Devotion for May 18, 2021 from Tori Valcarcel, Ministry in Context Student for CTK and HTLC:
God Our Mother
I consider it a privilege to share with you dear readers in these devotions the places I am learning and growing, through both seminary and life. I wanted to share a place of growth, both for myself and many of my fellow seminarians.
At this point in my life, I am comfortable, and indeed, comforted by, female pronouns for God. This was not always the case, though. I grew up in an ELCA congregation that almost exclusively used the pronouns “he” and “his” when referring to God. Of course, Jesus Christ, Son of God, was also male, although occasionally the Holy Spirit would get a feminine reference. This never bothered me much, although I did wonder occasionally about why everyone seemed very certain that the Creator who is beyond human comprehension was definitely male. Of course, most of the images and representations of the Christian God we see in media are Santa Claus adjacent- an older white man, probably with a beard. But there is also an overwhelming representation of this image in churches as well, particularly in Mainline Protestant churches of European heritage (say for example, the ELCA).
It is here where I will quote Andy Otto, a former Jesuit who runs the website “God in All Things”. As he says in his article “Our Image of God” (emphasis added)
“It’s important to note that either masculine or feminine images for God are not bad. The qualities we associate with them are qualities God possesses. The problem is when masculine metaphors, which tend to be about domination, authority, control, and power, take over.”
When we talk about how we talk about God (stick with me!), it can bring up all kinds of emotions and reactions, particularly because these are not easy conversations. We are bringing up questions about gender, power, representation, and most importantly, change. Changing the way we talk, think, sing, praise, and make art about God can be an intimidating prospect because it brings us to deeper questions about our faith.
I talked in my sermon on Good Shepherd Sunday about making space for church to be a place of dis-comfort. To use a gardening metaphor, our spiritual lives are like plants we must tend to with sun and water and care. Sometimes we are planted in a right size pot, in the perfect place to get just enough sun, and we grow really well there. Sometimes, we have to find a new place with more or less sun, or perhaps a different pot. You might need to take the whole plant up and shake out the roots a bit to keep them from becoming bound up, and give them more space to grow and support the rest of the plant.
In a similar manner, asking ourselves how and why we picture God as a particular gender can be a way of shaking our roots out, finding a new pot or a new patch of sun. It might be a bit messy, or uncomfortable, but it can also bear great fruit.
When I first began hearing, and using, feminine and gender neutral language for God in college, it was definitely a bit jarring and new. It was also incredibly liberatory. I began to search out and deepen my relationship with God, because it felt like I had a new way of relating myself to my Creator. Truthfully, praying to Her was an important part of my discernment process, and one of the first times I truly felt called to seminary. I had a new answer to the popular Christian question of “Where did you see God today?”. I see God at work in me and all my sisters and siblings in Christ.
Peace & Love,