Wednesday, June 8, 2016

She is Holy

No one ever told me referring to God as "her" was wrong.

They didn't have to. I heard whispers of the weird, way-too-feminist Christians who called God "her." I saw heads shake. Can you believe it? Ridiculous. I knew without anyone telling me that God being "she" was silly and possibly heretical.

The whispers also told me there was such a thing as too much feminism. According to the complementarian view, men and women have equal dignity but different roles. Liberal feminism wanted men and women to take over each other's God-ordained positions.*

But my thoughts shifted the more I read the Bible.

Ironically -- or perhaps not -- most of my liberalism came not from abandoning the Bible, but from studying it. I heard Scripture preached with patriarchal views, sure. But I found glorious, powerful femininity lurking in these male-centric, male-authored stories.

Take Deborah. Known for her wisdom, people came to her for advice and judgement. She stepped up in a time when only men were supposed to. (Women weren't believed capable of it: sound familiar?) Deborah and Jael, another woman, routed an army and killed a king.

Credit: Waiting for the Word.
Then there's Mary Magdalene. While all the men were hiding behind locked doors, women had the courage to go to the Roman-guarded tomb of Christ. Regular, gutsy women. Mary was the first person Jesus said hi to. The chosen first witness. The one told to preach the news to the men.

I cry every Easter when I read about that encounter. God chooses women when nobody else will.

Still, the interpretations I heard about these strong-women passages were male-centered. The Deborah's story charged men not to be cowards and miss out on opportunities for heroism. The Fall happened because Adam didn't step up and stop his wife. It's not like she had free will or anything. Mary Magdalene was skipped over. Ruth showed -- actually, they were never clear what she showed.

Real men take charge. Women can be strong sometimes, but that's not the way it's supposed to be. The Bible says so.

Nobody ever said this: it was the undertone. Kids pick up on implication, perhaps even more than adults. I grew up with all my strength and heroinism locked away. As a teen, I fought to figure out how to be the woman I was supposed to be. I didn't think I could be a warrior too.

Obviously, I do now.

About a month ago, I read William Paul Young's new book, Eve. It offered new perspectives on the act of creation, God and gender, and the Fall.

Full disclosure: I found parts of the story problematic. Young skimmed over a few important points about the experience of trauma. It was also poorly written, full of overdescription. Young didn't make me care about the characters. At the same time, stakes and tension were high, so I both did and didn't want to keep reading.

Regardless of the quality, the ideas are important ones we need to talk about.

Like the idea Adam and Eve's Falls were separate events with separate choices. The fact that women have some of the biggest roles in the Biblical narrative, and they're not flat characters. Most of all, the depiction of God giving birth to mankind from a divine womb through a holy vagina. God as a mother nursing children at their breasts.

These concepts aren't new. Jesus referred to himself as a mother. We connect God creating with birth. But like Paul, we often venerate pregnancy and parenting, not womanhood in its entirety.

Jodi Picoult's Keeping Faith taught me the Hebrew word for the Spirit is ruach. And ruach is feminine. God possesses a divine femininity that is equal to, not less than, God's divine masculinity. God is womanhood in its entirety.

Despite its faults, I appreciated the womanly imagery in Eve. It elevated femaleness to equal glory as that which maleness has had all these years.

It also used "they" for God.

I love this. God is all of femininity and masculinity: "he" misrepresents God, cutting women out. Modern English uses "they" for both plural and gender-free singular.

Thus using "they" for God expresses (1) God is plural within singular, echad, (2) God is not one gender, and (3) that includes God being all the genders we don't have pronouns for.

Genderqueer individuals' Preferred Pronoun is often "they." I see beauty in using it for God too. Genderqueer encompasses many identities. But at its heart is the idea that gender is female, and male, and both, and neither, and something else, and all at once.

Which is what God is, too.

They are a lot bigger than we can imagine, right?

Word count: 761.

* For the record, complementarianism isn't incompatible with feminism. Most complementarians I know live a rather egalitarian / feminist / equal lifestyle with their partner.
I turned egal because all the complem's I knew were modeling excellent egalitarianism. The equal-dignity-separate-roles mindset was just a holdover from the strong patriarchy of previous generations. Even though we give men and women different titles, they inhabit the same roles all the time. Nobody bats an eye until we try to call a woman "pastor."