True confession: My problem with Rick Warren delivering the invocation was not only about his misguided position on lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender people.  His overarching theological perspective also makes me cringe.  He began his invocation with the words, “Almighty God our father” and concluded with the first sentence of the Christian “Lord’s Prayer”, “Our Father Who Art in heaven.”  Unlike the non-dogmatic and globally oriented benediction of Dr. Joseph Lowery, Rick Warren prayed to an exclusively Christian God.  And in so doing, Rick Warren put the image of God the father front and center.

Typically, evangelical Christians begin their prayers with “Father God”—and that’s fine.

But it also occurs to me that I have never heard a conservative Christian begin a prayer with, “Mother God.”

The way we speak about the unspeakable reality of “God” reveals a great deal about how we understand God but also our life together.

In the book of Genesis there are two creation myths. The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is the second one. The first creation narrative, found in Genesis, chapter 1, begins with these words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved over the waters.”

The Genesis creation narrative came into being around 600 BCE, when the Israelites were in exile in Babylon. While in captivity they were exposed to the Babylonian creation myth involving the young god Marduk and an older goddess Tiamat. There was a cosmic battle between the two of them. The story tells us:

Tiamat and Marduk advanced against one another. When Tiamat opened her mouth to devour him, he drove in the evil wind in order that she should not be able to close her lips. Her belly became distended and she opened wide her mouth. He shot off an arrow and tore her interior; it cut through her inward parts, it split her heart. When he had subdued her, he destroyed her life. He cast down her carcass and stood upon it.

In this Babylonian myth, Tiamat’s carcass is cut asunder and the corpse of the goddess becomes the earth and the firmament of the existing world.

When the Israelites were finally free of Babylonian oppression, there is evidence that they believed that the dead goddess was still underfoot. The story from Genesis says that the Spirit of God moved over “the face of the deep.” In Genesis, the word for “the face of the deep” is tehom, which is derived from the Babylonian word Tiamat.

The firmament, the earth, and the sea are reminiscent of the dead body of the Goddess. Here is a not so subtle implication that mother earth is dead. This also hints at the origin of our current belief that we are somehow separate from the earth and from each other, and speaks to the reasons for the strength and depth of this belief.

Later on in Genesis God says, “Let us make human beings in our own image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over all the earth…be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.”

We have mostly taken this to mean that God is the Spirit that moves over the dead earth. The earth is compost and the spirit of the Divine is a separate entity that uses the decay to create life.

In one way this is a hopeful story. The Spirit creates life from death.

The problem is it also implies that God is separate from the earth. It intimates that God subdues and dominates the earth. It suggests that human beings are created in the image of the Divine and are therefore separate from the earth, with the right to subdue and dominate it. Ancient myths have a way of lodging deeply in the collective psyche and providing subtle rationale for treating the earth as an object to be dominated and exploited. As such, this story/myth contains the root of the beliefs that allow us to propagate and propitiate the behaviors that feed our current ecological crisis.

This is why Rick Warren’s inaugural prayer to the ‘God the father’ made me wince.

Thankfully, we are beginning to wake up and see the earth with new eyes. We are waking up because our experience of the life we share on this earth is changing. Other unfamiliar ancient myths are being discovered and recreated in new forms, such as the Gaia hypothesis, which was developed nearly thirty years ago by British scientist James Lovelock.

Lovelock suggested that the biosphere is not a machine with many parts, but rather a living organism with one mind. Lovelock says that things such as the regulation of salt in the seas and oxygen in the air can only be explained if we consider the earth to be a single living organism.

To pray to God especially in a context of climate change and global awareness brings with it the necessity to choose our images carefully.  Ingrained in our collective unconscious is a patriarchal world view.  It may be true enough that the concepts of male supremacy and male dominance are eschewed in many countries, but the impression of patriarchy lingers in the collective consciousness.

At the heart of the patriarchal value system is the conviction that is morally justifiable for some of us to dominate others of us and therefore for human beings to dominate the earth.

This is why Rick Warren’s prayer to God-as-father fails–it is an exclusive and one-sided metaphor. When praying before the world in a symbolically charged occasion, words need be carefully chosen.The openly Gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson whose invocation opened the “We Are One” inaugural concert gets this.

His prayer began with the words, “O God of our many understandings.”

Divine Presence is there when we gaze out upon a sunset or up at the stars at night.  Each and every life, and all of life pulsates with Divine energy. When I am open to it I see it.  I experience it. I know that I am in it and it is in me.

If we are going to pray to God, for God’s sake and ours, let’s at least choose more than one metaphor.