Every day during Lent, members of Oconee Street UMC will write a Lenten devotional and share with the congregation.
by Leland Spencer
March 19, 2014
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements–surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?” (Job 38:4-8)
One of the most meaningful–and ongoing–spiritual practices in my life is the creative use of language. I love the Job passage above not only for the image of God’s giving birth to the sea, but for the reminder that God is beyond human reason, human comprehension, and human language. As such, any word we use to represent or describe God can only do so in part. No image is perfect, and no image is complete. I find a multiplicity of images to be the best solution to this language problem (though admittedly, this is only a partial solution–we must ultimately recognize that even all language falls short).
I have long resisted the use of pronouns for God, especially masculine ones, because in the words of Elizabeth Johnson, they are too often used literally, exclusively, and patriarchally: “Whenever one image or concept of God expands to the horizon thus shutting out others, and whenever this exclusive symbol becomes literalized so that the distance between it and divine reality is collapsed, there an idol comes into being” (p. 39).
I don’t reject the more common images of the Bible or Christian tradition as much as taking them as a starting point for identifying additional metaphors. As Lisa said several months ago, Jesus offers the image of God as a mother hen who desires all her children to live together peaceably. The passage from Job invites us to imagine God as pregnant with possibility for creation–and that creation includes all of us, and all that God desires to do in us.
In congregational worship, as you might know if you ever sat near me in church, I live out this spiritual practice by engaging with hymns, prayers, and liturgy as an impromptu editor. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus said “Pray this way,” not “Pray these words.” So perhaps the Lord’s prayer in unison may begin, “Our Mother-Father in Heaven…” And we might pray instead of “thy kingdom come” for “thy creation come” or “thy Shalom come” — to recognize that the prayer is really about asking God to co-create with us the fulfillment or completion of God’s desire for the world, a world of justice for all–full bellies, empty prisons, restored relationships, and the list goes on.
In quiet prayer, I sometimes find myself meditating on one word, often “Wisdom” or “Love” as a way to focus my silence. The image from Proverbs of Wisdom as a woman who calls people toward herself can help me to avoid the distractions that threaten to interrupt the quiet.
What images have you found most meaningful? And what new images might reveal to you a part of God’s character or reality previously obscured?
In closing, I invite you to pray with me this prayer from Brian Wren:
Who is She, neither male nor female, maker of all things,
only glimpsed or hinted, source of life and gender?
She is God, mother, sister, lover: in her love we wake, move, grow, are daunted, triumph, and surrender.
Who is She, mothering her people, teaching them to walk,
lifting weary toddlers, bending down to feed them?
She is Love,
crying in a stable, teaching from a boat,
friendly with the lepers, bound for crucifixion.
Who is She, sparkle in the rapids, coolness of the well,
living power of Jesus flowing from the Scriptures?
She is Life,
water, wind and laughter, calm, yet never still,
swiftly moving Spirit, singing in the changes. (qtd in Johnson, p. 191)
quotations from Elizabeth A. Johnson (2002), She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse.