Last time on the blog, I talked about Lenten fasts and how we are called during this season to refocus on God so that we can better identify the idols we’ve made in our lives. In part 2, I reveal what idols I might have made by describing the good that I’ve chosen to give up for the 40 days of Lent.
A few months ago, I was in California with family over the holidays. My family is an amazing bunch of people and I love them dearly, but with my religious zeal and all, I can be the black sheep of the flock. This last time I went back, I made it a point to ask my mom about her spiritual history, including what churches and traditions formed her and how she saw her own growth in terms of religion. It was a conversation we’d never had before because I kind assumed most of my family was vaguely (if not explicitly) agnostic, which I shouldn’t have done.
One night we sat up on her balcony after a winter rain, her with her glass of white wine and me with my can o’ beer. I listened as my mom described her catechism and confirmation in the Lutheran church in California. She told me how what she was taught didn’t jive with her innate impressions of God. Throughout her catechesis, she held doubts as to whether God was an greying bearded man in the sky whose temper could flare with little warning. Not one to hold grudges, she came to feel that her internal beliefs were fine to hold even if they did not adhere to what she was being told about God. “So… what do you believe about God?” I inquired.
My mom told me that to her, “God is a woman.” When I asked her what led her to believe that, she said “because God cries with compassion.” My gender and theology alarm bells were clainging symbols in my brain. I went on, stupidly and uncaringly, to suggest ways in which those things she said were (to use a seminary term) “problematic.” This might be part of the reason I am not training to be a pastor…
But when I thought about it more, I realized that gender is actually a characteristic that does not apply to God. I mean, we call God “Father” for many a varied reason, but God does not acutally have a penis (or a vagina, for that matter). Calling God “Father” allows us to personalize our creator, but it is something done for us, not for God. In our own intellectual finitude, we use blatantly inadequate words to describe the indescribale, for sometimes words are all we have.
As Ash Wednesday approached, and I wondered what idols I had made in my life, my mind kept returning to that converation with my mom. I had totally bulldozed over her own very valid (and, it turns out, not without theological precedent) experience of God in feminine form, all without ever questioning my own experience of a masculine god. I had my idol.
During Lent, I am giving up masculine pronouns for God.
By refraining from entertaining my masculine notions of God, I hope I can learn more about whether and to what extent I have reduced God to a man. If that sounds like a play on words to evoke Jesus, it is not intended, since the first and second persons of the Trinity are eternally distinct. They are of one being and substance, and yet are forever two persons and two natures. In other words, that Jesus had a penis does not mean God does. Furthermore, my fast will hopefully help me recognize more fully the inherent reduction necessary in referring to God as either a man or a woman. Remember, a fast is giving up a necessary good (like calling God “Father”) so that we can see if and how we’ve made that good an idol.
I know this might cause some consternation, some accusations that I am making God something that she is not. In my next and final post for Lent, I will try to get into some of the theology I realize is at play behind the scenes here. When we return, I’ll try to cover some more explicitly theological ground, and maybe address some concerns this Lenten fast raises. In the meantime, feel free to leave comments and I’ll respond as I am able. Have a solemn and fruitful Lent!