Exploring the feminine and masculine impulses of Godde
GODDE and GENDER
Godde may or may not ever change, but human understandings of Godde do.
I believe Godde understands and feels and contains everything it is to be male and everything it is to be female. I believe Godde can interact with us either in female ways or in male ways, and I believe we can interact with Godde as a father or a mother. But essentially, Godde transcends gender altogether.
It's so tempting to create Godde in our own image, to anthropomorphise Godde, to try to define and contain Godde, when actually Godde is Godde.
I commend a superb book by the Canadian Catholic and Feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson: "She Who Is."
It brilliantly outlines ways in which Christian religion has at different times relegated women to subordinates of men, and how an exclusively masculine concept of Godde can contribute to that, by making men have more likeness to Godde than women have.
Christian doctrine emerged from a religious culture that was patriarchal, where all priests were men. That was then perpetuated. And yet women have as many qualities of intellect and leadership as men. We are all just people.
As for Godde, I am happy to address her as my mother or address him as my father. Sometimes I feel held at Godde's breast. Sometimes I feel loved like a father loves a daughter. I love the aspects of Godde which humans attribute to 'manliness' and I also really love the aspects of Godde which humans attribute to 'feminine'.
Humanity is not just male, and humanity is made in Godde's image. Male AND Female, Godde created us in Godde's own image.
I would always acknowledge the deeply feminine in Godde as well as the deeply masculine.
The Church has at times been deeply misogynistic - I read some of Augustine's writings about women and feel dismay. He is a victim of his own culture and prejudices with regard to women. So was Paul to a degree, though with him there was an internal tension, because though he suggests women should not teach (which sounds ludicrous today) he also elsewhere says in Christ there is neither male nor female.
Godde is both deeply personal and deeply reclusive. None of us can claim we know the whole of Godde.
Sometimes when I encounter Godde, she is so feminine and lovely, with tender mother-like love, or sister-like laughter and friendship, and at times brave ferocious womanhood. Sometimes I have really great times with Godde in these ways. I love those times.
And sometimes I think of Jesus, and he is so ardent and boyish growing up to be man. I have no problem with Godde as a masculine either. There are so many dimensions to Godde. Godde knows what it is like to be a mother. And how that feels. And feels it. And Godde knows what it is like to be a father. And I pray 'Our Father' because Godde is everything a father can be, but that doesn't mean Godde isn't also everything a mother can be.
Sometimes Godde is like a female friend to me: like a neighbour who shares friendship with me, and comes in through the open back door to my kitchen, and sits down and drinks coffee, and chats and laughs. Domestic, personal, capable of speaking woman to woman, and relaxing, listening, feeling, engaging. That is how Godde sometimes seems to me.
None of this changes the many profound encounters we read about in the bible, nor the encounters we may also have… with a Godde who is so much more than we can ever imagine or comprehend. A Godde through whom we can explore, in a fuller sense, what it means to be a "person", whatever our gender.
Godde waits patiently for us to know her better. And to know him better. As we open our hearts to love, as we seek to serve, we may encounter a Godde who is so much more than we ever conceived. And in this encounter we encounter ourselves as well, and the way we view other people, and treat them.
Men and women, made in the image of Godde.
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But, someone argues with me, Godde doesn't change, ever. The Godde of the Bible, they argue, never changes.
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Godde may not change, but people's understanding of Godde changes. The worshippers of Godde in the Old Testament had a different understanding - of everything Godde is - to the early disciples of Jesus.
As humans, we understand Godde in the contexts of our time and place in history, and the cultures we inhabit.
The Old Testament characters like Jacob had not the remotest idea that Godde was a Trinity, or would one day come and live on earth as a human being, and they understood the extent of Godde's love less clearly than later believers.
But that doesn't mean that Godde changed. It simply means people's understanding of Godde changes.
In our own place in time, we now know that we inhabit a universe and a planet that is billions of years old. We now know that we are a species descended from earlier species, and that many species died out millions and millions of years before the supposed 'Fall'.
We now know about places and species of animals that Noah (if he existed) had no knowledge of, could not reach, and many places that had not even been discovered yet. Moreover, we now know we have the DNA of Neanderthals and Denisovans in us, and that these were relatives of ours that existed half a million years ago.
We know geologically that no worldwide flood rose up 15000ft or 29000 ft above the highest mountains in Europe or Asia, because even if all the icecaps in the world melted, the ocean would only rise a few metres. It is ridiculous to try to deny this.
So, history and Godde-given intelligence and conscience tells us, if we genuinely want to seek truth, we need to read the Bible in a different way: as inspiring, as profound, but not all of it literally true, because much of it was written within culture, and through the filter of cultural understanding and assumptions.
The culture in which Jesus lived, and in which the New Testament was written, involved a deeply religious society, with cultural values about gender that were probably not that different to those of Orthodox Jews today. Men had the lead role in religion, in family structures, and in social and political control.
We live in a different, and scientifically more enlightened world, when it comes to the understanding of gender. We believe women should have the vote; that women are not subordinate to men; that women can teach, and lead, and are as intellectually able as men.
And in our cultural contexts, recognising the deeply feminine aspects of Godde's character, as well as the deeply male, becomes realistic, comprehensible and helpful. As does recognising that Godde also transcends all gender we understand, while feeling both like a father and a mother towards us in Godde's love.
No, perhaps Godde doesn't change, but our understanding can change, can unfold, can open up, can experience, can grow. And growth is good. It is not something to be afraid of.
Also: Summary and Review of Elizabeth Johnson's 'She Who Is' by Susannah Clark