A guest post by Marg Herder
Many years ago, I didn’t think about it. The words for God were male, exclusively. That’s how I was raised. That’s all I knew. I was probably 30 years old before I first heard someone call God “She.” And it shocked me. Stopped me in my tracks.
Once in 8th grade I attended a big meeting of all the Jr. High youth at my church. Must have been 75 kids in the parlor (that was the name of a room at our church with the fancy furniture and thick carpeting). The brand new youth leader asked the group to describe what we thought of when we heard the word “God.” I was always quick to answer questions like that, so I raised my hand and he called on me. “An old man on a throne,” I answered, drawing on 13 years of daily exposure to traditional God imagery in prayers, music, and Sunday school textbooks.
The kids, and the new leader burst out in hysterical laughter. I felt humiliated, but also confused. The standard portrayal of God was clearly male. God had been around, well, forever. So He must be old. He was constantly referred to as a king. No one in my Presbyterian church had ever suggested otherwise. I had a clear picture of God. I felt His omnipotence and His dangerously serious presence all around me constantly.
That day my teenaged self was shamed into revising my visual conception of God. I replaced my “old man on a throne” with a smoky, nebulous, ethereal presence. I retained the omnipotence and the dangerous seriousness though, having no reason to question that.
It was just a couple years later when I realized that now not-so-new youth leader was actually talking to me as he spoke to the group about inviting Jesus Christ into our lives. Huh? Wasn’t I much too young to make such an important decision? But soon it started to feel like an irresistible invitation, an offer I couldn’t refuse. Not too long afterwards I prayed those magic words, accepting Jesus as my “Lord and Savior.”
And I felt something. Not the amplification of the dangerously serious presence I expected. Instead I felt joined by a comforting compliment to my unique being. I felt the loneliness of being here on earth lessen. I felt a gentle companion was realized in me. I felt buoyed.
I called it He. I called it Jesus. But I never assigned a visual component to this new expression of God. I was still aware of the old God presence. But that was somehow superseded by this new spiritual attendance. This God was only found in feeling.
When I left the church, left my faith, a few years later because gay people like me were regarded as too broken to participate, I also left my awareness of every single manifestation and expression of God. I left the comforting compliment, the gentle companion, just like I left the seriously dangerous bastard who had turned me out.
Life went on, just like they say. I went on. Doing my best, which to be honest wasn’t always that great.
I may have been on the lookout for a spiritual teacher, or some kind of sign, someone or something to come into my life and illuminate how the broken me would be redeemed. I may have been expecting something.
But I wasn’t expecting Her.
My minister friend was the one who did it. In casual conversation, the first time we’d seen each other in years, she called God “She.” And kept doing it all evening.
In the years that followed, “She” would catch up with me from time to time. Sue Monk Kidd wrote about Her in The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. Merlin Stone wrote about Her in When God Was a Woman. And that was just the beginning.
I started trying it out around my friends, saying “She” when I was talking about God, and watching their reactions closely. Some were momentarily confused, others smiled slyly like I had intimated one of their own secrets. Eventually I stopped being afraid of speaking that way.
The more I talked about Her, the more present She became in my life, the more intimate my experience of the Divine became. I started to understand that my lingering feelings of brokenness were being healed by this new tender and loving Deity who felt like soft folds of skin and moved through me like grace.
Gradually She healed me. Gradually She began to rock me tenderly when I was suffering. Gradually She gently turned me toward compassion when I mindlessly embodied anger. She was never judgmental, never dangerous.
She split me open to love.
And lately I’ve started to understand She and I met long before an unexpected pronoun shocked me into a new awareness. I can’t pinpoint when I first made the connection, but it wasn’t too long ago. You see, She feels exactly like that comforting complement, the gentle companion. Yeah, the same one Jesus brought.
Note: A companion piece to this article is available on the Evangelical And Ecumenical Women’s Caucus site “Christian Feminism Today” Click here to read Marg’s Herder’s “The She In My Pocket.”
Marg Herder is a sound artist, musician, photographer, web designer and writer.EEWC-Christian Feminism Today, an organization that promotes gender justice, LGBT equality, and the use of inclusive language.She is very active in
More of Marg’s work is available on her website.
© 2013 by Marg Herder, used by permission.
I have been in extremely better position regarding the male-gendered God and Christ and even for me the Holy Spirit. Why? because i am gay male! My dad was very maternal. I was very close and in communion with my “brother” and “friend” JesusChrist from very early age to the point that i have actually wondered if i was gay due to me awareness of my love for these most important “male” figures in my life. All that is to say that I know very well that the male gendered aspect definitely was very important for me. So, i almost cannot imagine what it might have been like if all the God-symbols were female! I encourage all who want and need to–to regain the female and maternal nature of our symbols for God—and i am practicing that also.
Wow! Thank you, Marg, for sharing these awesome words from the depths of your experience. You story illustrates what I’ve been trying to articulate about the power of female divine images. Your writing is beautiful, poetic, lyrical. Here is one of my favorite paragraphs: “The more I talked about Her, the more present She became in my life, the more intimate my experience of the Divine became. I started to understand that my lingering feelings of brokenness were being healed by this new tender and loving Deity who felt like soft folds of skin and moved through me like grace.”
I loved reading this Marg, and learning more about you. Love the idea of being split open by her to love. Thanks for posting this!
I remember the moment when, in the process of guest editing an issue of Christian Feminism Today magazine, I read Marg’s submission “The ‘She’ in my Pocket,” and feeling the goosebumps of being in the presence of profound spiritual truth. I have that same feeling now after reading this companion piece.
Chuck! What a great comment. I’ve wondered about the exact same thing you talk about but have never had this conversation with a gay man. I would love to hear more of your story sometime. Thank you for sharing a taste of it here.
Thank you Jann, for your comment and for your tireless work in the world helping people to understand that we must embrace a God that ALL people can relate to. I have great admiration for you. I think your inclusive language article cross posted here on May 14. Probably the best article I’ve ever read about the topic.
My preferred word for God has become “Godda” – precisely in order to reflect the more feminine of Godda, as opposed to the terse word “God.”
New words are good, since they can frequently be free of the baggage of tradition. That’s why I rarely use the word “God.” Intellectually, I have no problem, but it’s still got some deep emotional ties to the past. Those ties are mostly good, luckily. It’s those good emotions that can tie people to ideas that they discarded from their intellectual lives long before. The love of singing old hymns is a good example. If those songs are dear to us, it’s rarely because of the theology, I believe, but because of the good memories the singing brings up. Thanks for coming by, Oliver!