Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Name Game

A couple of days ago I commented on changes to the American Catholic liturgy. Today I read that the Presbyterian Church (USA) is considering some drastic changes of its own.

The church’s national assembly voted to “receive” (one step short of approving) a more gender-inclusive reference to the Trinity. No, not Natalie, Martie, and Emily, they are the Dixie Chicks. In addition to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (nee Ghost) the Trinity may soon make a liturgical debut as Mother, Child, and Womb” or “Rock, Redeemer, and Friend” or “Lover, Beloved, and Love.”

The goal of the changes is to remove the misnomer that God— King of Kings, Lord of Lord, and Man of War—is male. Not a bad goal as goals go, but to say that these changes “do not alter the church’s theological position,” as the church claims, is to say you are not taking these changes very seriously.

If God the Father is now God the Mother, just how did Mother impregnate Mary with Child? And if She did, what does this say about homosexuality in the church? God is now a lesbian, so how can we say lesbianism is an abomination? Gay men are still out, of course, because it is man on man sex that really freaks the Church Fathers out. Women on women, well lets just say boys will be boys unless they are gay in which case they are abominations.

But could a Lesbian God really hate gay men? I doubt it. So I imagine that soon after the return of the Mother we will find a way to welcome gay men as well.

I for one am happy about this. I am a bit less comfortable with the Holy Womb.

A womb is a uterus, a hollow muscular organ located in the pelvic cavity of female mammals. True, I believe that God manifests as all things, so this hollow muscular organ is also God, but do I really want to pray to it? When people say they are moved by the Holy Spirit, am I to imagine they are being squeezed by an invisible uterus? And if we are trying to make our religious language gender-inclusive, did it ever occur to people that only women have wombs?

For a moment I thought the way out would be the Lover, Beloved, Love trinity. But lovers need not be spouses and spouses need not be lovers, so now God is supporting love outside of marriage which makes everyone not living in Massachusetts very nervous.

So what to do? Opt for the liturgy of the unformed Quaker service: silence. Just sit in God’s presence and know that whatever images come to mind regarding God are neither real nor accurate.

As Lao Tzu has been trying to teach us for thousands of years: the God that can be named is not the eternal God.


Emmet said...

Personally, as far as Christianity goes, I'm a fan of Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. The womb stuff seriously creeps me out. I understand the desire to make a religion seem less patriarchal and more inclusive, but simply alternating pronouns isn't going to do that--and it leaves out all of us who aren't men or women. I try not to get too bent out of shape about it, but when I do, I just flip open to the Gospel of Thomas where Jesus says, "No one may enter the Kingdom of God who is either a man or a woman," and think, ah, all you non-transgendered people, you're screwed. ;)

Rachel said...

Well, yes, of course Lao Tzu has a point there.

But I'm inclined to push back a little on your quibble with the womb metaphor. Doesn't the divine quality of rachamim come from the root rechem, which means womb? One of my favorite names for God is ha-rachaman, All-Merciful, which to me has a kind of divine womb connotation.

It's a mistake to confuse the part with the whole, and to presume that any aspect or partzuf is the whole reality of God. (Think blind men & elephant.) But I think we can still derive value from interacting with our partial understandings.

For my part, I favor using a wide range of metaphors for God. King, Queen, Mother, Father, Source, ayn ha-chayyim, ha-makor, ha-makom, All-Mighty, All-Merciful. In so doing, we remind ourselves that our metaphors are only metaphors, and can only hint at ultimate reality. If we use the same words all the time, they can become so familiar that they calcify.

(Of course, it seems that only liturgy nuts like me actually enjoy praying with all of these different names; the changes drive everyone else crazy. Oh, well.)

AaronHerschel said...

O you divine! O master of marbles and bits of pocket fluff! Sneezer of sneezes, yawner of yawns! You who lean nonchalantly yet stubbeth thy toe, who loses thy keys and finds them, hours later, in the place thou hadst already looked! Who knows wherein lie the sweat socks lost in the laundry, whose vision encompasses mosquitos and elephants! Greatest of molehills, littlest of mountains! O marvelous, thou art!