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Friday, December 19, 2003

If there weren't goofy nuns, we'd have to invent them.

Sr. Elizabeth Johnson has liberated herself from all that patriarchal rot, and is heralding the era of the celestial transgendered parent-figure.

Permit me to wield a koan: What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Today, both women and men are questioning our reliance on male language for God.

We call them "jaded boomers." And/or "Jesuits." And/or "theologians."

And "very, very tiresome."

They are rediscovering female imagery for the divine long hidden in Scripture and tradition.

Surprisingly, it is so well hidden that you have to strain unbelievably hard to see it. For a long, long time.

Without blinking.

Or breathing.

Until the spots appear before your eyes.

In fact, from here it looks like a fluffy bunny with draining sinuses. Or a cloud.

Feminist artists, poets, composers, and theologians are fashioning new images for God out of women's experience.

They sure are! The more transgressive, the better!

Nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of remaking God when you've gotten bored with him/her/it/fluffy.

Language about God is expanding gender-wise, even to the point of referring to the divine mystery as "She." I believe that there is a strong theological argument in favor of such language.

Stop the presses! We need a new headline: Nun Who Took Vows In The Sixties Reimages God As Feminist Professor.

Who'd a thunk it?

"Say, Miriam, your daughter is turning out to be quite the carpenter!


Well--what's her problem?"

Numerous biblical texts offer potent female images of God. God as childbearer: giving birth, midwifing, nursing, and holding an infant. God as an angry mother bear robbed of her cubs. God as homemaker: knitting, baking, washing up, searching for her money. God as the female figure of Wisdom: creating, ordering, and saving the world.

The last remarkably like, say, I don't know--feminist theology professors?

In fact, the personification of God as Lady Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs and elsewhere provides one of the earliest interpretive frameworks for Christology. Jesus is even called the Wisdom of God in the New Testament. Furthermore, the spirit is often presented in female metaphors.

As is usually the case, a couple of essential granules of truth surrounded by a thick coating of meadow muffin.

Yes, Christ is called the wisdom of God, but here's the context, a contrast of worldly "wisdom" with the divine. He's also called "the power of God" in the same verse, but let's not talk about that.

Yes, wisdom is often referred to as "she," but the Almighty identifying himself as "Lady Wisdom" is, at best, a stretch. In any event, Jewish understanding didn't draw the feminist conclusions Sr. does (stunning), and also called wisdom God's (ahem!) "firstborn son."

[Ben Fong-Torres voice: "Crazy."]

For some literal-minded believers,

Read: "the undegreed monkey-trial jury pool with unenlightened tendencies to take sections of the texts at face value."

however, the we are not free to expand our God-language in this way. They argue that Jesus himself spoke to and about God as father (abba) and that He taught His disciples to do likewise.

Yeah, what are they thinking? When you pray...I and the Father are one knows the Father except the Son, etc.

"Obviously, intensive catechetical rehabilitation is needed immediately. I envision a church--er, community-- where every parish has set up its own re-education center, re-edits the hymnal, lectionary and missal...."

Such an argument sets its sights too narrowly. Jesus' language about God, far from being gender-exclusive, is diverse and colorful in its reference to the sexes, as can be seen in the imaginative parables He created: the woman searching for her lost coin (female), the shepherd looking for his lost sheep (male), the baker kneading her dough (female), the traveling businessman (male), the employer offending some his workers by his generosity to others (male). Jesus used these and many other human and cosmic metaphors (such as blowing wind),

One rebuttal example will suffice: look at the parable of the lost coin, nestled as it is among the other repentence parables in Luke. Then at the end of this set of parables (the dishonest steward immediately precedes), what does Jesus describe them as? Symbolic of...wait for it..."the kingdom of God."

If only Jesus had attended Prof. Johnson's class....

in addition to the good and loving things that fathers do.

Whatever those things are. If I think real hard, I'm sure I can come up with something....

A final argument for using female symbols for God arises from the practical effects of God-language on the church.

"Currently, the bastards won't ordain me!"

Imagery for God helps us understand the world. The way a faith community talks about God indicates what it considers the highest good, the profoundest truth. This language, in turn, molds the community's behavior, as well as its members' self-understanding.

Orwell would heartily agree.

"Further, that behavior and self-understanding must be as inoffensive (to me), unconfrontational (to me), and neuter as possible. If you don't like it, then you and your sloped forehead brethren can take it to the Southern Baptists or the PCA."

Resistance is futile. You will service us.

The fact that Christians ordinarily speak about God in the image of a male ruler is problematic.

Especially for radical feminist American nuns.

For feminist theology, the difficulty does not lie with the male metaphors.

Think "meadow muffin," without the redeeming granules.

Men as well as women are created in the image of God. The problem lies in the fact that the specific male images reflect a patriarchal arrangement of the world, casting God into the mold of an omnipotent, even if benevolent, monarch.

What a ludicrous image, indeed.

"We're Americans! Kings--puh-leeze!

We have no king but Caesar!"

God’s maternal relation to the world is eclipsed.
Incorporating female-centered divine images reverses this. She is the giver of life who pervades the cosmos like a mother bird hovering over the primordial chaos (Genesis 1:2). She shelters those in difficulty under Her wings (Psalm 17:8) and bears up the enslaved on Her great wings toward freedom (Exodus 19:4). Like a mother, She knits new life together in the womb (Psalm 139:13); like a midwife, She works deftly to bring about the new creation (Psalm. 22:9-10); like a washerwoman, She scrubs away bloody stains of sin (Psalm. 51:7). These and other such symbols invoke the exuberant, life-giving power of women.

"I mean, can you imagine a man--a phallocentrist--doing any of that? Ha!"

Who has the warped understanding of gender again?

Such symbols are but modest starting points for a more inclusive God-talk.

Yeesh--I'd hate to see the radical program.

Developing these symbols today is a theologically central task for the whole church. But the living God and the vitality of the faith community require that a more inclusive way of speaking about divine mystery be developed. God reimagined in female terms can breathe new life into religious language and symbols that bear the ancient responsibility of conveying what is most holy, loving, merciful, just, and wise.

"Because, Sophia knows, we're bored to death with the idea of a fatherly God, and the notion that masculine terms could ever convey 'what is most holy, loving, merciful, just, and wise' causes gales of uproarious laughter here in the enlightened sisterhood."

Another forty years in the wilderness, folks.

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