Exploring the feminine and masculine impulses of Godde
review of Elizabeth Johnson's 'SHE WHO IS'
She Who Is : Some introductory comments on Elizabeth Johnson's book
I'm reading 'She Who Is' by Elizabeth Johnson. I have been reading it and reflecting on it for many years (since 2008). It's about how we view a Godde who is neither exclusively male nor female, but something beyond either. Her premiss is not that we should call Godde exclusively 'She' but that we should not call Godde exclusively 'He'.
This is a summary of a few of her introductory remarks in the preface of her book:
She encourages the reader to speak about Godde through female metaphors as well as male, believing that this may change or enlarge our understanding of Godde, and in the process influence or increase our concern for the struggle for the human dignity of women.
This preface was written ten years after the book's first publication and, as well as positive responses to it, she was also aware of reaction against it, generally based on a propositional notion of revelation which sees only certain male terms as proper language with which to refer to Godde.
She takes the view that the way we think about Godde is not just an abstract theological idea. She believes that there is an inter-connectedness between the way we perceive Godde, the human dignity of women, and the transformation of institutional structures. She believes that a less male-led notion of Godde can lead to change in the status of women in church and society - in the direction of equality and mutuality.
Looking at the world generally, she points out that all-male governance of the human world is no longer officially acceptable, even to men.
Yet around the world, the lives of the majority of women with their dependent children continue to be pressed down by poverty, violence, lack of a voice, and patriarchal norms. She sees this as an issue of justice.
She hopes that her book may encourage others to slip off the exclusively male language for describing Godde, and that they may 'revel' in a fresh vision and bear witness to women's dignity and whatever thwarts its flourishing.
While I personally believe (and she'd probably agree) that there are many other factors that lead to the poverty and oppression of men as well as women, I do agree that if we limit our view of Godde to a masculine norm (even in habitual language that we use) then this can colour and influence the way we view the structures in church and society, and the role of women within them.
If we identify supremacy with a male-defined deity, perhaps we should ask ourselves why, and how that may impact on our perception of women compared to men, and how a more female-defined Godde may influence the way we engage in struggle for the dignity of women and men alike.
For both are supposed to be made in the image of Godde. We are all people. The language we use in our understanding of Godde should not be limited to merely 50%. Nor should men in church or society assume leadership simply because of gender. We are all people. A more inclusive way of speaking about Godde might help us recognise the inclusive rights and dignity of women, whose 'peopleness' transcends all gender difference.
Links to my summary pages on 'She Who Is':