Exploring the feminine and masculine impulses of Godde
review of Elizabeth Johnson's 'SHE WHO IS'
She Who Is: 1 Right Ways to Speak of Godde
Elizabeth Johnson begins her book with the crucial question of how we speak rightly of Godde. All through history people have recognised the importance and significance of finding the right ways to talk of Godde: for the way in which a faith community shapes language about Godde - their absolute value - can deeply effect the corporate identity of the community.
Since Godde is the one to whom your heart clings and entrusts itself, the wording and perceived attributes of Godde are neither abstract in content nor neutral in effect. For speaking about Godde contributes to our world view and expectation of order and values devolving from this.
Thus the masculine slant attributed by many to 'God' in the way they talk about 'him' has often contributed to female subordination and the exclusion of women from decision making. While officially it is often rightly said that Godde is spirit and therefore beyond identification with either male or female gender - yet the daily language of preaching, worship and instruction conveys a different message: 'God' is more like a man than a woman, or more fittingly addressed as male than female.
This exclusive speech about Godde serves in manifold ways to support an imaginative and structural world that has often excluded or subordinated women. Wittingly or not, it undermines women's human dignity as equally created in the image of Godde.
Conscious of the harm that is done by many forms of sexism in life, many women and men are turning from the restrictive inheritance of exclusive 'God'-talk. And in their exploration and opening, new language about Godde is born, as people gather together creatively in solidarity and prayer, and find alternative ways of speaking about divine mystery, some of which have been hidden in Scripture and tradition, awaiting discovery.
But this is not just about 'naming' and suitable metaphors for talking about the mystery of Godde that extends beyond any words we use. It goes beyond simply naming Godde with women-identified words such as mother.
Such speech - any speech about Godde - also has function and effect, calling into question prevailing structures of patriarchy. It may give rise to a different vision of community, one in which the last shall be first, the excluded shall be included, the mighty put down from their thrones and the humble exalted - the words of Mary of Nazareth's song of praise (Luke 1:52). It may create conditions for the formation of community based more on mutuality and reciprocity than on top-down hierarchy.
Introducing less exclusive speech about Godde may signal a shift, among those who use it, in their sense of the divine, a shift in total world view.
Links to my summary pages on 'She Who Is':