Atticus and my grandma.
When I was 14 or 15, I was handed a copy of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King. I have written about it several times, so all I will say here is that reading about a girl my age who could mentally keep up with Sherlock Holmes was a game changer for me. Later that year, I discovered that there was another book, called A Monstrous Regiment of Women. Besides featuring loads of sexual tension between our two main characters, it also discussed Mary Russell’s dissertation, which was on the feminine aspects of God.
“That means that an entire vocabulary of imagery relating to the maternal side of God has been deliberately obscured . . . God the Mother, hidden for centuries . . . It’s no fluke. Once you’re looking for it, it’s everywhere. Job thirty-eight, Psalm twenty-two, Isaiah sixty-six, Hosea eleven, Isaiah forty-two. And, of course, the Genesis passages you cited tonight.” -Laurie R. King, A Monstrous Regiment of Women
(It’s too long to quote the whole passage, so that’s just a smidge of it. But it gives the flavor.)
I was scandalized. I had never heard anything like this. I wondered if I would get in trouble for reading such a thing.
Beneath my mental objections, something buzzed in my heart that this was not that crazy. After all, my mother and aunts and grandmother lived out their faith. Women taught me in Sunday School and fed me cookies and the stories of Jesus during VBS. They were part of the story of faith as I knew it, made in the image of God. Why shouldn’t they also be reflected in the ways we talk about God?
When I was in college, my Aunt Nancy lent me her copies of The Genesis Trilogy by Madeleine L’Engle. In it, L’Engle refers to God not with a male or female pronoun, but as El.
“One of the early words by which the ancient Hebrews knew God was El. El–the Lord. Beth-el, for instance, means the house of God. So I find it helpful, whereever and whenever possible, to call God El, or el, rather than using the masculine or feminine pronoun, because the name el lifts the Creator beyond all our sexisms and chauvinisms and anthropomorphisms.” -Madeleine L’Engle, And it was Good
“The personal pronoun was not a problem when it referred to the entirety of the human being, but we are presently living in a genitally-oriented culture, and I do not find it comfortable to limit God to the current sexual connotations and restrictions of the personal pronoun . . . Of course God is mother, nurturer, generator, as well as father, ruler, lawmaker.” – Madeleine L’Engle, A Stone for a Pillow
In recent years, Madeleine L’Engle has come back into favor with her writings on faith and art. I always wonder if the people now embracing her know how controversial her books were 25 years ago, when you couldn’t find her in Christian bookstores because of her unorthodox views and when parents were requesting that A Wrinkle in Time be pulled from school library shelves because of witchcraft.
Reading this was another heart-pounding moment for me. Was anyone looking over my shoulder? Did they know I was being . . . influenced?
Mike and I would have said, twelve years ago, that we would be following traditional gender roles. I went into marriage expecting him to lead in certain, specific ways. I expected to follow him in similar specific ways. It didn’t really work out like that.
When I would defer, he would call my bluff. He knew when it was a cop-out, when I wanted him to provide that safety net. When I wanted to hide behind him rather than making my own decisions. He forced me to grow up, to make choices, to take stands. When I had questions about my faith, he pushed me to work them out myself rather than giving me answers like I hoped he would. The story of our marriage is of learning to see things as a team, of facing the world together. We might have called it something else at first, but in practice, he treated me as an equal, and so I began to act as one.
And then they came like stepping stones: the first time I heard a woman preach and none of us were struck down by lightning. The friend who said that her son thought God was a woman and she never bothered to correct him. She was also not struck down by lightning. Conversations about the Bible where we talked about cultural context and, shockingly, were not struck down by lightning. There seemed to be a place in our faith for women to do more than work with the children. A place for God to be more than just a father. A place for me.
Last year, I wrote Atticus a letter that in which I said that, when God delights in us, it must be like when a grandmother delights in her grandchild. I learned that from watching my mom with him, from my own grandmother and my great-grandmother.
This is what I want him to know: his father’s love reflects the love of God. And so does his mother’s. And his grandmother and his aunts and uncles and all his friends and whoever else he picks up along the way. Everyone is not the same. But there is an equal place for all of us in God’s family.