Sunday, January 04, 2015

God Talk

I'm not preaching today, as I'm on my last day of vacation.  If you're a follower of the liturgical/Christian year today is the Second Sunday after Christmas, though many will observe today as Epiphany Sunday (since the Day of Epiphany is on Tuesday -- January 6).  Both observances highlight the premise that the presence of God has become incarnate (Christmas) and manifest (Epiphany).  The Gospel reading for Christmas 2B is John 1:1-18, while Epiphany highlights Matthew 2:1-12 (the visit of the Magi).  Both speak about light and revelation.  

As we think about these two witnesses, they speak of the incomprehensible God's decision to be revealed to humanity.  While we might not have the ability to comprehend the  mystery that is God in God's essence, that doesn't mean that we can't speak about God and have some sense of God's nature, even if the words we use are at best analogies and metaphors.  Christians have historically spoken of God as Trinity, and in naming God as Trinity, we have used the formula taken from Mathew 28:19-20 -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It's simple and compelling, and in the end problematic because it is grounded in gender-specific language.  Even if we think of the Spirit as feminine, it's still two parts male, and one part female.  The ongoing usage of this language has served down through the ages to limit or suppress the voices of women as reflecting the image of God.  

So, how do we speak of God in a way that includes male and female as equally reflecting God's image?  How do we keep the personal in the conversation and not turn God into an abstraction.  God might be the "Ground of Being," but "Ground of Being" isn't very enticing for building a relationship. 

I'm raising the question of our God-Talk because once I get back to preaching I'm going to be focusing on God -- the we speak of God and understand God.  Who we envision God to be -- even if we are limited to metaphor and analogy -- has an impact on our behavior.  Do we envision God as distant and a bit crabby?  Do we envision God as a cuddly teddy bear, whom we can manipulate?  Is God calling us to subdue the enemy or love our neighbor?  Is God Male or Female?  If God transcends Gender, as Christians in theory affirm, but popularly embrace gender specifics, then what of our use of language?  

When I theologize about God -- speak of God -- I think of God as Trinity.  I believe that there are practical implications of such a confession.  But, if we are to speak of God as Trinity we will have to broaden our vocabulary.  And to do this, we might follow this word of instruction from Feminist theologian Patricia Wilson-Kastner:

To be adequate and faithful to the Christian tradition, the words that express the Trinity must articulate relationship, both with us in creation and among the persons of the Trinity, and must also indicate communion.  Of course the appellation of the Father and Son became very popular in the early church in expressing the Trinity because it focused on Jesus' relationship to God (Abba) and God's acknowledgement of Jesus as the beloved Son.  Spirit is breath of life, and expresses both a divine action in creation, and also the life shared between Father and Son, offered in communion.  [Ruth Duck and Patricia Wilson-Kastner, Praising God: The Trinity in Christian Worshipp. 20]
But, as I said, this masculine language, even if understood to be metaphorical, leaves women out in the cold.  We need expanded language.  Learning a new language, especially a liturgical language can be difficult.  Yet, it is required of us.  

So, I invite you to walk with me in thinking through the ways in which we engage and conceive and speak of a God whom we cannot see in God's essence, but whom we can encounter in the work of God in the world, as creator, redeemer, sustainer.  Even that language, is not sufficient!!   

May the God who is made manifest be a blessing to all who shall encounter Her.   



Sandhya Jha said...

I couldn't help but think about young Leelah as you reflected on the gender of God. Thanks for the theological reflection you're doing.

John McCauslin said...

Hi Sandra!