She Walks With Me
Someone recently said to me, “The church has come a long way, but I think the one thing that will never change is male pronouns for God. God will always be the Father.” Being the insufferable know-it-all that I am, I obviously had to give her as many examples as I could of times when I have heard other names/pronouns for God used in worship. I still don’t know if she was lamenting the “fact” she shared or upholding the belief that God is indeed our Father. But it got me thinking. The church, specifically the Presbyterian Church (USA), has made great strides in recent years to become more inclusive of women, so why are we so stuck on this?
It’s important to note that as a denomination, Presbyterians don’t take a literal view of the Bible. It is a collection of texts originally communicated through the oral tradition before eventually being written down by humans. It has errors and is therefore not an encyclopedia to be taken as a rulebook for life. It has an historical context. All of this being said, it still speaks to us today, as long as we know how to listen.
When I visited Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, I went to their weekly jazz service. If you’re ever in Chicago, I highly recommend you go! One of the first things I noticed on the bulletin was “A Note on Inclusive Language: Incorporating ancient and contemporary traditions in this service, God is named corporately in a variety of ways that are gender neutral. This allows for your personal expressions as you are led to name the Holy in ways meaningful to you.” Ok – cool!
I was moved throughout the service as sometimes God was he, sometimes God was she, sometimes God was God, and sometimes God was they. I found myself ever more present in the service as I considered what about the passage might change my understanding (and therefore pronoun) of God. But it really hit me in the face as a soloist sang a song I’ve never particularly liked: In the Garden. But this time… “And She walks with me, and She talks with me. And She tells me I am Her own…” Whereas the original sounds like a creepy man taking me on a shady walk and telling me he owns me, this was a version I could not only get on board with but a version I could fall in love with! I actually pictured God as my Aunt Jane, sitting in the midst of a beautiful flower garden, pouring me a cup of tea, and letting me dump all of my problems at her feet – a God who is approachable; a God who loves me; a God who is a friend, a cool aunt with whom I share secrets I would never tell my parents.
What’s so wrong about that? Absolutely nothing. As the church seeks to be more inclusive and welcoming, we must make sure inclusive language is an active part of that process. Consider the phrase itself: “inclusive language.” In other words, we want our language to include others, to include other views of God, include other interpretations of Scripture, include other encounters of the Holy. It does not say you must change your own views (though that may end up what happens) – if you encounter God most meaningfully as a Father, great! But some of us have very negative experiences with our fathers, and the idea of God as a father quite literally scares us. So include us in worship. Include our views of the Holy. See our views as equally valid, and consider how they might help all of us encounter God in new ways.
God is BIG! God is bigger than our wildest imaginations. And to limit God to one pronoun, one metaphor, one idea is to miss the great wonder and wildness of God.
I’m going to go have tea in my garden now – you’re welcome to join us!