Look in the Mirror!

(Haven’t posted for awhile. Trying to juggle grandparenting, work, pursuing a Masters in Theology and help a friend get a book published. In my feminist theology course I was asked to develop my personal theology. Well here it is…)

A Theology of Reflection

The most profound theological insight I have ever been received was from my younger daughter when she was four years old.

My cousin had lost his 12 year old daughter to cancer. I was devastated and sat in my living room crying my eyes out. My younger daughter, Sevima (Her name means “my love” in Turkish.), climbed into my lap and took my face into her tiny hands and said, “Don’t cry Mommy! I know what happens when you die. It’s like looking in a mirror!”

The words opened up my mind and heart. Of course! We are all made in the image and likeness of God, are we not? When we come face to face with our Creator, we will see a reflection of ourselves in God and God will “see a reflection of [God’s self]”[1] in us.

Somehow this concept has eluded us, especially women because we have been told that due to our femaleness we cannot image God. I thought: from the ‘mouths of babes’; if only to the ears of the hierarchy.

Masculine patriarchal theology is androcentric rather than androgynous[2] and this results in the suppression of any feminine aspiration to the Divine.  Religion is used to promulgate women’s inferiority resulting in their subjugation and oppression in all other spheres of existence.

Women’s inferiority was seen as “natural” by the cultures that cradled Christianity. In our history, this inferiority was generously reinforced by the teachings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. These two wonderful theologians  — arguably the two most influential in the West — not only questioned whether women had valid souls, but they outdid each other in describing women in the most vile and profoundly dehumanizing ways.[3]

We refer to God as “Father” and constantly and consistently us the masculine pronoun “he” when speaking of the Divine Source of all Being. (In this essay you will find brackets used numerous times to indicate a change from the masculine “His” to the more inclusive “God’s.” And BTW: Why in God’s name [sic] do we continually refer to priests as “Father” when Jesus himself told us not to? Matthew 23:9) No wonder half the human race is disenfranchised from our rightful heritage. A mirror, after all, is how we see ourselves.

We can never be all we’re created to be in the divine image until we expand our image of the Divine to include female and male and more. Growing up in male-dominated religion and culture, women have been devalued, stifled, and ignored. Women hold only about 17% of the seats in the U.S. Congress, and are under-represented in positions with decision-making power in religion and in many other fields in the U.S. and in other countries. In the U.S. alone, every 15 seconds a woman is battered. One in four American girls will have been sexually assaulted by the age of 18. One in three women experiences some kind of abuse. Throughout the world, 5000 women and girls are murdered each year by members of their own families. An estimated 4 million women and girls worldwide are bought and sold into prostitution, slavery, or marriage. Approximately 60 million girls are “missing” as a result of sex-selective abortions, infanticide, or neglect. Seventy percent of the poor are women.[4]

Feminist Thealogy is inclusive and egalitarian and seeks to integrate both sexes and indeed all creation into the divine image, thereby preserving the integrity of creation. God is not some separate and solely masculine entity complete with the requisite genitalia watching from his [sic] heavenly abode: God is indeed one with all of creation, living with, in and through both male and female.

Although Jewish (and Christian) theology speaks about God in male language and images, it nevertheless insists that such language and images are not adequate “pictures” of the divine, and that human language and experience are not capable of beholding or expressing God’s reality. The second commandment and the unspeakable holiness of God’s name are very concrete expressions of this insistence. To fix God to a definite form and man-made image would mean idolatry. Classical prophetic theology, often in abusive language, polemicized against the pagan idols and thus rejected goddess worship, but it did not do so in defense of a male God and a patriarchal idol. By rejecting all other gods, prophetic theology insisted on the oneness of Israel’s God and of God’s creation.[5]

I will also include Muslim and Arabic theology which while calling the Divinity by the masculine name of Al-Lah (the [sole] deity) always includes 19 feminine attributes of compassionate, merciful, just, ever-present, all-knowing, etc. thus reflecting both God’s masculine and feminine nature. In addition there is the Aramaic view of the whole Revelation in the first word: ANOKHI,  the Hebrew for an elevated, surpassingly awesome meaning of “I.”  (The ordinary Hebrew word for “I,” like the Latin “ego,” is “Ani.”) This ANOKHI arises not only from the Mountain, from the universe, but also from each one of us, each human, each frog, each galaxy, each quark.[6]

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Luke 1:46-55 The Magnificat.

Years later I presented a paper at the New Jersey Institute for Women’s Leadership. The keynote speaker for the event, psychologist Dr. Carol Gilligan, then a Harvard professor and, presented the thesis of her book, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development[7], in which she recounted how women were used as normative subjects for the first time in the history of psychiatry in a study on the correlation of mercy and justice. The results of the study found that with the occasional anomaly, nine out of ten times, when faced with any social or moral problem or dilemma; males will opt for a justice solution while females choose mercy.  I literally had a Pauline moment and fell off my chair. (Seriously, the people around me had to help me up.) In a flash of light it occurred to me that while Jesus most certainly was male, he taught as a female. He elevated mercy to its proper place beside, rather than beneath, justice and integrated the two into our awareness.  This integrity is incorporated in the consciousness of women. Women, too, reflect Christ! This leads to a whole new understanding of the integration rather than fragmentation of the human spirit and the Holy Spirit.

Thealogian Bridget Mary Meehan paraphrases Dr. Jann Aldredge-Clanton, a feminist Baptist minister, who, in her book In Search of the Christ-Sophia presents a logical biblical argument for the connection between Christ and Wisdom (Sophia) in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Christ and Wisdom both serve as being present from the beginning of creation. Wisdom was “set up at the first, before the beginning of the earth” (Proverbs 8:23); Like Wisdom, Christ was the one “through whom” God created the worlds” (Heb. 1:2; in Christ “all things in heaven and on earth were created” (Col. 1:16). “Christ “is the image of the invisible God” Col. 1;15. Christ is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being  (Heb: 1:2-3.) Since Christ is an exact reproduction of God, then Christ, like God, includes female as well as male.[8]

Jesus respected and included women in his ministry.  As an observant Jew immersed in Hebrew scripture and the inclusive nature of God (no doubt learned at his mother’s knee), he challenged the patriarchy of his day and his followers must continue that challenge if they are ‘in-deed’ to bear his name.  “What’s in doubt, too, is that the division between baptized men and baptized women can possibly witness to what we say is the faith: that men and women are equal; that women are fully human beings; that God’s grace is indivisible; that discipleship is incumbent on us all; that we are all called to follow Christ.”[9]

The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters. Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.[10]

Even though laudatory for bringing mercy into the spotlight, unfortunately Pope Francis doesn’t seem to grasp the feminine context as evident in the concentration on the paternal in the Jubilee Year of Mercy with its emphasis on being “Merciful like the Father,[11] again totally ignoring and therefore excluding it maternal impetus and imagery.  But even focusing solely on justice: “The feminine in God is a reality and we must accept it if there is to be justice for all. We must learn a new language.”[12]

By balancing female and male references to Deity, such as “Mother and Father,” “Brother and Sister,” “She” and “He,” we give strong support to the equality of women and men. Violence is far less likely between equals. When our worship services include biblical female names for Deity, such as “Mother” and Sophia (biblical Greek word for “Wisdom”) women and girls are valued and respected instead of excluded and abused. When we worship a Deity who includes female as well as male, we give sacred value to women and men and children and the whole creation. Including female divine images contributes to peacemaking. Worshiping a Deity who includes more than one gender lays a strong foundation for justice and peace in our world.[13]

When I facilitated a women’s bible study group 20 years ago, before we began or session I would give the members small mirrors and ask them to read aloud Genesis 1:27 while they looked at their reflections. So God created human beings in [God’s] own image. In the image of God they were created; male and female [God] created them.

Immediately they sat up straight from heretofore hunched over positions and smiled. Their body language indicated not only a change of thought, but a change of spirit; a recognition of their self-worth and the “core of their reality,” their own unique reflection of the Divinity.

From then on Scripture took on new meaning. They were not second class passive recipients of some male priest’s interpretation. They knew they were actively and divinely inspired to read and understand scared texts and moreover could contribute to the group’s comprehension and development.  In short they became “alive in the Spirit.”[14]

In order to fully actualize ourselves as images of the divine we must discover and embrace our own sacredness,[15] our own reflection of God.  We must reject the patriarchal assumptions of the patristic Church. We must put aside the sexist, unscientific, injurious, demeaning and downright sinful dualistic theology of Augustine and Aquinas that have made God in the image of man.[16]

If humanity seeks wholeness then the whole not half of humanity must reflect its Creator. If humanity is to evolve beyond projecting God in the male image it must embrace and celebrate the integrity and imminence of the divine. We have to call God by feminine names, cast God in feminine images, and create an iconoclasm to usher in egalitarian reality rather than male fantasy.[17]

A Thealogy of Reflection seeks equality for all, rights of the marginalized and oppressed. It speaks for the voiceless embracing and acknowledging that all creation is imbued with the Spirit of God. The unified soul of humanity will then magnify the Divine and its spirit will rejoice in God. Perhaps a good way to start is simply by looking in a mirror.

 

[1] http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/all-human-life-is-very-good-in-gods-eyes-cardinal-says/

[2] Gross, Rita, Feminism and Religion, Boston MA, Beacon Press; 2 edition (October 31, 1996) pp 65-105

[3] http://www.scribd.com/doc/214914244/Letter-from-Augustinian-Fr-John-Shea-to-180-bishops

[4] Aldredge-Clanton, Ph.D., Jan, http://www.jannaldredgeclanton.com/main1.php

[5] Fiorenza,  Elisabeth Schussler,  In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins Crossroads, New York, 1992, copyrighted 1983, p. 133

[6] .In the treasury of so-called “Gnostic” ancient texts written in the Semitic language Coptic and found in our own generation hidden at Nag Hammadi in Egypt,  one was labeled  The Thunder: Perfect Mind.

Most of its 60-some verses begin with the same “ANOKHI, I” and they are almost all celebrations of a female, feminine, and paradoxically all-inclusive  understanding of God: Most of its 60-some verses begin with the same “ANOKHI, I” and they are almost all celebrations of a female, feminine, and paradoxically all-inclusive  understanding of God:

I [Anokhi] am the first and the last

I am what everyone can hear and no one can say

I am the name of the sound and the sound of the name

I am she who is honored and she who is mocked

I am the whore and the holy woman

I am the wife and the virgin

I am the mother and the daughter

I am the limbs of my mother

I am the sterile woman and she has many children

I am she whose wedding is extravagant and I didn’t have a husband

I am the midwife and she who hasn’t given birth

https://theshalomcenter.org/content/i-who-spoke-sinai-and-nag-hamadi

[7] Gillian PhD, Carol, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development, Harvard University Press (1982); Revised ed. edition (July 1, 1993)

[8] http://bridgetmarys.blogspot.com/2010/05/exploring-feminine-face-of-god-in.html

[9] Chittister, Joan, “Eucharist,” Spirituality Magazine, Volume 18, March-April 2012, No 101. Dominican Publications: Republic of Ireland.

[10] Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy http://www.im.va/content/gdm/en/giubileo/bolla.html

[11] http://www.im.va/content/gdm/en.html

[12] Phillips, Beverly Jane, Learning a New Language: Speech about Women and God, iUniverse, Inc  NY, NY  (2005) p. 133

[13] http://www.jannaldredgeclanton.com/main1.php

[14] Moon, Karen, “Finding your purpose and your ‘spirit’- from the Latin word ‘spirare’ literally meaning ‘breathe’- means finding that which makes you come alive.”  from Gather the Women and Heal What Ails Us

http://feminismandreligion.com/2015/12/04/gather-the-women-and-heal-what-ails-us-by-karen-moon/

[15] Gross, Rita M., Feminism and Religion, Boston MA, Beacon Press (1996) p. 165

[16] Horowitz, Maryanne Cline, (1979). The Image of God in Man—is Woman Included? Harvard Theological Review, 72, pp 175-206 Published online: 10 June 2011 . DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0017816000020010

[17] Daly, Mary, “Why Speak About God?,” Woman Spirit Rising, Carol P. Christ & Judth Plasow, editors, Harper One,(1992) pp 210-218

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