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images of God and blindness metaphors

The migraine finally broke, so it's time for a little bit of rambling. I probably won't get a lot done--I'd still like some sleep.

I haven't taught Sunday school in about eight weeks due to the impact of my sinus issues and recovery from surgery. The class has been very gracious and covered for me. I am getting back into the swing of things now. We started discussing The Shack this week. I am having to get used to timing my own contributions again... My mind tends to race 90 miles a minute, and this is very much a group of laid-back thinkers who take their time in putting their thoughts in words. (I can learn a lot from them.)

Someone asked me about my image of God, whether I thought of God as male and white. This is an intriguing question for me. (I'd be curious to hear from some of you now that I'm talking about mine.) When I was growing up, I experienced audible voices when I had my own thoughts and also when I prayed and heard from God. The voice of God to me was always female until a certain point in my life. In fact, it bore certain qualities that were similar but not identical to my mother's voice. At some point, it lost its female characteristic, and I would call it a nondescript voice now. That was the point at which I let go of my overdependence as an adult on my mother's authority and began to allow myself to make decisions based on my own values instead of my past.

In spite of this feminine vocal quality, it never occurred to me to call "God" anything but Father. It was like being blind and saying, "See you tomorrow." When I meet a person tomorrow, I don't see anything but their height and general body size. On a good day, I might see the color of their shirt. But these aren't the things that matter when we meet. When I say, "See you tomorrow," I mean, "Interact with you tomorrow." "See you tomorrow" is just the thing to say, and it would feel very uncomfortable for me to say anything else. It feels uncomfortable for me to say that I heard a movie evne though I'm very aware that other people watch the screen and I listen to the dialogue. I need the dignity of being a part of the society that watches movies; so I allow myself the freedom to "watch movies" with my ears. And in the same way, my "Father God" had a female voice. "Father God" was the language of the church; and i never gave it a second thought. God, in reality, is gender neuter; but "Father God" originated in a culture where father was the symbol of the authority that "Father God" represents.

There are movements in theology to do away with this father imagery. Some people feel wounded by it. Some feel it is associated too much with patriarchy. I am personally hesitant to do away with it until I know what I'm replacing it with and what the implications of that replacement are. Language is very powerful. I pointed out in class that growing up, my dad was my "pastor," but my mother was most often my guide morally and my disciplinarian. When I look at biblical images of Father God, part of what I note is the role of disciplinarian in addition to that of creator and establisher. Having experienced the positive aspect of discipline, I don't see any of this as negative.

My thoughts here are running in two streams. One is about the fact that I separated the use of terminology from what I experienced physically at obviously a very young age. I heard this feminine voice, but if anyone had suggested to me that God was male or female I would have called them silly and said that God is God. In the same way, I have always used visual language, and I have always gotten irritable when people corrected me. From the time I was a little girl, if someone tried to use the term, "listen to TV," I would say very adamantly, "I watch TV just like you!" Of course, I always knew better.It is the sighted person, not me, who is uncomfortable with this language that seems to not fit the situation. At the same time, I'm aware that some blind people take exception to the use of lbindness as metaphor. I don't. If I can watch TV, I can be spiritually blind or otherwise blind--and I can have my eyes opened, too! I don't have a problem singing "Was blind but now I see" in "Amazing Grace."

My other thought stream is about the Trinity and the language we use... I told someone the other day that I am very comfortable with the traditional language. It isn't just because I grew up with it, though that certainly helps. It's because of what it conveys to me and the importance I place on living in community with the past as well as the present. There are other terms with which I am also comfortable, but I am very selective about these. At the time of that conversation, I of course had no idea that we would talk about any of this in class.

I have a lot more writing to do about this, and I'm getting tired. I'm afraid I'm going to have to leave this one on a cliffhanger.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 17th, 2008 10:53 am (UTC)
It's only been in the past couple of years that I've started to try and think about God as having feminine characteristics. I've always thought of God as a male (not necessarily in image, but with voice qualities and personality), because, as you said, everyone generally refers to God as "he", "him", "father". Then of course there's Jesus, god in Person, who was male. When I was little I thought of God as a man, slightly larger than a normal human, sitting up in heaven surveying creation.

So far in my life I've had 3 dreams about God, I don't think they were like Joseph's dreams which meant something, so they're probably not meant to be representing a true depiction of God. Even though I have no sight, I still seem to know what things look like in my dreams without touching them--everything has shape, height etc, but no colour. Anyway, I had the first one when I was about 4. One of my friends from kindergarten could fly, and she took me to Heaven. We talked to God, who was an intimidating but rather nice old guy...can't remember the conversation but I thought God was pretty cool. The next 2 I had not long after becoming a Christian, when i was 11-12. I won't go into details, because they're not really relevant to your post, but in one I saw God again, this time with less human characteristics and more of a bright light image, but still with a male voice. In the other I was with Jesus and his disciples in Israel, and Jesus just seemed like a normal guy from what I can remember.

Now I think of God with both masculine and feminine characteristics, and when I try and visualise what he (/she?) might look like, it's quite hard to imagine. I think its hard because God is everywhere, outside space and time, a concept which is hard to imagine in itself, let alone trying to think of how that might look visually...perhaps a whole lot of light with a human form in it somehow... I dunno, writing about this is making my brain hurt. :)

I'll shut up in a minute, but I just wanted to finish by saying that I can't call God Mum, or Heavenly Mother...it just doesn't feel right, even though he can be a mother figure to us. Also, how far could this gender/family role be taken? If God can be father and mother, then could he also be brother, sister, etc?
Jun. 17th, 2008 01:17 pm (UTC)
Gender, Language & God
God referred to as a male is one of the things that keeps me from regularly attending mainstream churches. For me it is one more symptom of a bible that I often view as more a product of male oppression than the word of God.
Frankly, I find much of it insulting to God. God is infinite, beyond anything any of us mere humans can begin to truly grasp. To reduce such a being to a male figure speaks far more about human hierarche than the personhood of God.
On a related note, a note to those who do not believe the use of the generic masculin matters in writing. There are now numerous studies that demonstrate that the use of the generic masculin results in women and girls failing to include themselves in global discussions of concepts.
Jun. 17th, 2008 01:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Gender, Language & God
Thanks for your comment. One of the things we ran into on Sunday was the question of what to call God if we don't use gender language. (People were just as uncomfortable with calling God Mother as with calling God Father, which is something the UMC has begun--alternating Mother and Father.)

I have not looked closely at this, but a female professor here has pointed out to me that the language for the Holy Spirit is feminine. It is a fascinating thing to think about, and when I'm not meeting other seminary requirements it is something I want to look at. The whole topic interests me very deeply.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 17th, 2008 02:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Gender, Language & God
The Holy Spirit also is gender neutral. It is the language used that is feminine. This is an important difference.
Jun. 17th, 2008 02:31 pm (UTC)
The female is the life giver so to me, where I normally don't ascribe a gender to God (I feel God more as an all-encompassing energy actually)I would more easily believe God to have more of a feminine energy then male. Woman as nurturing and life-giving, God as creator,the two sort of walk hand in hand when I think about it.
Jun. 17th, 2008 03:23 pm (UTC)
Since we both have biblical Hebrew as interests, friended you.
According to my best memories from school,

Shekhina, the presence of God in Hebrew is gendered feminine. Ruach Hakodesh, Holy Spirit is rendered masculine. Kel is gender neutral, Elokim is masculine and Shaddai is gender neutral as far as anyone tell.

Though due to my first year bible teacher, I thought God was made of cotton candy because of the depiction of the clouds of Glory. I was very disappointed when I found out that I was wrong in second grade.
Jun. 17th, 2008 03:35 pm (UTC)
Re: Since we both have biblical Hebrew as interests, friended you.
Thanks. And that's funny about your clouds of glory. LOL!
Jun. 17th, 2008 03:56 pm (UTC)
Whenever I think of what God looks like, His face isn't exactly in focus. But, His hands definately are. They are large hands that have stood the tests of time. I see wrinkles in them and they look like the hands of a man who has worked hard all his life.

However, there is an amazing light behind him. A light so bright that if I were seeing it in person it would make me have to turn my head.
Jul. 31st, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC)
Sarah, This was beautiful. I always get a fix from Jesus through when I tune in to your journal! I really need that right now. Nothing is wrong but I feel a pull from God to stay in the Spirit so that means something is brewing. thanks for helping me to heed his call.
Jul. 31st, 2008 05:19 pm (UTC)
Oh I'm so glad. [hugs]
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah Blake LaRose
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