Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. It’s been about 5 months since my last blog post.
Yes, I know. That’s a long time!
I’ll admit time’s gone by faster than expected, and I apologize to my #worthyreaders for the abruptness of my disappearance from the interwebs. I’m grateful for your patience.
That being said, let me catch you up.
Long story short, I’ve started seminary! There are two reasons why I decided to get my Certificate of Pastoral Studies. No, one of them is not becoming a pastor.
First, I’ve felt spiritually stagnant for some time. Perhaps 1-3 years. The best way to describe it is the age-old marriage analogy. The whole Christ as the groom and church as the bride one? Yeah, let me adapt that.
I never had the experience new Christians have when they first fall in love with Jesus because I was raised Christian my whole life. It was more like an arranged marriage. And while I can honestly say I’ve always loved God and followed Jesus to the best of my ability, after 27 years, it’s exhausting to maintain this relationship.
Of course, I’m committed to my faith. Like any committed spouse, then, I spiced things up. I started by reflecting on the times in my life when I felt closest to God. There was Christian camp as a teenager, my two mission trips at the end of college, and a few years ago when I went through the most difficult life obstacles I’ve ever faced.
Then, I spoke about these reflections and my existential crisis to my mom, dad, and dad’s girlfriend, all of whom are pastors. They brought up the idea of seminary, especially a liberal one. Not for a degree as I already have my master’s and don’t plan to pursue a theological career like them per se. Perhaps some kind of certificate course. It could just be the infusion of new life my faith needed.
They also helped me realize the second reason why going to seminary would be beneficial. My writing has always centered on the idea that God gave me this talent. I distinctly remember being in Christian camp as a teenager and having a youth leader I’d never met before, who didn’t even know my name, pray for me. He paused mid prayer, saying he didn’t know why, but he felt in his heart that God wanted him to tell me I’m a writer. To start with a journal or something, but God wanted me to write.
To this day, clearly, I enjoy writing about spiritual topics, especially with social justice ones. Whether its creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, you name it. I’ll admit that I’ve questioned why God’s called me to this when all I have under my belt is a lifelong love for God, English and social work degrees, and a passion for making the world a better place. I don’t have any degrees in theology or ministry. I’m not a biblical scholar.
So, at the risk of discrediting everything I’ve ever written, what do I know?
That’s how I decided seminary could help me with both the growth of my faith and my ability to witness through my writing. I’d actually have some kind of formal education to back up what the heck I’m talking about.
That’s all an incredibly long preamble to the topic for today’s post: a genderfluid God.
The concept came up while doing an assignment for my Theology and Theological Language course. We had to do a language journal where we kept track of how our language for God did or didn’t change throughout the course, especially as we challenged ourselves to use different names for God than usual in our prayers.
I enjoyed the experience so much that I thought I would include some journal entries for today’s post. Please keep in mind that they’re edited, as this was a homework assignment. Some things are easier to discuss between an instructor and a student than a blogger and the internet. I also want to protect the identity of the people I reference. I hope that’s understandable.
Well! Now that’s settled, here’s what I’ve got:
Week 3: 8/15/21 - 8/20/21
This week we’re arguing the difference between what’s true and factual in our online discussion posts. In my response, I also brought up what’s considered “right” in Christian relationship.
If I’ve learned anything, it’s that what’s “right” and “true” depends on, well, the “fact” of the circumstances. For example, what’s right in one context might not be so in another, depending on who you ask. Lying is considered a sin no matter what. Yet, I’m sure most, including Christians, would think the “right” thing to do would be to lie if a murderer shows up at your door and asks where your kids are in order to murder them.
Well, I guess Kant would be the exception!
For “truth”, I’ve learned as a social worker that there are different versions of the truth. Take the cylinder example. There’s a light shining in one direction and showing a circle while the other side shows a rectangle. Likewise, there are multiple points of view that are equally “truthful” and valid as the others. I know I pissed off my Bible study group in college when I gave my opinion that “truth” is relative after someone said something about Jesus being the truth. When it comes to God and Jesus, I don’t think anyone has the whole truth, or can see the cylinder as my previous example mentioned.
I believe every religion has some piece of the puzzle “right”, which has “truth”. Only together can we even get a glimpse into what the whole “truth” is, though. The “fact” is that we won’t see the result until we are no longer on this earth. I recognize this is unconventional thinking about God and faith. And I understand that this belief is less shaped by Christian tradition than my personal experience, but it’s what I believe.
Before this course, I had already gotten used to my own unconventional language for God. Another example would be how I don’t use the term “Father” for God, nor do I think in that kind of terminology, unless I’m reciting the Lord’s Prayer. The reason is because I’ve never had the best relationship with my own biological dad and stepdad. Thinking of God as Father when I was younger was appealing because I felt like I didn’t have any other good father. Eventually, though, it became less relevant the older I got and more of a feminist I became. In the end, I thought of God as a genderless parental spirit.
Again, this is my “truth” and I’m not discounting the “truth” of God also being a Father for others. Though, like I told my fellow youth group member in high school, that doesn’t mean this is a “fact” either way. I guess I was a burgeoning feminist even back then!
Still, it wasn’t until I took this course that I realized I hadn’t considered this kind of thinking to be feminist theology beforehand. It’s making me question even my own genderless language for God. After all, if the “fact” is that God isn’t only a Father, doesn’t that also mean God could be a Mother? I’ve had a fantastic relationship with my mom. If I’m being “truthful”, the way I see my relationship with God is a lot more like the relationship I have with my mom. It’s caring, trusting, protective, nurturing, loving, and never wavers.
That’s why I’ve chosen to use the name “Mother” for my private prayers—I’m not a fan of public prayers—this next week to complete the assignment. Just the thought of doing so is interesting to me because I feel conflicted. I’ve gotten used to not referring to God as Father, but referring to God as Mother feels almost blasphemous. It’s almost as if a genderless God is less sinful than a feminine one. Of course, if I’ve learned anything from this class and feminist theology, it’s that I know this is societal. So, for today, August 20, 2021, I will start with saying the Lord’s Prayer and substituting “Father” with “Mother”.
Right off the bat, I can say that saying, “Our Mother who art in heaven,” was trippy. I mean, I literally tripped over the word as I prayed aloud to myself. Not that I stuttered on the word. I was just hesitant to finish it. I felt oddly uncomfortable at first, but then, as I continued the prayer, I seemed to sink down into a sense of comfort with the term. The name lingered on my tongue as I continued the prayer, giving new meaning to the other words. The thought of a Mother God having a kingdom, who gives us our daily bread, forgives, leads us away from temptation, delivers us from evil, and is glorified forever, is absolutely gorgeous! It seems so much more fitting than the concept of a Father God doing all these things.
Wow. What a beautiful experience. I look forward to seeing how the rest of this prayer experiment goes this week!
On this date, I had a conversation with my mom about my language journal. She’s a pastor, so I find it beneficial to talk out what I’m learning in my seminary courses in order to get feedback or be inspired in my reflections. I was a little worried to bring up the fact that my project goal for the week is to pray to God in the feminine as “Mother”. Yet, to my surprise, my mom was just as impressed as I was with the power behind this change.
I didn’t know she also struggled to think of God as a Father because of her own relationship with her dad. Apparently, my mom also thinks of God as a parent, though she still does occasionally slip into male pronouns. She mainly does so in Spanish, though, because it’s so difficult to speak genderless in that language. Still, it was a pleasant surprise when my mom also prayed the Lord’s Prayer with me using “Mother” instead of “Father”. We talked through the reflections that I had from the experience the first time I did it. It was nice to see that my mom agreed with me.
She also had a good point in bringing up the movie, The Shack. The film portrays God in many ways (spoiler alert!). One of them is as a Mother, played by an African American woman. The Holy Spirit appears as an Asian woman, too. The Wisdom side of God is also portrayed as a Latina woman. Now, Jesus is portrayed as male by a Middle Eastern actor. And God does also appear as a Father near the end of the film, played by a Native American man. For most of the movie, though God appears as a Mother, despite God still being referred to as “Papa” (Hazeldine, 2017).
I’m glad my mom brought up the movie because it reminded me how powerful the image of God is as a Mother. The main character also struggles to see God as a Father because of his poor relationship with his dad, plus his need to have a Mother since his biological mom abandoned him as a child (Hazeldine, 2017). In talking to my mom and remembering the film, I realized I’m not the only one. Others also find it more beneficial spiritually to think of God as a Mother too instead of only as a Father. How comforting!
I’m curious to see if this is something I’ll continue doing after this week or if I will revert to my genderless parental spirit image of God. We’ll see!
Today, being a Sunday, I put my “Mother God” concept into action. I went to two services—an English one at the church my mom’s bilingual ministry is in and the bilingual service itself. In the former service, I got the chance to do the Lord’s Prayer the way I’ve been practicing it for the last couple of days. I’ll admit that I felt cheeky being the only one in the entire congregation saying, “Our Mother” instead of “Our Father”. That was about the extent of that experience, though.
What truly struck me was in the bilingual service. Since we’re also a bicultural service, we do more upbeat music like Hispanic churches do. So, it was surprising to me to find myself moved to tears by trying to sing the songs with she/her pronouns. In Spanish, everything has pronouns, including inanimate objects. I switched a lot more pronouns than expected.
The result was inspiring!
For example, in New Life Worship’s “The Great I Am” in Spanish—“El Gran Yo Soy” by En Espíritu y en Verdad—the Spanish word for “the” is usually in the masculine. Singing that song in the feminine truly touched my heart. I suddenly envisioned God as a majestic, beautiful Mother with her arms outstretched and smiling down on us as we worshipped. As we sang other songs, the vision became clearer, like her wearing a crown because she is the Almighty Queen and with her son, Jesus, the King, the Christ, at her right-hand side.
My mom also gave a sermon about putting on the armor of God, based on Paul’s letter in Ephesians 6:10-18. As my mom talked about the breastplate, I pictured this new image of God wearing almost like a Valkyrie style armor with the flaming sword from the Garden of Eden. Powerful.
It has been a long time since I’ve felt that close to God, that loved by God. I felt like I was being hugged into God’s bosom, kissed on my forehead, and told that everything was going to be all right so long as I kept my faith. I also felt empowered being a woman myself, like I too could put on the armor of God as a female warrior in spirit. I left that final church service feeling renewed in my faith and ready to take on the world with my Mother God watching over me.
As I continued my day, another thought came to me. Reflecting on The Shack, as I mentioned in my last entry, I had a thought. If we need God to be a Father and other times as a Mother, does that not make God genderfluid? Perhaps God isn’t genderless, but all genders at once. Or maybe God is both genderless AND all genders at once. Or maybe God is genderless but can be perceived as all genders depending on what God feels we need like in the movie I just mentioned.
It’s definitely food for thought!
I understand how controversial my line of thinking right now would be if I talked publicly about these musings. Reminds me of a Jodi Picoult novel called Keeping Faith (spoiler alert!) where the main character’s daughter sees God and refers to God as she. Everyone freaks out. Feminists protest outside of a church with signs that say, “Our Mother who art in heaven”. The Catholic priest inside finds this blasphemy, which isn’t surprising because, as my mom reminded me recently, the Bible was written during a very patriarchal time. Thus, the Catholic church is patriarchal as well. Anyway, eventually, the priest realizes that maybe the little girl referred to God as she because in the vision a young Jesus appeared with long hair, no beard, and a tunic, which can be mistaken as a dress. To a little girl with limited understanding of gender, Jesus would look like a woman (Picoult, 1999).
When I first read this book, I was uncomfortable with the idea of God as she and was still figuring out why God as he bothered me. I’ve never had a problem with Jesus being identified as male. So, the priest’s revelation made sense and was easier for me to accept. Now, looking back, I’m saddened that the book had to find some kind of loophole for the idea of God as a woman. The book could’ve dug so much deeper into what that would look like. It just goes to show how engrained the image of a male God is in society.
I don’t want that to happen to me. I understand that this enthusiasm for a new name for God, while leading to an exciting new theological concept, has the danger of becoming idolatry. I’m trying to keep a level head as I find comfort in Mother God, often reminding myself that just because I’m picturing God this way doesn’t mean that God is actually a woman, nor is God actually a man. God is both, neither, and both and neither, all at once.
For now, a genderfluid God is good enough for me.
On this day, I’ve continued to meditate on the language for a genderfluid God.
The idea of God having no gender isn’t a new one. Yet, even within this context, God is masculine. For example, Thompkins (2015) mentions that “The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: ‘God is neither man nor woman: he is God’”. Truly, I don’t believe that God has a sex like we do in terms of male and female. That’s despite Genesis 1:27 saying God made us in his image as male and female.
Yet, the concept of gender, which does not require a specific sex, is something that can be argued for God. Let’s say God has no gender. Let’s move past the patriarchal need to refer to God with only masculine pronouns, and describe God with feminine characteristics like birthing creation. There’s no reason God can’t be genderfluid.
Today I’ve been meditating on a conversation I had with a friend of mine yesterday. I shared my theory on God being more like a Mother than a Father, at least in terms of the concept of God’s being. My friend thought my theory made sense. However, he imagines God like “an exploding star” where all matter comes from. He admitted that concept might be difficult to worship, though.
The language my friend used to describe God was powerful, even if he referred to God in a genderless way. I responded to my friend without judgement. I agreed that the Big Bang, which is what it sounded like my friend was describing, can definitely be seen by some as God or as God’s birthing of the universe and creation. I also explained that the reason people might struggle to worship God as an exploding star/Big Bang is that makes God difficult to relate to. My friend agreed, but still relates more to his idea of God.
I’m fascinated by how my friend and I use such distinct language for God. We both have different perceptions of God as well. Here I’ve been learning to see God’s being as a Mother through God’s feminine characteristics or in addition to God as a Father, creating the concept of a genderfluid God. And here’s my friend relating to God as an exploding star and the creation of matter in the universe, which is clearly a genderless concept.
Sometimes I’ve seen and expressed God as all that is good and the breath of life that is in everything from people to animals to the earth. When we die, the idea of returning to the dust we come from, as Genesis 3:19 says, makes sense to me as a way of returning to be with God. It’s a way of becoming one with God, and isn’t that therefore heaven? And if we all do that, isn’t that how we all get to be with one another again?
My friend has resurfaced another version of God that I have language for as well. So, it’s interesting to see how I can balance that with my newer perceptions of God in terms of gender. They complement one another. God may very well be this genderless force of nature. As such, God may tie all living things together through goodness, love, mercy, and breath. And God may also having the ability to appear to us in concepts of gender in order for us to relate to God.
Just more food for thought!
Today, one of my classmate’s posts touched me on our class discussion board online. She repeatedly used the term “Mama God”. I thought it was so sweet. Once again, I remembered the movie, The Shack. In it, the part of the Trinity that is God, not the Holy Spirit or Jesus, is referred to as “Papa”, named by the main character at a young age (Hazeldine, 2017). That reminded me how Spanish uses the term “Papa Dios” a lot as well, which literally translates to “Dad God”. So, my classmate’s post ended up making me think of the term “Mama Dios”, which literally translates to “Mom God”.
I think that’s some pretty nice language for God, no? It’s definitely more relatable than simply “Mother God”!
Well, today is the last day of my course! I’m grateful for the experience I’ve had with my classmates and instructor. I’ve learned a lot about how the language we use for God impacts the way we think and how we feel about our relationship with God as too.
For example, I’ve been using feminine terms for God for the past week already. “Mother”, “Mother God”, and “Mama Dios” are just some names I’ve used to refer to her. I’ve definitely noticed a shift in my faith. My thoughts about God have become more focused in a way that hasn’t happened for years now. Perhaps it’s because of the work it’s taken to be conscious and mindful of my theological language, but either way, it’s been a nice spiritual experience.
In addition, the way I feel about God has changed, too. I feel closer to God than I have in a long time. More loved, nurtured, cared for, protected, and close to my Mother God than I ever did with the image of a Father God. Less judged and more understood. I no longer feel alone. It’s not that I’ve always felt alone in my faith. I definitely remember feeling lonely during quarantine and suddenly realizing God was with me. The image of Jesus putting his arms around me or smoothing my hair came to my mind’s eye, and I felt a chill as if he really was there. Whether that was a daydream doesn’t matter to me. It was a spiritual moment. But before that and afterward has passed a lot of time. I love that seeing God as genderfluid and capable of being feminine has brought these feelings back and stronger than before, too.
I thank my professor for this course and everything I’ve learned. I’ll miss this journaling as well. Maybe it’s time to do a formal faith journal. Who knows!
What language do you use to refer to God? Share in the comments below!
Hazeldine, S. (Director). (2017).The Shack [Film]. Summit Entertainment.
Picoult, J. (1999). Keeping Faith. William Morrow & Co.
Tompkins, S. (2015, June 2). Why is God not female? BBC News. Retrieved August 23, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32960507