Friday, April 03, 2009

God and Gender

The sidebar poll question was: How do you think about God?
The results, to the extent that I can cut and paste:

Always male
10 (12%)

Always female
1 (1%)

Sometimes male, sometimes female
26 (33%)

No gender
41 (52%)

The Holy Spirit is female; the other persons are male
1 (1%)

Scripture is clear on this; why are you even asking?
2 (2%)

I don't think about God
1 (1%)


I wish folks had comented more! (See the previous post.) Some apparently answered in terms of how they describe God rather than how they think about or imagine God. A couple answered that "Scripture is clear" ~ but I have no idea what their conclusions are as to what Scripture proclaims.

I think I answered both Sometimes male, sometimes female, and No gender, which would be the most accurate abbreviated response for me. I refer to God and the Spirit as God and the Spririt or, sometimes when the text is just impossibly replete with pronouns, I alternate masculine with with feminine ones, because, in contrast to what some others apparently presume, I am really really really bothered and disturbed by consistent references in readings, liturgy, hymns, prayers, sermons, and conversation, to God as "He" or "Him" ~ enough so that they affect my experience of worship in a profondly negative way.

I am, actually, surprised by the number of No gender answers, which no doubt reflects something about the readership of this blog. The questions then becomes, what does it reflect about God?

16 comments:

Joan Calvin said...

Hmmm, I think I entered no gender. That is a theological statement for me, I suppose, not the way I imagine God. I'm not sure I imagine God. I experience God, or rather the holy, but it's not personal as if I were meeting you in a coffee shop. I hadn't really thought about that before: I don't experience God as a person. I experience God in awe, in beauty, in the giving of the bread in communion. I suppose my experience of God is how I imagine God.

Sophia said...

Great poll, Gannet. I tried to comment repeatedly on that post the other day--hopefully this one will work.

Obviously the technically correct answer is no gender (except for Jesus) and I most often use neutral language myself and believe that is the most honoring of everyone's diverse experience, especially in public liturgy/preaching and spiritual direction.

I put sometimes male and sometimes female, though, because it comes the closest to my experience, which is something more like almost 2/3 female and 1/3 male. The most strong female Person is the Mother, for sure, and I agree with you that the ubiquitous hes and fathers are spiritually abusive (well, that's my word--very damaging anyway). They blot out most people's potential experience of Her and I had to fight them for years personally. Sophia is now the most resonant term for me and I differ from many in that from using the name primarily for God in general/Creator/First Person rather than Second, or Third. I also use she for God in safe contexts, including with my kids who both prefer it and use it too (though FiestaBoy did this before I did so it's not just my influence). I think it's very important for us to do this as often as possible to counteract the over use of he.

Jesus is male, and here I differ from some other folks as radically theologically feminist as I in believing that is true (though I don't know exactly what it look like of course) in his risen body. I won't be a neuter icky blob in heaven, I hope, and he isn't in my experience either. This doesn't mean the Second Person was male pre-incarnation, though, nor that it/she/he had to incarnate in that form.

The Holy Spirit is sort of feminine and I use the term Shekinah, which is, in my personal trinitarian breath prayer (Sophia, Jesus, Shekinah). But also the most non-human for me--fire, water, fragrance, even birds (though egrets/herons/wild geese more than doves). More diffuse, so maybe it can work here too--but she is definitely better than he if using a gendered pronoun. Though I have fond memories of a grad school friend who experienced the Spirit as Fred Astaire....

Okay, hope that isn't too long for a comment!

Gannet Girl said...

Well, I wouldn't use words like obviously or spiritually abusive or damaging . . . but I appreciate the interesting comment!

Sophia said...

Sorry if I put words in your mouth--I guess I took really really really bothered and disturbed and profoundly negative to roughly equate with damaging.

The obvious just meant that if as in traditional Christian theology/classical philosophy God is pure Spirit and not physical then He/She/It is not really either male or female, but of course we all need and find our own images and metaphors to connect. And since we experience persons as gendered that often enters into it. But perhaps you were only referring to personal experience/preferred metaphor and not God in Godself in any way....And of course we don't know that that transcendent mystery is and the folk pagan or Mormon understandings which incorporate real gender in divinity could be right.

Lisa :-] said...

My personal feeling is that we do the Creator an immense disservice by trying to assign It something as human/corporeal as gender. I realize we are trying to put the Unknowable into terms to which we can relate, but, as with everything human beings do, we tend to OVERdo. We then beat each other over the heads with conflicting interpretations...

Sophia said...

To follow up on Lisa's point--I started with the no gender technicality because as a theologian I find that really important, as well as balancing the current masculine language with feminine (and natural, conceptual, etc.).

Some people threatened by feminist theology think we want to reverse the present dominance of male language and imagery, but of course Christian ones don't (unlike Dianic pagans, and even they are happy for men to worship male deities!) It's a very personal thing....I don't use Father language in my own prayer and I often go silent in liturgies when it comes up, but I will use it in prayer and spiritual direction (or liturgies I'm presiding at, balanced when possible) to honor people's experience of God as loving Father, which I rejoice in for them though it doesn't float my boat.

On the group level, besides making liturgies more fruitful for those whose personal experience of God is female or both, the clash of having both used also immediately raises the question of how this can be so....And opens the way for the crucial answer that God is way beyond all of that but we need a multiplicity of images and metaphors to relate to God. The problem with the constant male language is that it fosters an assumption that God really is male somehow, even if supposedly this isn't the case--which is proven by the fact that people who say He and Father actually describe a genderless Spirit flip out if you use She or Mother.

mompriest said...

I think of God as gendered, both male and female but also as more than a gendered Being.

I prefer the concept of God as Being, and gendered, because that is the way in which I know relationship and love - in, with, and through other human beings (in particular). I think about what it means to be made in God's image - God's image contains what it means to be a human being, male and female.

But also, in the Incarnation, we learn that God chooses human form to express God's self, God's Word. God chooses human being as the way inwhich to be known. For Christians God has made God's self known in Jesus.

But scripture also teaches us that God can also make God's self known in and through us. That's where the power of the Holy Spirit manifests herself. and, yeah, I do think of the Holy Spirit as she. I always have...

Daisy said...

I had answered always male. Perhaps because I'm just used to hearing He. Perhaps some of that is because, as a kid, we mostly spoke in French and there is no neuter so nouns are pretty firmly entrenched in my brain as being feminine or masculine.

And perhaps because, for all the years I fought being a "christian", I also fought the idea of the God that I'd grown up with and tried to force myself to think of Him as an "it". Since I obviously lost the first battle, I'm not all that hung up on the second. (To be honest, I actually still see God as having a very long white beard! Ha! Ah well, whatcha gonnna do? I guess some day he'll set me straight.)

Mich

Gannet Girl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gannet Girl said...

I am enjoying these comments so much, agreements and disagreements both.

I do experience God as a person, absolutely...I imagine God all the time. . .

My Christology course last quarter demonstrated to me quite clearly that I have no affinity whatever for the technical with reference to God. . .

I do not believe that the most strong female person is the Mother...perhaps Wisdom. . . I suppose because I know many extraordinary women who are not mothers . . .

I am not clear how God could be both pure Spirit and also Jesus. . . an essential part of being Christian for me is God as embodied human being. . .

What fascinates me here is the reminder that when we are teaching or preaching or praying out loud or leading worship or conversing, we need to be cognizant that the experience of God in any given community of whatever size is likely to be varied and multilayered . . .

Ignatius was so right to emphasize magnaminity and accomodation in our engagement with one another on the subject of God . . .

Beach Walkin said...

I entered no gender... it's because the choice... God is male and female... wasn't a choice on the poll.

Gannet Girl said...

Excellent point! Wish I had known in time to add it -

Stratoz said...

strangely (for me) when I enter prayer, I use Lord. a word I had much trouble with in the past, but have fallen into using with love and adoration.

Michael said...

That's deep.

I tend to think about God as Beyond Definition. We cannot put Him in a box, because He made the box.

Sarah S-D said...

i answered no gender because I do believe that God, in all God's fullness, is beyond gender. But perhaps the better answer is no gender/all gender, because I believe that who we are, in all our human particularity, flows from God. And that includes all the in-between gendered realities too... I don't think that because God chose to reveal Godself in Jesus, a man, that that means that God has to be gendered. The incarnation is about God taking human form to be with us- human beings are gendered- therefore when God became human God acquired gender. And yet... in order for humans to have gender that must have something to do with our creator... so... yes... in a sense God has gender. I amend my answer to no gender/all gender.

I realize that trying to theologize in a sleep deprived state is probably not helping your feelings about theologians. Sorry for being clear as mud.

And I came by to give you a hug after reading a post that has now disappeared. ((((gg))))

Seagurl said...

I think about God (traditionally called the "Father" in the Trinity) as the parental unit, male and female, completely complete while also ever-changing; reproducing, creating new life. God is always growing yet always constant. God is at the far ends of the Universe while also right in our hearts. God is parts and God is One.