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 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.