Tuesday, November 6, 2012

God as Unity

God is beyond human comprehension in a certain sense, but we can have a personal relationship with the Almighty. God is neither male nor female. God's revealed name is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We can know something about God's nature through the Bible and Church Tradition, and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in personal revelation. Yet we are still limited by human language and symbolism to grasp and articulate the ineffable mystery of the triune Godhead. If we are humble, we acknowledge what little we actually know.

As both women and men are made in the image of God, we can use language for God in both masculine and feminine terms. The truest way I have found to comprehend the nature of God is as the spiritual unity of the masculine and feminine dimensions of being. Again, God is not divided into male and female principles; God is pure spirit. When I refer to masculine and feminine principles, it is by way of analogy to our human condition and our ideas regarding the qualities typically associated with a particular gender. The creation story of Genesis and the marriage of man and woman teach that men and women together are a symbol of the sacred unity that exists in God. A man and woman being flesh of the same flesh and bone of the same bone, coming together in love and open to procreation, gives us a glimpse into the divine nature. God is the perfection of family relationship.  At the same time, both men and women are unique, equally valid images of the divine.

So when I point out that names like Ruah, the Hebrew for Spirit, and Hokmah and Sophia (Hebrew and Greek for Wisdom, respectively) are feminine in gender, that is not to say that God is a woman any more than God is a man. It is to emphasize that Elohim, the Hebrew name for God, is grammatically expressive of a divinity that perfectly contains the union of what we understand as male and female, and that this gives us a clue to follow.

To incorporate the language of Mother in reference to God, or to refer to the Holy Spirit as "she" in some cases, such as in the manifestation of the Spirit as Lady Wisdom, in no way infringes upon divine revelation. To call God both "he" and "she" simply equalizes theological language that has excluded the truth of the unity of God, that has historically been excessively patriarchal, resulting in untold damage to the psyche and spiritual life of all humankind. Not to mention the devastation of planet Earth, so often characterized in feminine terms and treated in ways that parallel violence toward women. Nevertheless, it would not be appropriate to change the revealed name of the Trinity--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Also, for the matter of consistency, the use of male pronouns for all members of the Trinity in the liturgy is perhaps more efficacious. This would not exclude, however, sermons and homilies that focus upon the motherhood of God or references to God's "feminine face", as I have occasionally heard spoken by priests at Mass. Then again, referring to the Holy Spirit as she in some contexts in order to reflect the often bridal-maternal nature of this divine Person within the Trinity would most fully characterize God as divine family unity, that which our human family unity mirrors.

 Woman Clothed with the Sun by Duncan Long

Names like Spirit-Sophia, used by Catholic theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson, point to the personification of the Holy Spirit as "Lady" in the Wisdom Books of the Bible. Holy Wisdom as "she" is not merely a grammatical coincidence; it is a full-fledged theology of the Spirit of God in bridal-maternal terms. The Holy Spirit could rightly be called the mystical "feminine nature" of the Trinity. Like all members of the Godhead, the Spirit is fully an expression of divine unity. However, the "Mother Love" of God is most clearly revealed through the Third Person. And Mary, being the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit and Mother of the Church, reveals so personally the sacred feminine in divinity. Jesus said that those who have seen him have seen the Father. Likewise, a personal relationship with Mary helps us to "see" the Holy Spirit/Sophia. This is why, especially in a heavily patriarchal culture, Marian devotion must be emphasized and encouraged, not marginalized. More homilies, hymns and prayers to Mary in the liturgy, and fuller celebrations of her feast days (that is, a return to more traditional expressions of devotion), would provide a greater balance to our community worship.

How we name things does matter. A rose by any other name may very well smell as sweet, but the name of rose brings to mind vividly what the rose is and what it symbolizes. Exclusively male terms for God do not bring to our minds and hearts the truth of God's unity or the fullness of God's love. Woman must understand that she is as complete an expression of the image of God as is man, and man must also comprehend this revelation.

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