When I was in seminary in the mid-1980’s, women scholars were writing about using feminine pronouns for God. This made sense to me, although I confess I had not thought about these things before that time. I talked to Jesus at that time in my life, sometimes asking Jesus – in desperation – to “go to God!” for me.
As the years unfold, and as I think about the long and deepening journey that has been mine, I think more now about the nature of “God,” and Who or What this “God” may be.
I am a life-long feminist, schooled through the resurgence of feminism marked by Gloria Steinem and the advent of Ms. Magazine in the mid-1970’s. I hit the workforce at the perfect time, when Equal Opportunity Programs were flourishing. In my first career, I was an employee of the Federal Government, and in Government Service, a Women’s Movement was fostered, offering advancement to women and other minorities.
When I married, I did not change my name, something that made perfect sense to me. As I grow older, I think the matter of a woman changing her name is something that should be consciously considered by every woman who marries, although I see, instead, that it passes in and out of popularity. I lived through times when a woman could not be the named adult in the purchase of a home. I live through times when violence against women continues to be condoned, in many forms, when women in the United States do not earn as much as men who have the same level of education and experience.
When I entered the seminary, seminaries were filled with women (including Roman Catholic Seminaries, at least in Berkeley). I think of myself in the “second wave” of women ordained in the United Methodist Church. I chose that denomination in particular because, single at the time, I wanted to be assured of work. In the United Methodist Church, once ordained, pastors are “guaranteed an appointment” as the pastor of a church, something which was not/ is not true in other denominations. In many liberal Protestant denominations, women continued to not be called to church. It took many years for women to hold the pastorates of larger churches, even in my progressive Annual Conference. Still, I often had women Superintendents, although I did experience being discounted as a woman in ways I had not in Government Service.
Through the years, while I grew professionally and continued to learn the practicalities of pastoring in changing times, as the (mainline) Church entered perilous times, I continued to grow in spirit. My path is broad and deep, I like to say, and I have “taken a drink from many cups.” I am grateful for the open mind I have had, a gift of my upbringing and temperament, fostered by asking questions and exploring, always. My true work has been this work of deepening practice, growth, and exploration, something nurtured by Church but not always present in Church. My true work has been nurtured by Spirit, however I (or you) conceive of Spirit.
Like most women, I think I am often unconscious of the bias, the limitations we experience every day. This truth has not changed during my lifetime, and I see young women struggling with the same issues and limitations women of my generation had to struggle with. Still, I encourage young women to make their own choices, to trust their own choices, to grow, to deepen, to be committed to growth in themselves and in those they choose as partners.
But “God?” A long time ago, a Buddhist monk once asked a colleague of mine: “who is this God you speak of?” As I grow older, I confess the question makes more sense to me. “Who is this God we speak of?”
Now, it makes less sense to me than ever before that we have inherited these masculine images of God. If God is in you – or if we are in God, I would argue – how can God be conceived only as “He,” “Him,” the “Father?” For many years, God has not had a pronoun, to me. God is to be experienced, known, to be in relation to, but God is not “He,” or even “She.” At the same time, when we fall back into the tradition – to any tradition – we use the masculine pronouns.
There is an inherent experience of “less than” I experience when I hear that God is “He.” At some point, I became aware that there is something wrong with growing up as a person of color and not ever seeing people who look like you – who have dark skin and eyes – on television, in movies, in positions of leadership. To me, that is also true when we do not know of God as “She,” “Her,” “the Mother.” God – the He God – has qualities of the masculine, not the feminine. If God is “He,” then violence against women must be justified, for He is “better than.”
One day, a colleague desperately tried to make it ok for me by suggesting that “She” was present in the Holy Spirit. That may be so. For me, however, that is not enough. Another might point out that in the Hebrew Scriptures, Ruach – Spirit – is feminine. For me, however, that is not enough.
God is everything. If that is so, then God is… She, He, Uncertain, Angry, Sad, Successful, Unsuccessful, Hard, Soft, Whole, Less Than, Full, Empty, Good, Bad, Light, Dark, All That Is, and even, All That Is Not.
We limit one another so. We teach children that God must only be spoken to in hushed tones, called “He,” and worshipped by bowing our heads. God is Great, this is true, and Something to be Feared, if we are honest. But God cannot be limited by our limitations. Nothing we can do or say can limit God, God Is. And God is acceptance and empowerment, in my experience. God is larger than I can imagine or speak about. God Is. God is not counting all our little sins, making notes. Our minds are making notes, our feelings, probably, and our bodies, but not God, in whom we live and have being.