Friday, July 30, 2010

The Chick Upstairs

God knows she’s a mystery. She plays like a song in my head that I can’t turn off, because I’m still wrapping my mind around its meaning and its structure. She’s a complex blues tune, beyond 3 chords and the truth. She’s a melody that rolls like “Georgia On My Mind” or “Send Me Someone to Love”. And her lyric, well, don’t ask me. Maybe she taught Dylan his stuff, and William Blake, too.

She defines passion. She’s got a temper, fiery and hot, but not before her graceful patience is pushed to the edge of reason. Occasionally, regret drives her to extremes, but the immensity of her heart somehow reins in her contradictions; try as I might, I can’t find fault with her.

And Lord, she’s got a killer sense of humor.

She’s as understanding as only a mother can be. Sometimes I imagine her asking, “Philip, where did you come from anyway?”, as my own mother used to ask when baffled by her bluesman son’s antics. But this woman knows the path of my pilgrimage better than anyone, because she has walked every mile of it, often leading the way, often warily tagging along. She appreciates when I stop and ask for directions, but knows that more often than not, I’ll go all male on her and seek to find my destination without help.

She’s all-loving, but never doting. Omnipresent, but not annoyingly so. She’ll give you all the space you want.

And, Lord, she’s handy, like a good shade tree mechanic. She’ll repair that aching engine of mine every so often, cooling it down just by laying her hand on my heart.

God Almighty. The Chick Upstairs.

In truth, I call Her “Him” because my picture of God is decidedly paternal. Growing up with a reasonable and loving dad never made the masculine image of God anything but good to my eyes. My mother and her mother before her wouldn’t have engendered my trust for a feminized she-god, meddlesome and insistent upon always being right. Oh, Lord, She’d be bugging me about washing my hands, and reading my Bible, and changing my underwear just in case I wind up in the emergency room. I wouldn’t be able to question Her without being accused of blasphemy.

But I’ve always said, God may be God, but he’s no narcissist.

I imagine God the Father quietly nodding as I ramble on, giving me a grin like my old man would have when I played some boogie woogie version of a hymn, and kissing me on the lips when I showed unannounced at his back door.

Nonetheless, I’m not sure what’s so riling when some Christians encounter inclusive language regarding the Person of God. I still cross myself and the brows of my woman and my children, intoning the words “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”, and am quite comfortable doing so. At Christ Church Cathedral, the traditional language of the Trinity is sometimes altered to “Creator, Savior, and Sanctifier”. I recently read of a proposal in the Presbyterian Church to use this alteration: “Mother, Child, and Womb”. What can I say? Point well taken, but... womb? I’ll take the comfort, but not the claustrophobia. What happens when that line gets translated back to male language?

The gospel narrative is beautiful to me with its perfectly loving parent, sending the willing heir to save a reckless world from itself. The language of love is hard to put into words; in our attempt to pull the Divine down to our level, we forget that God has already descended to us in Christ, coming as a servant. In Divine Servitude, perhaps God allows for our tainted images of him/her/it, if only to begin an eternal conversation. And perhaps our blurred images diffuse the blinding beam of Who God is, so that we can endure the light of his presence.

While I don’t have a particular need to see God as She, I find it amusing that believers want to limit the scope of God’s image to “The Man Upstairs.”

We like to see God as one of our type.

God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, existed before gender, before limitations. And a great irony of the Creation, in whatever manner it occurred, is that things came into focus and definition, and Man gave those things names, from Armadillos to Zebras.

When God’s glory was exhibited to those nomadic Hebrews of old, they would proclaim him “Lion of Judah”, “Morning Star”, or “Rock of my salvation”, giving definition and understanding to an infinite and fathomless God. Someone somewhere has probably likened God unto an armadillo. If we can call him “Rock”, “Lion”, “Star”, why not “Mother”?

There are those who want to keep the masculinity of God in tact, and there are those who want to neuter him completely. Neither party seem to be in it for the praise of God but more likely for the praise of their own identity. Even so, it’s as if an involuntary muscle is acquiescing to the notion of God Incarnate, God among us, Emmanuel. Or should I say Emmanuelle?

Growing up in my father’s fairly progressive Baptist Church, it was only a matter of time before I encountered a real live Christian Feminist. Sue was a tall and very vocal woman, whose passion was the reclamation of a woman’s full measure of self and place. She and her husband would often have me over for a meal, and inevitably, conversation would turn towards Dad’s church and how not enough was happening to advance women in our congregation.

Sue would criticize a prayer that Dad had intoned, wishing it had been more inclusive, and bemoaning the word “Father”, which Dad often used in addressing God. Naturally, I was defensive of my dad, knowing his heart, and particularly knowing how often he had made strides for the advancement of women within his church governing body. It was Dad, with great encouragement of my mother, who made sure women could serve Communion and become deacons at Barrington Baptist. Sue must have sensed this, because she continued to attend.

Years later, when I was an elder in a conservative Presbyterian (PCA) church for a brief season, I cringed at the fact that PCA women were relegated to bake sales and nursery duty, and barred from leadership roles. Thus, when we elders would convene to nominate new elders and deacons, the names I threw in the hat were those of capable women. My fellow elders chuckled at my apparent lack of theological correctness, and nothing changed. At least Sue would have been proud of me for trying.

When a friend sent me a book called “The Shack”, I was intrigued by the presumably Evangelical author’s device of using a large, black woman to portray the parental image of God. Yet, the Almighty Matron was called “Papa” in the book, perhaps giving a full acknowledgment that God is all masculine and all feminine.

The male and female facets of God’s self have been distributed to humankind in ways that are manageable and portable in this lifetime. Perhaps, when the Almighty gathers us all together in that great day of Christ’s return, we will be restored to a likeness of God that is equally full of the feminine and the masculine.

We cling to what we know, good and bad. God can reveal himself in beautiful, redemptive movements, yet remain stigmatized by the images we confine him to. If being someone’s child was a less than wonderful experience, it’s likely that we’ll imagine God the Father or Mother as a killjoy who douses our passions with the glib fact of his disinterest in us.

And so, one turns away from the blurry image of a Curmudgeon God, and picks up a paintbrush and allows a canvas to dictate an unforeseeable outcome. And as if from dust, something of beauty appears, something of our own making. This is why we write, paint, compose, and imagine, and that is the only kind of predestination that makes sense to me: We were created to imitate our Creator.

Created in God’s image, we create. When it comes to theology, we tend to create God in our own image.

In our search for intimacy with the Divine, given to imagination as we are, we give our image of God a shape and an identity that we can put our trust in. The idea of a shape-shifting God is beautiful; this is a confident God, adaptable and congenial in his willingness to be seen from another angle, yet with his character remaining fully in tact. The triune God revealed as Creator, Savior, and Sanctifier, unbound by our imagination, yet bound to the integrity of who only God Almighty can be. God.

It’s hard for me to see Christ as something other than God the Son, but it’s not difficult to embrace the Oneness of the Trinity as gender-free and shapeless, magnificent in Its mystery, confident in Its mission to reconcile the world unto Itself, and earnestly being about the creative business of redemption.

So much of my own redemption has come in the form of the woman who loves me, that considering God Almighty as feminine seems plausible and attractive to me, not that God will be emasculated, but that his vastness will be made larger to me.

He, She, It. Ai ai ai. Sometimes the better names might be what God Almighty is doing: Redemption. Restoration. Rejuvenation. Revelation.

Beholding the burning bush, Moses asked God Almighty for some identification, and heard the words “I am.”

In a way, that’s all that matters. The Chick Upstairs simply is.

Painting by Phil Madeira