All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. (Acts 1:14, NRSV)
A couple years go, a minister friend of mine told me of a conversation he had with one of his five-year-old daughters. He was trying to teach her different ways we could name God. There was the usual cast of characters: Father, Creator, Redeemer, Spirit, Divine One, Shepherd. Those were met with some questions, but mostly assent as acceptable.
Then he tried to steer the conversation towards names which are not necessarily “traditional”: Mother, Womb, Woman Wisdom, Ruach (Hebrew word for Spirit which is in the feminine form). A quizzical look came over the girl’s face. So my friend asked her,
“You don’t like these?”
“They’re all girl names”
“You don’t think God could be a girl?”
She said, “Why would God want to be a girl?”
It saddens my heart that even a five-year-old girl would be able to catch on to something as deep as this. We, the Church, have allowed our main images for God to be dominated completely by male/masculine imagery. I hear it all the time when the main way to start a prayer is something, “Heavenly Father…”
Here’s a short thought exercise. Take a second and think about the pronouns you hear used for God. Do you ever hear “she” when referring to God, or is it only “he?”
Our language surrounding God is deficient at best when it comes to including women and girls and it shapes our imagination. Language has the power to form worlds, both for the good and the bad.
Maybe that’s why Christ included women inside his inner circle. In a time when women were considered second-class citizens, Christ repeatedly lifted up women as paragons of faith. There was the woman in Mark who anointed Jesus and in whose remembrance the gospel is proclaimed (Mark 14:9). There was the widow who is lifted up as the example of all givers in Luke (Luke 21:3-4). And of course, there were the two Marys who became the first preachers of the good news of Christ’s resurrection (Matt. 28:1-10). Even in today’s passage, women are included in the close community of disciples.
Women played a prominent role in Jesus’ ministry, both while he was incarnate on earth and when he worked through the early church. The words we choose to refer to God though, have often lagged behind.
It might not seem like a big deal, but when we limit how we talk about God, we limit our imaginations to see how God interacts with us. We limit our ability to interact with the one who is the giver of life. We limit the way we, and our children, can dream (see above).
Maybe it’s time to rethink how we talk about God.
(If you like to talk more about this with me, shoot me an email at email@example.com and I’ll try and get back to you as soon as I can.)