“Un-Bloking” God…

Rediscovering God’s Feminine side: Part One

Catherine Cowell
Inspire, Believe, Grow


Photo by Calvin Craig on Unsplash

God is He.

This has been true for nearly every Christian everywhere. Forever.

In songs and hymns and stories and books and scripture, God is He. Almost every theologian and preacher and priest and pope and organist and author and mega-church leader, and televangelist are also a he.

And for most of us, that’s kind of a ‘non-fact’. It’s just the way things are.

The long-overlooked decor of our Christian lives. The wallpaper we don’t notice because it’s been there forever. It sets the tone, but we really don’t see it.

The trouble is, a few years ago, I did start noticing. Or rather, someone pointed it out. Like when you’re sitting peacefully, enjoying the silence until your companion gripes about the clock in the corner.

And suddenly, you can’t NOT hear it.

We were having lunch. “If men and women are made in the image of God,” she said, “then God is as much female as male.” This simple statement sent me on a bit of a quest. As she said it, I realised two things.

Firstly that she was self-evidently correct.

Secondly, while I could assent intellectually to what she was saying and would even vehemently agree with her, God as both male and female, simply wasn’t my experience. And it probably isn’t yours either. The thought of referring to God as ‘she’ felt uncomfortable. It felt alien. More than that, it felt heretical. Even though, logically, I knew it wasn’t. I sensed the Good Christian within me running away, screaming from the idea of exploring the feminine side of God. It felt like dangerous, forbidden ground. This, despite the fact that there it is, staring us in the face, right in the first chapter of Genesis. In the beginning.

So with the observation that my experience of God did not match my theology, I decided to embark on a journey. Why? Well, because it occurred to me that if we are both male and female, female and male, created in the image of God, then if I saw God as exclusively male, I was going to be missing out in ways that I hadn’t even begun to notice. My view would be skewed. Perhaps damagingly so. I was also both perturbed and interested by the way my Inner Good Christian was so very alarmed by the idea of even entertaining the prospect. What on earth was going on?

Of course, you might be rolling your eyes and saying, “this really isn’t relevant. God doesn’t have a gender.” Yes! You’re right! God, being Spirit, is not, literally, either a man or a woman. Or a girl or a boy, for that matter. God is not gay or straight or Jewish or American. God did not grow up in Aleppo or in Berkshire. God is neither white nor black. God is Spirit.

In one sense, God has no gender at all. God is far bigger than gender. In fact, God is bigger and more mysterious and indefinable than we can even begin to imagine. There have been times on my quest when thinking about the femininity and masculinity of God has seemed ridiculous.

How can we possibly talk about God in terms as primitive and limiting as male and female?

This journey of discovery into the feminine divine has coincided with a period in my spiritual life when I have been increasingly aware of just how incomprehensible God is and how frankly preposterous it is to imagine that we could even begin to describe God at all.

But — and this is what has given me the courage and why I think this is important — God chooses to come close. The word became flesh. As well as being enormous and beyond understanding and obviously nothing like us, God is closer than the air that you breathe and chooses to be known in ordinary ways as well as extraordinary ones. Jesus used many different ways to help us to understand who he is. He called himself light and bread and wine and shepherd and gate and friend and brother.

The Old Testament, too, is rich with metaphors to help us understand God. In its pages, God has many names. God is called Almighty, certainly, but also shepherd and soldier and potter and rock and dwelling place and lamp and gardener. Concrete, earthy words help us connect with our incredible, incomprehensible, ineffable God.

The glorious truth and mystery of our faith are that God is not only transcendent but also intimate. God is the sea on which we sail, vast and deep and unimaginable, stretching beyond our farthest horizons. God is also our companion in the boat.

It’s as we connect with God, our close friend and companion, that the gender question becomes most acute. When we talk to God, we talk to Someone and not Something. Otherwise, there would be no relationship.

Traditionally, we have been taught that the Someone with whom we commune is male. Almost completely and exclusively. We have been taught this not primarily through our theology but through the use of language and imagery in our common discourse and worship, and practice.

Although the Bible does include feminine imagery and metaphor as well as masculine when it talks of the divine, we are so used to seeing God as a male we very rarely notice.

This is the beginning of a series of articles exploring the feminine imagery of God within our Christian scripture and tradition. In this journey, I intend to explore how and why we arrived at a point where God is seen as exclusively male. I want to know what the Bible says. How is God portrayed in its pages if we take off the bloke-tinted-lenses through which we are used to viewing it? Are the translations that we use correct to always use ‘He’ as the divine pronoun, or did the translators have a bit of a bloke-tinted lens too? And then I want to look at what the impact has been of a few millennia of seeing God as male. Not just on women but also on men. What perspectives have we been missing? What have we lost that we might like to rediscover?

This journey is partly about how we think about God, the church, ourselves, and one another. But it is more than that. It is also about how we connect with God. The difference it might make to our prayer, contemplation, and Bible reading individually and when we are in community together.

This is not an unknown territory unfamiliar to most of us. Human beings have always known that there is femininity and masculinity within the divine, but because our Christian culture and practice and the language and imagery we use, both individually and corporately, maintain a virtually exclusively male-centric view of God, it is not exactly well-travelled territory.

There aren’t many maps, and satellite navigation systems tend to run out of signal. As I have been writing and exploring this topic, I have begun to speak to people about it. I find a few people already encounter and think about God as feminine sometimes. For most, though, it is a new concept.

There is much to discover. I have begun to think about what it means for the way I relate to God. And I discover that I want to understand that better. I want to know what happens if I entertain the possibility that God is as much ‘she’ as ‘he’. The first signs are that it opens up incredible vistas that I had never known existed.

I don’t for one moment believe that this exploration is just relevant for women. If we have been missing the feminine within the divine, it’s not just women who miss out. It’s everyone. If women can gain much through relating to a father in heaven, then I am sure that men will grow through discovering their mother in heaven. An exclusively masculine view of God skews our personal spiritual lives and our corporate worship.

So it’s time to head off. Let’s bid our inner Good Christian farewell for a while — perhaps encourage her — or him — to chill out in the corner with a mug of cocoa and a good book. Let’s remove our bloke-tinted spectacles and venture out into what might feel like dangerously unchartered waters.

For the next part in this series:

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Catherine Cowell
Inspire, Believe, Grow

Adoptive parent, follower of Jesus, spiritual director, coach, writer. Lover of coffee shops, conversations and scenery. Host of the Loved Called Gifted podcast