Thursday, March 08, 2007

International Women's Day - God's face with a splash of pink?

Wisdom 6:12-16 (NRSV)
Wisdom is radiant and unfading,
and she is easily discerned by those who love her,
and is found by those who seek her.
She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.
One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty,
for she will be found sitting at the gate.
To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding,
and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care,
because she goes about seeking those worthy of her,
and she graciously appears to them in their paths,
and meets them in every thought.

Christ Sophia, Icon by Robert Lentz: "Christ Sophia is depicted in this icon in an egg-shaped mandala. The inscription in her halo is Greek for " I am who am," The divine name given Moses at the burning bush on Sinai. The Greek inscriptions in the upper corners are abbreviations for "Jesus Christ," her historical manifestation. She holds the ancient statue called "Venus of Willendorf," and points to herself as if to say, " I am she. Know me more fully.""

Every March 8, many activities are held to celebrate the economic, political, and social achievements of women, and to remember the work that needs to be done.

And on this day, Christians should take a good, hard look in the mirror. For centuries, we have had a male priesthood preaching a male God, or at best a gender-neutral God. But even in the latter case, if a male priesthood is doing the preaching, God ends up being called gender-neutral but acting pretty much like one of the guys.

However, God encompasses and transcends both male and female. The Book of Wisdom is one of the Jewish scriptures. Although they never told us about it in my church growing up, many Christians also consider it part of Scripture. When God is referred to as Wisdom, God is always a She. Wisdom dwells among humankind, seeking to draw us in and teach us Her ways.

It's one thing to ordain women, and to have them as priests, bishops, and teachers in seminaries. It's one thing to change our language, to say, for example, God is my Mother. Those are surface actions. But it's another thing to be able to experience God acting like a woman on a deep level. In the book, Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Sue Monk Kidd argues that masculinity is oriented toward the future, towards heaven, and towards transcendence, while femininity is oriented towards the present, towards earth, and towards immanence. Masculine Christianity orients towards heaven at the expense of earth, towards spirituality at the expense of sensuality. It denigrates earth and sensuality as sinful, broken, and unclean. Sue argues that women have always been, through their experiences of the menstrual cycle and pregnancy, with the rhythms of nature, and that men, by nature, cannot be as in tune with these as women.

The results are that in real life, Roman Catholics hold up celibacy as the ideal. Sex is seen as unclean. And the Roman Catholic Church is one of the greatest enemies of women's health and sexual health. For example, a cardinal once said that money spent on condoms in AIDS should be used on anti-retroviral drugs instead. Another example is my post on Casa Materna, where I mentioned that the RCC in Nicaragua lobbied against abortions and birth control, and left women risking their health to have upwards of ten children each.

I'm not going to spare Protestants either: remember the ex-President elect of the Christian Coalition, who quit after they refused to expand their agenda to include issues aside from sex. Additionally, when Christians evangelized to many indigenous cultures, they took those restrictive sexual mores with them. Many indigenous peoples had greater acceptance of homosexuality and/or gender variance - see my post on Wei-Wa of Zuni for an example. After the Christians came, they turned their backs on that facet of their cultures.

And of course, there is often resistance to feminine images of God. A while back I mentioned that the Diocese of Michigan put up some advertisements on billboards, one of which said "God is my Mother," and that one particular church vehemently denied that God was their mother. Sue Monk Kidd started out in the Southern Baptist Church, which actively taught that women were inferior to men and not worthy of leadership positions in the church. She soon moved to the Episcopal Church, but there too, she faced resistance to acknowledging the wounds that masculine Christianity inflicts on the spirits of women.

“How many times can a woman betray her soul before it gives up and ceases calling to her at all?” Monk Kidd says that women are in desperate need of an awakening to their feminine spirits. Women, and men, are blind to that essential facet of ourselves. I offer an example of what happens if we don't awaken: God has sent us many women prophets. We have often failed to listen. There are those who ignore the evidence that women served as leaders in the early Christian church, and demand that they be excluded from our leadership now. Or sometimes, we listen, but we also pigeonhole: Joan of Arc was a soldier and apparently a successful military leader, but she was a virgin; Saints Clare and Julian were nuns, sworn to celibacy; Mary Magdalene is seen, incorrectly, as a repentant prostitute. If a woman prophet came along, with a message that's inconsistent with our notions of what women do, will we be able to hear?

Many women have turned their backs completely on the Christian tradition, finding that it alienates an essential part of their beings. Similarly, many LGBT folk have done the same, because not only do they find themselves alienated, they also find themselves told that they're going to hell for loving people of the same gender. These losses pain me. I want to share my Jesus with all who will hear, but many have been hurt too much to listen.

And so, I offer this icon of Christ Sophia, of Jesus Christ as a woman, inviting us to know her more closely. This is the face of God, with a splash of pink. Churches have always been guilty of being too slow to change. Right now, we are not worshipping God in Her completeness ... but God does have a way of coming to us in surprising incarnations.

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1 comment:

Athanasius said...

Just a point concerning the biblical Wisdom. In the Old testament wisdom is personified as a woman. Wisdom, in these passages, NEVER refer to Yahweh, or God. In fact in the passges (which are poetical, not literal) Proverbs 1:20 states: "Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets:"

In Proverbs 8:22 Wisdom (personified)says "Yahweh possessed me in the beginning of his work, before his deeds of old."

No, Wisdom is an attribute of the Lord, but it is not Him.

Proper biblical interpretation does not take poetic devices to be literal.