Apologia

I sometimes think it’s a miracle that I am back in the church, given the church in which I was raised and how far from it I wandered. While I grew from a toddler to a young teen my family belonged to a southern Presbyterian church in Louisville, Kentucky. Every Sunday for those eleven years I watched a drama unfold before me as the preacher ranted and raved and pounded on the pulpit with his message of Hell-Fire-and-Damnation. I absorbed this toxic message deep into my consciousness long before I could make any sense of it.

God was the old man in the sky; he was capricious, vengeful and ready to zap anyone who did any harm; and we were all sinners destined for hell. The impact of this message was profound: a deep distrust of myself and a toxic relationship with this God who I felt for years sat right on my shoulder ready to zap me or criticize me when I did anything wrong.

As we moved up north to Wilmington, Delaware, the message change, but for me the damage was done. As a young adult I questioned everything about Christianity as many college students do, but I continued to attend church until my late twenties. At that point I developed an intolerance of Christian language and left the church. My husband and I were part of a cult in California in the 70’s where they taught that Jesus was the model of a man, but certainly not God.

In leaving that cult I claimed for myself for the first time something that was true to me: that I did not belong there. But then the question came: who am I? what do I believe? One of the leaders suggested that if I could learn to love myself, well then…. And I took that as an assignment. I began to deal with that toxic images of myself and of God. I began to discover who I am outside of any group, outside of expectations, outside of the cultural model.

I read my way through Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism. I read the mystics and saints. In everything I read I found Jesus’ teachings, “Oh, that’s what Jesus meant.” I could embrace many ideas that I read, but in the end I decided that Christianity is my religion, it’s where I feel most comfortable, that Christ is my mentor/ guide/ healer/ love and more.

I formed my own beliefs through my experience of God, once I was able to let go of the old, tired, angry God in the sky. I can tell you how I now think of God, and I will, but I place far more importance on the relationship I have with God and where that has led me than on any of my beliefs. I joke with God that it is his fault that I espouse the beliefs I do. If I had not been in that hell-fire-and-damnation church, left the church and ventured through the world’s religions, I would probably be a proper unquestioning Christian woman today. I feel sure that God led me through all those explorations right back to Christ.

So keeping my history in mind, may I say that there is a “pantheon” of God within me. First, there is the trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit the feminine figure in the Trinity. Then there is Sophia, the wisdom I can tap into in lived experience. And there is Mary, another feminine figure, somewhat surprising for a Protestant, I know. I came to Mary through a dream of the Black Madonna years ago. A Jungian once told me that she appears when healing is needed. I certainly needed healing. And there is Mary as our Lady of Guadalupe: she has had quite a bit of influence on me.

And of course there is Jesus, the man who walked this earth and taught us how to live in a relationship with God. And Christ, the risen son. There is God the healer, God the protector, God the lover of all creation.

As to the part of God that is knowable and relational, I believe that God is masculine and feminine; I often use “he” to describe him [there I did it again]. Even though I’ve left behind the Old Man in the Sky kind of God, it’s still my habit to refer to God as he. I think that the part of God that is related to gender is a small part of who God is. I like what the cosmologists say about the universe: that we understand 4% of the universe—the planets, stars, asteroids, all the physical aspects—the rest is what they call dark matter. They know that the dark matter exists, but don’t know what it is.

That’s how I think about God—we understand about 4% of what God is from the Bible and our own experience; the other 96% is unknowable, but definitely exits.

You can see that I am not much of a feminist. I definitely acknowledge and need that feminine side of God in my life, but I don’t believe that one sex should dominate the other either in a description of God or in life. I see men being as damaged and limited by the patriarchal system as are women. They have one advantage over us: they have held the reins of power; but I worry about power in the hands of women and how power corrupts anyone who holds the reins and how difficult it is to be powerful without playing the lord or lady over everyone. For me I want to promote the true selves of both men and women equally. Within the true self there is the power to stand for who we are and what we believe without the need to crush someone else.

With God we have to think outside the box of what we’ve been taught in order to form a set of beliefs that is true to ourselves, and especially to our experience. Earlier I referred to the writings of saints and mystics. Here’s what Julian of Norwich wrote in Revelations: “our savior is our very moder[mother] in whom we be endlessly borne and never shall come out of him.”[1] She saw God/Christ/Spirit as mother, father, brother and sister. That’s what I experience of God. I heard recently of someone’s image of God as lying on a huge bed constantly birthing all of creation. I like that image of God as mother.

I would not try to convince someone of what I believe about God; I feel it is up to each of us to form the ideas of God that most fit our experience. It is important to me that we develop our own version of Christianity, that we own our religion and not just continue to parrot what we learned as a child. A person’s religion is an amalgamation of teachings about God and experiences of God. I place much more emphasis on the experience, because I so believe in developing a deep relationship with God.


[1] Quoted in Thomas L. Long’s paper at community.tncc.edu/faculty/longt/papers/Julian_Xt_as_Mother.html

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