I did not show my dismay, however. I just replied, “God isn’t a boy or a girl. And God is both a boy and a girl. God is everything at once.”
To this Naomi replied, “What’s God’s name?” As if, knowing God’s name would be proof.
“God,” I said. “But God has many names. People know God as Comforter, Yahweh, even ‘Rock’” Saying the first things that came to mind.
“Yeah, and God is sometimes a cloud.” Then, as we were putting on her shoes I asked her if, after school, she’d like to look with me for some of the names for God in the Bible, to which she nodded and that was that.
But, that is not that. How has the daughter of a feminist pastor already learned that God is gendered. And that she can’t like God because God is not her gender? Naomi is at this stage in her development, figuring out what it means to be a girl, and what it means to be a boy. She sometimes also says that she does like daddy because he’s a boy. Or she only likes me because we’re girls. So I don’t really think that the God’s purported gender would ultimately inhibit her loving God, but that’s not the point, of course, is it?
I have not been doing my job. Even with those books about God having different names and God being everywhere and my un-gendered talk about God, Naomi still knew that God was a ‘boy’ because that’s the language that everyone else uses. But, as anyone who’s given any though the question of a gendered God knows, language makes the naming of God tricky because our personal pronouns just don’t cut it.
To me this question challenges me at a particularly relevant time. I’m beginning to prepare a study on the Lord’s Prayer for our small English congregation. The Lord’s Prayer, which begins “Our Father in heaven.” We say it every Sunday, so I decided we should be thinking about it’s contents. And now, thanks to Naomi I’m thinking about how, with my Korean friends, I will address that very first line. It’s how Jesus instructed us to pray, so what does it say about who God is, gendered and otherwise?
I suspect that it might be a little radical for me to suggest that God might be anything other than benign abeoji. In Korean, as in English the word used is the more formal ‘father’. Yet Jesus invites his disciples to begin addressing God as appa, in Hebrew abba, something more akin to ‘daddy’. For Jesus’ disciples this meant an invitation into the arms of an intimate God. A God whose new community is like a family. But now for many using calling God ‘father’ or even ‘Daddy’ is not comforting but a stumbling block.
When I was a camp counselor at camp Valaqua, north of Calgary in Alberta, I butted heads several times over the differing theology I had from another (male) counselor, his being much more conservative than mine. But I was surprised to find that when it came to naming God, he readily accepted mothering imagery. As we talked about it, I discovered that because his relationship with an abusive and neglectful father, he had great difficulty thinking about or praying to a Father in Heaven.
The United Church of Canada congregations that I am familiar with in Winnipeg pray, “Our Father and Mother in heaven.” This is a little messy and confusing but at least acknowledges the complication of gendering God. I think when I address this prayer on Sunday I will talk about the multiple ways that we are invited into an intimate relationship with the Creator of heaven and earth. I believe that is what Jesus wanted for his disciples then and now.
Once again I am grateful to Naomi for helping me to think about who God is. In this case, she has also reminded me to help others think about who God is…Creator, Adonai, Yahweh, Sustainer, Spirit, Cloud, Light Rock…The list, of course, goes on. Thanks be to She.