The way that we talk about the divine matters.
I have been wrestling with this notion for some time now. I realize that when I talk about the divine, I am typically revealing my beliefs about what I think is good, beautiful, and worthy to be admired—whether I explicitly acknowledge this or I just implicitly believe this.
I have also come to a place where I no longer hold to what felt like such a narrow view of the divine. It is as if the divine has been unleashed in my heart and mind from this small box in which I thought had captured the divine.
When I talk about the divine, I’m not only reveling what I want to be truth or what I hope to be the larger-than-life thing that I can cling to, I’m also making a suggestion to others about what they can regard as larger than life, beautiful and true.
And because my (and our) talk about God/the divine has the power to both reveal and shape, it is essential that we take the time to think about the way that we talk about the divine mystery.
For most of my life, I have been in churches that spoke about the divine as if the divine mystery were a male. Almost every time (the exceptions to this rule were truly exceptions), my fellow churchgoers and I would talk about God by using the pronouns: he, him, and his. “Praise him! Bless his holy name! He’s a good God” The list of phrases are endless. But real.
And in some contexts, the way that this played out fairly explicitly was through patriarchal structures. The leadership in the church was exclusively or predominantly male. Men were the ones who had the power to make decisions in the church. Women performed roles that did not exercise authority. So of course, the deity that we worshipped was masculine—because the deity exercised ultimate authority.
But then I encountered beautiful churches that were particularly intentional in their language about God. They did not use masculine pronouns to talk about God. Instead, sentences sounded more like this: “Praise God! Bless God’s holy name! God is a good God”. This was an interesting approach. Instead of using any pronouns to talk about God, we solved the problem by avoiding pronouns altogether.
The downside to this approach has been that I notice that while the leadership in such churches is quick to adopt a pronoun-less God, the churchgoers are not so quick to catch on. I continue to hear God referred to as “he” by the churchgoers.
And so I wonder…is it enough to simply strip God of pronouns?
Furthermore, I wonder, what would it look like to use a diversity of pronouns to talk about this God which both transcends and embodies gender? What would it look like to refer to God as “she”? Can you imagine how it would feel for a little girl in Sunday School to know that God does not have to be referred to as a boy? Can you imagine what it would feel like to learn that God is not a boy or a girl? Can you imagine what it would be like if churches started saying, “Praise her! Bless her holy name! She is a good God”? Can you imagine what this would do for a culture that has struggled to believe women’s stories?
And what if we move from imagining to speaking?
And from speaking, what if we move into living a more egalitarian, just way?
“She has shown you, humanity, what is good?
And what does Mother God require of you?
But to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our Mother your God.”
–The Prophet Micah