woke up to how much our God language matters about 15 years ago when I first heard God referred to with a feminine pronoun in a church service.
It was actually during a song. Just one verse had been revised to include She. It was a that worship song that many of us grew up singing: “I Have a Maker.” It was just one verse:
“I have a Maker / She formed my heart.”
But that one verse was enough.
Singing those familiar words to She broke open a dam inside of me. I began to weep, not realizing how much I had felt excluded as a woman from the concept that we are all “created in the image of God.”
That experience led to me tentatively using feminine pronouns and imagery for God. I began to read scholars who helped me realize that this was not new, and—somewhat to my surprise, because I’d grown up drenched in masculine-only God language and metaphors—it’s also entirely Biblical!
Then about three years ago, my older daughter (10 at the time) started teaching her little sister, who was three at the time, to pray to Mother God. It made complete sense to the younger one that any Source of All/Creator would be a nurturing, protective, and loving mother.
In toddlerese it sounded like, “Dear Mudder Dod…” 🥰
In time, she gradually started using “Mama God” as her preferred divine address. Her prayers were those expansive, magical, delightful kind of prayers that young children so easily voice—things like,
“Thank you for the earth, and all living things,”
“Thank you for rain that makes rainbows,”
“Thank you for trees, so birds can make nest,”
“Thank you for hula hoops so dogs can jump through them,”
“Thank you for stuffies to cuddle with at night,” and—possibly my favorite—
“Thank you for beating hearts that love.”
I began to write them down because I found her earnest, wonder-filled prayers life-giving for me too. And, eventually, the idea for this book came out of this.
I write the books I need as a parent (and that I wished I’d had as a child), and the idea of helping other children—and their adults—step into a broader view of God, one that clearly included girls, women, and anyone not traditionally male-bodied was really compelling to me.
I love that so much. Can you say more about why it’s important to speak, think, and relate to God as a Mother and as She?
Our God language matters because it is how we symbolize that which we hold as ideal.
Of course, all we ever get for Ultimate Reality is metaphor because the language we have for Divinity is, by necessity, symbolic. All language is too small to encapsulate the reality of any one thing being named, even more so when we’re talking about something that is Ultimate (and ultimately a mystery).
Put plainly, metaphor is what we have for Source/Spirit.
But we have a big problem: our metaphors have gotten stuck. Due to a combination of tradition, sexism, power, and the limitations of language, our God-language and metaphors used in our art, music, and liturgies have become almost exclusively masculine, so much so that many of us have forgotten that these words and images were only ever metaphors hinting at a mystery.
This harms all of us.
Thinking that God is actually masculine and male has enormous implications for how children of all genders grow up. It has contributed to a world in which girls, women, and anyone not traditionally male-bodied remain marginalized and seen as less than. Plus, the mothering and feminine qualities in all genders are undervalued. This is why womanist theologians insist that Feminine God language is liberating for us all.
Even though I believe that Ultimate Reality transcends form and gender, I still believe we also need equity for the Divine Feminine in our language, music, art, and metaphors. And we need Her as explicitly feminine, as Mother, She, and Mama. Gender-neural titles just don’t land in our bodies as “neuter” because of the thousands of years of patriarchal influence. Unless we explicitly use feminine pronouns, titles, and symbols for God, the idea of the feminine as part of the image of God will remain unimaginable, and we will be limiting the ways in which the sacred mystery we call God can interact in our lives and in the world.
I feel like it’s important to note that this does not mean that gender-neutral and non-binary titles for God do not also matter; we need those too. However, it does mean we cannot skip over explicitly feminine God language though in our work to expand our God language and concepts.
I love how Herb Montgomery (a contemporary holy troublemaker I wrote about in my last book) puts this:
“We don’t get to non-gender God after two millennia of male gendering. We need a couple millennia of female gendering of God—we can’t skip this step.”
And Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney explains in her introduction to her (incredible) book, A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, about why explicitly feminine language is preferable to gender-neutral language for her goals in the lectionary:
“Explicitly feminine language is preferable to inclusive and neuter language which obscures and erases woman and girls. In addition, singular neuter gender and inclusive plurals do not disrupt the learned gender patterns, as many readers and hearers interpret them through their previously learned gender pattern and experience them as male.”
How has praying to Mama God been of value in your own life?
I’ve found it a deeply nourishing and life-giving practice to shift our God metaphors to She, Mother, and Mama.
Turning my heart towards a Mothering God has re-opened spiritual practices and stories that had stopped working for me. I’ve been able to step into gratitude and beauty much more easily despite the all-too-sobering realities of how much this world needs repair for all to flourish.
Plus I’ve seen it bear really good fruit with my children and their spirituality.
I cried last Christmas when my older daughter gave me a gorgeous felted figurine of Mama God holding the universe, and it came with a note that thanked me for my small acts of resistance like whispering “she” and “her” in my daughter’s ear when we used to go to a church where the songs all only used male pronouns. My youngest still has no idea that it’s not part of the mainstream to conceptualize God as a Mama, and I know having this book is going to help her and other children keep stepping into this practice.
Why did you decide to make this a children’s picture book?
Picture books are as much about the art as the words (and, honestly, maybe more about the art!).
Because symbols are the language of the soul, a good picture book lands in the soul like music. They work on a deeper level—they’re felt, experienced. They linger in the very best way as formative symbols.
As a I’m a former English teacher it’s no secret I’m a fan of words, but writing art-centric books for children has helped me realize that art is a far more powerful and lasting medium for symbolic communication.
And Colby, you’ve seen it… This book is beautiful!
We’ve been talking for two years about the art for this book and have finally landed on a beautiful, gloaming setting. The gloaming is my favorite time of day. It’s the transition between day and night when the veil is especially thin and magic abounds. The art is set in both urban and rural landscapes, filled with a rich cast of diverse kiddos who are gradually making their way to bed. The text leads the reader through a series of gratitudes that are warm, comforting, and magical.
The experience of the book is soothing, gentle, nourishing, and soul-level beautiful. And it’s at these fundamental soul levels that we have to start reshaping and expanding our ideas of Source/Ultimate Reality—or, as we generally say, God.
And, on a super practical level, I need books like Dear Mama God (and Holy Troublemakers) to help me in my parenting. Books are incredible easy entry points for conversations and ideas that I might not otherwise bring up.
It’s also delightfully subversive. It’s just a simple child’s prayer book, but because it’s addressed to God as a Mama, it’s also deeply radical. I enjoy a little cup of radical on the side of cozy bedtime!
Who do you think this book is for?
For children, obviously, but also for their adults at home or in places of worship.
Praying to God as a Mama is really heart-expanding and liberating for us all. And while I imagine it’s more likely at least loosely religious families will want this book, it’s also good more widely too because, religious or not, male-God language is deeply imbued in all of Western culture.
(okay, back to Colby speaking now)
A special thanks to Daneen for sharing her project and her heart with us for today’s Perspective Shift.
To say it again, I really support this project. And I hope you will, too.
I’ll end with a few words of endorsement from those who also believe wholeheartedly in this project.
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