Friday, March 11, 2011

God is a Black Woman and She is Divine

Many religious and non-religious folk, women and men, consider it blasphemy to call God “She.”  Such people believe that it is natural to refer to God as “He” and that God expects us to employ the masculine pronoun (He) for God. Proponents of God as naturally “He” (and by implication unnaturally “She”) stand inside the hermeneutical circle of their socio-historical locatedness, as we all do, but constrained by traditions that have prejudicially determined without critical reflection that God could be nothing but He.   For me, it is easier to understand this position when presumed by males.  But it becomes more difficult for me to comprehend women’s rejection of God as a “She.” This rejection contributes to a repulsion (consciously or not so consciously) of the female gender and femininity and capabilities, at the least.  It is a rejection of womanself as divine, which can unwittingly contribute to women’s subordination as the inferior gender (a notion that has a long history and reach).
Is it not true that to say God is a man or an He is metaphorical and anthropomorphic language?  If God can metaphorically be perceived as male, why should it be heretical to speak of God as metaphorically female?  Is not one metaphor as good as another?  If not, why not?  If we have no problem with referring to God as a rock  (personal pronoun “it”), metaphorically speaking, why not as a woman.  Wouldn’t a designation for God as She rather and It provide a more conceptually and experientially available symbol for God, one that we can relate to and that helps God make sense in our mundane living?  I don’t know what it is like to be a rock in this world.  But I do know what it is like to be a woman.  What is the purpose of imaging God metaphorically and anthropomorphically?  Isn’t the purpose so that we can intellectually, cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually relate to God who is otherwise both inscrutable and inaccessible, unreachable, and antithetically divine?  We construct God-talk or theologies and they serve us and not God. The New Testament Gospel of John’s Jesus states that God is a Spirit (4:24), a notion that requires far more imagination than understanding God as She or He.
What am I to make of the biblical assertion that humans were created in the image of God? This is to assert similarity between humans and God. The relationship between God and me as one created in the image of God is one of simile and not symmetry.  A simile is a comparison using the words “like” or  “as” to indicate resemblance between two different kinds of things. I am like God=simile. God is like me. God is not human (male or female).  I am not God. But I (male or female) am like God.  God and me are two different kinds. In the first version (Priestly tradition) of the creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:4a God systematically created according to kind (i.e., air borne animals, water animals, land animals, humans, etc.). I am like God, but not God’s kind in the sense of being God.  A simile does not signify equality and/or symmetry between the two kinds, just similarity.
I am a woman.  I am a black woman. As a black woman I can relate to God in the image of a black woman. To make this claim is not to desacralize or desecrate God, but it is an expression of the sacredness of my life as a black woman and a rejection of attempts to desecrate and diminish my life and experiences.  It is my God-talk.  It is to affirm that God made and is reflected in me as a black women and in black people regardless of the many peoples of the world who believe I (we) are inferior and worthy only of servitude and oppression. To say God is a black woman does not exclude God from being He or It or like a Native American, Hispanic, or Indian woman.  The problem with many constructions of God as He is that God is visualized as a White male and/or any male, exclusively.   I do not believe God is limited anatomically or by the biologically-, psychologically-, and socially-determined characteristics we associate with being male.  How important is it to imagine God as having male genitalia?  Do we believe that to imagine God as male and not as male and/or female does justice to the assertion that God created them male and female both in the image of God?
In the second or Yawhist account of creation beginning at Gen. 2:4b God did not consider God’s self as a satisfactory divine companion for the human God created. So instead of starting from scratch, God formed the second human from the first human’s side (not the rib). Thus, they were of the same kind. Neither equal to God, but both formed by God.  Both could declare I am like God. And God is like me. I can know the likeness of God by looking at myself and into the ”face” of my fellow human beings.  But God and I are not equal.  I am not God.
For me as a black woman to say God is like me is to claim that there is nothing inferior about me as a Black woman. But there is something divine-like in me as a Black woman. And I can always tap into that divinity while inhabiting this black woman’s body and standing in my hermeneutical circle. My Designer hair, lips, hips, skin colors, unique accent are divine. I can look at me and see God.  I do not disappear in the face of God or in the face of a man.  When I hear “God,” I see me. She is like me. I am like Her. I am like God. Yet God stands apart from me molding, emboldening, informing, correcting, upholding, protecting, and empowering me.

4 comments:

Chris Cahill said...

The Biblical metaphors used to describe God are certainly numerous, creative, and varied. At one time or another in our lives one or another of them may appeal to us for any variety of reasons. The image of God as "Papa" in The Shack was startling to me at first, for instance, but ultimately very comforting in the place in my spiritual journey in which I found myself while reading it.

These days I most closely identify with the Rembrandt/Nouwen metaphor of God as the weary and joyful Father of the Prodigal Son. I'm getting to be an older white guy with white hair and a beard, and whether it's my own children or the Children of God among whom I minister I frequently find myself seeing them through the eyes of heartbreak and tears of compassion, wanting to welcome them into the arms of the God who loves them and never really wanted them to leave home in the firstplace.

It seems to me that our acceptance or fascination with the various metaphors for God can be helpful and beneficial sometimes in our spiritual journeys. Misuse of these metaphors, however, can have awful consequences: whether I force my favorite metaphor on someone else as if it's the only way to see God; or whether I stand in judgement over the other's metaphor of God as if it's totally heretical, I do nothing to help them to grow and journey in faith. I may even cause that faith to suffer damage needlessly.

So, God forgive me for the times I've imposed my own pictures of You on someone else!

WomanistNTProf said...

Chris, thank you for sharing some of your experience and your heart-felt comments. Yes, I think we all have been guilty of restricting the ways in which God can be experienced metaphorically at one time or another to the detriment of others and of ourselves. I had a girl break down in tears in a class about a year ago when she was given "permission" to see God as a mother or woman because, as she shared, her father was abusive. Sometimes there are power relations at work in our insistence on seeing God through our own eyes. Or we have been so socialized to believe that God must be seen as a man or the house will be found to have been built on sand. We continue to struggle.

Naomi Susan Schwartz Jacobs said...

From Isaiah 49:15, God speaks as a woman.

Can a woman forget her baby, Or disown the child of her womb? Though she might forget, I never could forget you.

I've always liked the Ethiopian icons with black divine figures.

WomanistNTProf said...

Thanks Naomi.