Sunday, 24 May 2015

Rethinking Divinity

Rethinking Divinity

To love God -- that's a tall order.
Does the Milky Way notice me?
The Horsehead Nebula? If I'm a speck
of dust compared with their grandeur
how much smaller I must seem
to the One Who made them. And yet --

the mystics say the world was born
because God was lonely. She wanted
to sit in her rocking chair and chat
while She knitted the sunset clouds.
How could I not love the One Who whispers
exist! and the daffodils bloom?

- Rachel Barenblatt

Most people who I know grew up with an idea of God as male, and often an old grey bearded man. Michelangelo has a lot to answer for, although he was probably simply reflecting the cultural norms of the Middle Ages.

And that has a trickle down effect. Can women be priests in the Church of England, or bishops? The key reason why some people opposed that, and in fact at least one clergyman in Gouray simply doesn’t regard them as “authentic” is to do with gender. God is male. Jesus was male. The 12 Apostles were male.

And yet the Hebrew for Spirit, the Spirit of God, who broods over the waters, about to give birth in the Genesis poem about creation – is female. The Hebrew word – ruach – meaning breath, wind, spirit, is not a male word but a female one.

Why then, do people talk about the Holy Spirit as “He”. While the Hebrew word was female, the same word in Greek, Spiritus, is male, so once the Latin translation – the Vulgate – became the norm, masculinity was again in the ascendancy.

The wisdom literature which began to develop in towards the end of the Old Testament, and continued in the period before the New has also an interesting perspective on gender:

Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
those who hold her fast will be blessed.
YHWH founded the earth by wisdom;
by understanding he established the heavens;
by his knowledge the deeps broke open,
and the clouds drop down dew.

For she is the breath of the power of God,
and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty:
therefore can no defiled thing fall into her.

As it develops, wisdom becomes the creative force of God, the power for good. And wisdom is female – the term used is the feminine Hebrew Hokmah (Wisdom)

I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist. I dwelt in the highest heavens, and my throne was in a pillar of cloud. Alone I compassed the vault of heaven and traversed the depths of the abyss. Over waves of the sea, over all the earth, and over every people and nation I have held sway. Among all these I sought a resting place; in whose territory should I abide? Then the Creator of all things gave me a command, and my Creator chose the place for my tent. He said, 'Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance.'

And yet…. John’s Gospel replaces almost all of the attributes of the Wisdom literature by his Logos poem – and Logos is a masculine Greek word. Wisdom is transformed to Word.

God is in theology “beyond gender” but unless one simply uses the term “God” all the time, there is a tendency to use the term “he” as the term “it” suggests something wholly inhuman, and alien, and somehow less than personal.

Should we use the word “Goddess”? It is interesting to note that whereas in times past, “actor” referred to males, and “actress” to female, the term “actor” has become gender neutral, but not genderless, available to use for both male and females who act. The term has become broader, more inclusive in meaning.

So perhaps it is time to use “she” much more in relation to God, and reclaim the feminine within the divine. It is of necessity a fiction – as all Neoplatonists would agree – but a useful one, as it prevents us falling into the trap of thinking about divinity in purely masculine stereotypes. After all, there has already been around 2,000 years of that, which is surely enough.

Enemy of Apathy ~ by John L Bell & Graham Maule ~ Lyrics

She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters,
Hovering on the chaos of the world's first day;
She sighs and she sings, mothering creation,
Waiting to give birth to all the Word will say.

She wings over earth, resting where she wishes,
Lighting close at hand or soaring through the skies;
She nests in the womb, welcoming each wonder,
Nourishing potential hidden to our eyes.

She dances in fire, startling her spectators,
Waking tongues of ecstasy where dumbness reigned;
She weans and inspires all whose hearts are open,
Nor can she be captured, silenced or restrained.

For she is the Spirit, one with God in essence,
Gifted by the Saviour in eternal love;
She is the key opening the scriptures,
Enemy of apathy and heavenly dove.

1 comment:

Póló said...

Tickled by this in my local parish newsletter a while back.