She’s Got The Whole World In Her Hands

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Claire Colvin -Femininity is Divine3

There were about a hundred of us in a wooden chapel at a camp a couple of hours from Vancouver at Rise Up, Sister. Some of us were old friends, and some very, very new friends. Together we sang a simple song and it took my breath away.

She’s got the whole word in her hands.
She got the whole world in her hands.
She’s got the whole wide world in her hands.
She’s got the whole world in her hands.

I gasped.

I have been in the church my entire life and I have never heard God referred to in female terms. I grew up in what I now realize was patriarchy and it started right at the top. God was always male. And so were all the pastors and the elders and the deacons. It genuinely never occurred to me that there could be anything feminine about God. Now I have to ask myself, where did I think femaleness came from?

In Genesis 1:27 it says, So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

I was so quick to accept that men were created in the image of God but women were, what exactly? Something else? Something a little less, perhaps? There must be a female side, a mothering side, to God if both male and female were created in God’s image. Does it feel blasphemous to read that? It feels a little dangerous to write it out. I cannot give you a fully formed theology of the femininity of God, but it’s a conversation that I am starting to have with myself.

Here’s what I know today: the idea that God looks a little like me is transformative. It shakes the foundations of how I see myself, how I see my sisters and how I view our place in the world and even more importantly in the church. I used to think that only having male pastors was a matter of tradition or denomination. But I’m realizing that  it goes much deeper than that. It’s saying that women can’t be trusted with the Word of God and I reject that idea flat out.  

This idea of women as untrustworthy goes a long way back, all the way back to my young days in Sunday School learning about Adam and Eve in the garden. When I think about what I was taught about Eve’s role in the creation narrative it’s mostly this: Eve screwed up. Eve was blamed not just for what happened to her, but what has happened to all of us. They told me Eve was shameful.

What I’m realizing now is that Eve was the deceived, not the deceiver.

It wasn’t Eve who brought evil into the garden. Eve was not the snake. And yet how often are women still treated as if we were snakes? We are often viewed with suspicion. I grew up around a church youth group where all the girls were told to wear a t-shirt over our bathing suits so we didn’t tempt the boys while swimming. We were taught that our bodies were inherently seductive and that was shameful. We were taught that if the boys reacted to our bodies it would be our fault. We were not taught that our bodies were beautiful and strong.

I have often confused what the church told me about women with what God says about women. I left the church for a time because I could not be in a place that did not value women. It’s been a long road back. I believe that God loves women in general, and me in particular, and for me that means I need to be part of the church. But it’s a struggle. I have friends who cannot bear to walk into a church these days and I see their point. But I believe there’s strength in fighting the battle for female inclusion from within.

At the same conference where we sang, “She’s got the whole world in her hands” one of the women told the story of a lady who stood for election to the elder board at her church for 23 years straight. Each year she’d stand for election and each year she was ignored and each year the week after the election she was back in church, singing hymns and holding babies. Year after year she fought and she also showed up. She showed them that she wasn’t going anywhere, but she wasn’t going to be quiet either. After the fifteenth year the pastor called her and said, “I guess this is a conversation we need to have.” The twenty-second year they voted for her. And the twenty-third year, two women stood for election.

If you’ve never considered God as anything other than male, try flipping the pronouns in your favourite worship song and see what happens. God has a feminine side, I’m convinced of it and I believe that it’s time for women to be restored to their place in the church. I have no idea what this revolution will look like, but it starts with the radical idea that femininity is divine and women are not second best. How can we tell women to sit down and be quiet once we’ve learned to look at them and see the face of God? This is a road we need to go down and as we walk it together, I know what song I’ll be singing.

 

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Claire Colvin
Claire is learning to call herself a feminist. She has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade. In 2013, her National Novel Writing Month entry was a science fiction story about a broken world where everyone was required to be as similar as possible. Claire wishes she could fold the world like a map so the people she loves weren’t so far away. She lives on a small mountain near Vancouver and writes at clairecolvin.ca.
Claire Colvin
Claire Colvin

Latest posts by Claire Colvin (see all)

Claire Colvin
  • Oh my heart!!!! This writing brings me to tears. I relate in so many ways and on so many levels. — Your story is my story. My story is your story. Our stories are their stories. We as women need to hold one anothers’ stories and run forward with those experiences. There is much work to be done, and I see lights flickering, and lamps lit and I see people beginning to pave the way. I see the waking and I see the hope. — Your story is a song deep deep in my heart. — I loved these words: “Here’s what I know today: the idea that God looks a little like me is transformative. It shakes the foundations of how I see myself, how I see my sisters and how I view our place in the world and even more importantly in the church.” And the story of the woman showing up and trying to persistently pressing up against the glass ceiling as she continued to try out to be elected as an elder. What an amazing testimony!

    • The story about the lady and the elder board hit my right in the stomach – I wish I could remember who told it. On the one hand I am furious that it took 15 years for them to concede that maybe they should discuss it, but then I am so impressed at her persistence, at her refusal to make herself smaller to fit into the space someone else had decided was all she could have. I wonder what it was like for her at home. Did people tell her husband to get his wife in line? Was he on board? Did they argue about it? I can just imagine the kinds of things that were probably said to both of them by “well meaning, God fearing church folk”. Thank you for your kind words.

  • Tracy Nelson

    <3

  • Saskia Wishart

    ❤️❤️❤️Yes! I know the scandalous feeling of hearing, and then speaking out, references to God using female pronouns. I was taught as a child that doing so is a serious sin. All the terrible consequences that trickle down from this belief that God is a man… That women are the lesser vessel and that is why they are so easily tricked by the snake. That women’s primary role on earth is to be the helper of man. I know lots of churches would argue they don’t actually believe women are less, but mine openly did.

    It’s taken a long time to unravel and reset. And I still I have to remind myself that it is not wrong to say God, our Mother. I attribute so much of the freedom I have found with this to Sheloves, hearing so many women straight up speak of God in a new way. Breathing life and faith back in.

    (Also, so wished I could have joined Rise Up! Love hearing bits about it).

    • “I know lots of churches would argue they don’t actually believe women are less, but mine openly did.” YES to this. I think a lot of churches would say that they value women, and maybe they intend to value women, but when there’s a list of things you can’t do just because you’re a girl . . .all that talk rings hollow. I think a lot of it is so deeply ingrained that people don’t even see it – I certainly didn’t see it for a long, long time. So often I’ve heard sermons where they try to reframe “women as the weaker vessel” as a matter of honour within the idea of needing to be taken care of. But I’ve always thought that in the strongest partnerships, in the best marriages, the two spouses take care of each other.

      I, too, wish you could have been at Rise Up! In part because you would have loved it and in part because I’d love to meet you. I don’t know if there are any plans to do it again some day, but I hope so.

  • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes

    Beautiful! I love the gentle strength you infuse into this conversation. Thank you for being bold and brave and divinely you. ❤

    • Thanks Nichole! It was so great to meet you. It’s always a struggle to talk about challenging things without picking fights. I’m so pleased that you saw gentleness in this.

  • “I believe there’s strength in fighting the battle for female inclusion from within.”
    Awesome. Strong words, well said.

    • Thank you Kelley. I think it’s important to be in the church while doing the work of changing the church so it’s a thing we’re doing together and not a thing we’re telling someone else they should clean up.

  • fiona lynne

    Well you already know how much I love this… 😘 Thanks for sharing your heart in this. I am more and more convinced that we need to be having this conversation in every church and Christian home, because our liberation depends on it. xx

    • Thank you for going first Fiona! It’s hard to describe what singing that song together felt like but it was holy that’s for sure.

      • fiona lynne

        Yes, holy ground. It’s the memory I will always carry with me from that weekend.

    • Fiona, goodness, this was so so needed. I keep thinking of how grateful I am (we are) for you making the trip all the way from the UK to be with us. God knew we needed what you had to present to us from your humble nightly moments with your little girl. This simple lyrical switch in song was the strength we needed to move forward. I know I needed it.
      *virtual hugs* xxx

      • fiona lynne

        I needed it too. It did something powerful to me to share it with you all, to sing it with you all. I am standing more confident in this now that I have the memory of you singing along with me. xxx

        • I hadn’t thought of what it must have felt like to be you at the centre of that song. I am so honoured that you sang for us, that’s such a beautiful gift. It sounds like you could feel the love as we all sang together which is such a beautiful picture.

  • Preach, my friend. Preach. // It was such a tender moment when Fiona sang to us and I love how you have taken that moment and expanded it and told your story and made *this.* Beautiful.

    • It was a tender moment, and I think a very very necessary one. Thank you for creating spaces where moments like that can happen.

  • sandyhay

    I too was overwhelmed with Fiona leading us in song. I’ve been a Christian for DECADES yet I’ve always felt the need to put a governor on how I expressed myself within the church about God. Fortunately we have authors such as Madeleine L’Engle and Anne Lamott and Sarah and others. But that’s the printed word not my pulpit, not even my life group. I’m so tired of being subversive but like you and the persistent lady who wished to be an elder, I will stay in my church. I love the people there and maybe when the shackles fall from their eyes, I can help them see a little better. Thank you Claire. I can hear your voice and see your smile and that makes me smile:)

    • I’m usually pretty careful too Sandy. I’m know there are people who think it’s very wrong to suggest a feminine side to God, but that just shows their existing bias. If it’s insulting or degrading or somehow makes God lesser to be referred to as female what does that say about how women are viewed? I’m glad we’re on this journey together.

      • “If it’s insulting or degrading or somehow makes God lesser to be referred to as female…”
        Whew, I got chills reading that!

    • “I’m tired of being subversive”. I’m nodding my head in agreement to all you’ve stated here. *insert praise hands*

  • Holly

    Like I said on FB when I shared this article, that weekend…Fiona singing over us…the way you’ve articulated these concepts: It will not leave me alone.
    Glory.

    • It won’t leave me alone either. I’m looking forward to the Ed. meeting tomorrow 😀

  • Megan Gahan

    As you know, you and I came from similar church backgrounds. Because I that, what stands out to me the most is the COURAGE it took to write this. Particularly when you know people in your circle will not “get it”, or potentially be offended. I so applaud you, my friend. I don’t know that I would have been brave enough to write about that sacred moment, and I am so wildly glad that you did. And you did it with such a beautiful balance of gentleness and conviction. So proud of you . . this is one of my favorite pieces from you ever. xx

    • Thank you Megan! I was nervous posting this one. We’ll see where it lands.

    • Yes. Everything Meg’s said. The COURAGE!! Gosh, I’m so dang proud of this piece and you and your courage and conviction. Hands down my favourite of yours. Cxx

      • Thank you Chervelle! I rarely feel brave so this was a treat to read 😀

  • Stephanie Cater

    Claire, thank you for sharing this. That was such a wild and precious moment that weekend. ❤

    • It was, wasn’t it? I’ve had a few people ask me what the weekend was like and this is the closest I’ve come to being able to describe it.

  • I love this so much! Our church has stopped using pronouns with God. At first it seemed awkward and weird but now I love it. My daughter asked me why God can’t be a “she” the other day and I asked her what she thought. She paused a minute and replied, “I guess God can be whoever she wants to be.” I love that I get to raise daughters in a culture like this!

  • ‘I have no idea what this revolution will look like, but it starts with the radical idea that femininity is divine and women are not second best.’ Me either but I love this starting place. I go to a ‘progressive’ church but we still don’t have women preaching or women guest preachers. I’m going to start talking about divine femininity in hopes of bringing about change.

  • Julianne Vandergrift

    Thank you!