I spoke on a panel Friday night for a Women and Spirituality conference. There were three other women on the panel–an Episcopal priest, a Roman Catholic lay leader who is also a counselor, and a woman who was raised Muslim but left the faith after deciding it was too patriarchal. Together, we fielded questions about Mary and goddess worship, the divine feminine, and the gender of God.
What it got me thinking about most of all is the power of language in determining our understanding of God. It seems to me that God is both male and female. In Genesis, among other texts, we read that God created "male and female" in his image. In other words, male and female together reflect the image of God. By extension, all that is feminine and all that is masculine is within God's being.
So why call God he? (And, by the way, I routinely call God he.)
Part of it is convention, and part of that convention is a history of oppression and patriarchy. But if we switched to she that would alienate some, confuse others, and swing the pendulum in the other direction. So we could just call God God, with no gender attachments. It's awkward, but there are some merits to awkward language as it draws attention to the issue at hand.
And yet, God without any pronouns causes a linguistic problem beyond awkwardness. It takes away the personal nature of God. It takes away the invitation by Jesus to call God, "Abba," which can be translated "Daddy."
One person in the audience on Friday night suggested using the pronoun "she" in relation to the Holy Spirit, particularly given the fact that the Spirit in Hebrew is a feminine word, and the imagery of the Spirit bringing new birth is quite feminine in the New Testament. I like the idea, but I also wonder if bringing "she" into one person of the Trinity means dividing the godhead.
Another suggestion was to talk about God in terms that suggest masculine and feminine qualities–O God, our helper (feminine), our strong tower (masculine)... But that may simply perpetuate gender stereotypes. It goes around and around.
It seems to me that Father, Son and Spirit are all male, and all female, and all in all. I'm not sure where this leads me as far as my personal language about God. I do know the conversation challenged me to be more aware of the language and imagery I use to understand God's character, and to make sure I'm not missing out on the breadth of who God is by only focusing on male characteristics.
To conclude these musings, I'll quote one of my favorite Psalms:
1 My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3 O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.