28 Feb “If God is male, then male is God.” (pt 2)
This is part two of a post about how my understanding that God is male got in the way of me figuring out what I want. You can just read this post (it will still make sense), or you might like to read part one first. You can read part one here.
The idea that God is male is deeply ingrained. Inside the church and outside of it.
For a long time this didn’t bother me. I didn’t even think about it. It was just the way it was and had always been. But in the last decade, as I have woken up to the destructive influence of the patriarchy, and become braver to challenge the beliefs I thought were sacrosanct, only knowing God as male has stopped being okay.
It has become a big problem.
Growing up I only knew a male God. I was told I was to be more like him, more like Jesus. This was the goal, this would make my church leaders and those in authority happy, but more importantly I was told this would make God himself happy. But how could I be myself: wholly female, and be like an apparently wholly male God?
It was impossible.
Although it was never articulated (the male-ness of God was never the focus of any meeting I went to or preach I heard) some part of me accepted that as a woman there would always be a gap between what God wanted from me, a cis-gender woman, and what I was able to be. This seemed implicit in the stories I heard from the Bible; women were either absent or bit players in the drama or in the case of Eve and Lot’s wife and Jezebel they were the reason men fell from glory*. It was hard to find enough, or any, role models.
The not-quite-enoughness of women was reflected in the world around me; men in charge, men making most of the money, men ruling countries and governments and businesses and churches. The world made sense because as Mary Daly writes, “if God is male then male is God”.
Despite my outspoken feminist beliefs, on some level I accepted this as truth. I accepted that men would be in power. Some part of me believed this was God-ordained. Although I never consciously thought it or articulated it deep down I believed if God was male then surely there must be some special authority or power bestowed on the male gender which I was never going to be able to attain. How else could I make sense of the inequality?
This belief seemed to be confirmed inside the church, and not simply in the leadership and authority structures. It was also taught as ‘God’s best’ within marriage and in the home. I was told that the man was the head of the household, that men had been granted the ultimate authority by God. Although men and women were meant to be partners and lead their families together, ultimately if it came down to a disagreement and a couple couldn’t figure out the way forward, the husband should get the deciding vote. I was told it was a relief to not have to have this responsibility, that I should be grateful not to have this burden. The ‘wives submit to your husband’ verses were used to explain and substantiate this.**
And so I accepted the way it was. I realised I couldn’t be like the God I had been introduced to, the male God of authority and power, of warfare and justice and discipline. I took my place as helper, supporter, even going as far as to say ‘obey’ in my marriage vows***.
Until recently I had never heard of the sacred feminine. I didn’t know God could be anything other than male. As I wrote in my last post, this idea would have seemed dangerous to me at the time (all the language for a female expression of God, priestess, Goddess etc, associated with new age beliefs or the occult). And so I didn’t try to locate my inner feminine sacredness. I didn’t know it existed.
Instead I looked outside of myself for wisdom and truth, I looked to a male God and the (mainly male) leaders in the church, and the christian books (mainly written by men) to tell me how and who to be. Without realising I was doing it, I had shut down a part of myself. I had silenced my knowing.
In The Dance Of the Dissident Daughter****, Sue Monk Kidd writes;
“My exclusive identification with a Father in heaven had encouraged my estrangement from my female self, from earth, nature, Mother and the wisdom and validation of these things.”
And this doesn’t just affect me, a 40-something woman living in Liverpool painfully and carefully deconstructing her faith. It affects ALL WOMEN, especially those brought up in a religious environment that consistently refers to the sacred as male. When the unique experiences, abilities, skills and very nature of women are not regularly described as sacred and holy, when God is not referred to using female pronouns, when the female traits and nature of God are not explored and discussed, women are excluded. They learn to exclude themselves because they find no place to flourish, and men (sometimes without realising it and other times very deliberately) exclude them. For how can a women hold the same influence or have the same access to a God she can’t see herself, or be seen in?
(just a pic of my son many years ago to lighten things up, it all got a bit intense!)
Initially as I started to investigate this idea I wanted to throw everything out and start again. To get rid of all male expressions for God, to reject Father God of my youth. This felt appealing. My anger desired it.
(And boy is anger essential on this journey – more on that another time.)
But as I have thought and listened and read and learnt to trust myself, I have realised in order to meet the Divine: ultimate love, ultimate power and ultimate grace, I needed to find a way to know God as both male and female. I have to find new ways to think about her***** which, as Richard Rohr writes “transcend and include” what has come before.
That is to say, I’m trying not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but instead to find a way of expanding my understanding of God, not replacing it. My old ways of thinking about God were not wrong, they were just incredibly limited (which sounds better but honestly was just as dangerous as them being wrong).
It is like being given a glass of water but never being taken to the ocean.
Both of them are water, and someone might try and tell you they are essentially the same thing, but if you have stood on the shore and watched the waves crashing, you know they aren’t.
If my old understanding was contained, manageable and simple to explain, the new truths I am leaning into are vast and beautiful, wild and unknowable, thrilling.
We need to see the female God (maybe we could call her Goddess… too scary? okay don’t worry, we can take baby steps) and learn to know her. We need to recognise the sacred feminine in our spaces of worship and in our everyday lives. This won’t be easy, the presence of a male God is so culturally normalised it is going to take some serious disruption to make this happen.
But ultimately I believe it is only when we start to understand the impact of thinking of God or ultimate goodness and authority as exclusively male that we can start to discover why so many of us find it is so hard to know what we want.
We can only know what we want by knowing who we are. And to know who we are we have to learn not to dismiss our gut feelings, our intuition, the still small voice that speaks from the deepest part of us. We have to learn how to hear the voice of the sacred from within, because we are made in the image of the Divine.
Only then will we be women who know their sacred worth, confident to trust themselves; their instincts, their heart, their mind, their will, their emotions.
Only then can we begin to know what we want.
* Yes, I know there are books like where the woman plays the lead (like Esther) but let’s be honest, women who are in key roles in the Bible are the exception not the rule. For every preach I’ve heard on Esther or Mary I’ve heard 20 on Joshua or Paul (maybe make that 200).
**This was not unusual doctrine in the evangelical church at the time, or even today. If anything the church I attended was on the liberal side when it came to the role of women, encouraging women to be fully active in the life of the church -or as fully active as they could imagine at the time- inviting women to preach and lead worship.
***I know, I know. I can’t believe it either. What can I say? I was young. And – you don’t know what you don’t know.
****This book is incredible and it will change your life.
*****Yes I have started using female pronouns to remind me God is also female – funnily enough I don’t need reminding God is male too!
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