By definition, pet peeves are supposed to be a little bit weird, but I have one that really takes the cake: My biggest pet peeve is when people use the term “God” when they are more appropriately referring to the Father, the first person of the Trinity. When I hear someone say something about “God and Jesus” my eyes roll back in my theologically snobbish head and I bite my tongue in order not to shout “Jesus IS God!!”. And sometimes I shout it anyway.
I’ll admit that I am part of an underrepresented group in contemporary religion: someone who feels a close affinity with the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Most of the voices I hear are of those whose image of God is that of a Father (any father, probably theirs), or are of people whose entire spirituality is based on a Personal Relationship with My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Like everyone else, my life has been shaped the dominant language of my tradition, and Spirit-language isn’t dominant in much of our religious language – either Scripturally or liturgically. So yesterday’s great feast of Pentecost was a thrill for me as it often is, with the Holy Spirit finally getting it’s yearly due.
My soul-sister Rae wrote a great post a few weeks ago about how our image of God affects of approach to penance and reconciliation, noting that if we see God as Daddy whose rules we best not break, it affects – and often limits – our own personal morality. This came on the heels of a powerful experience of prayer during which, prompted to view God as Mother, I felt an intense shift toward a God-as-confidante rather than one who is part of the old-boys’ club I am constantly trying to infiltrate. Even for someone who wouldn’t dream of using a masculine pronoun to refer to God, this shift was so shaking that I had to put the thought away for a while. These two things have had me turning my image of God over and over in my head for the last few weeks, thinking what if?
What if we truly viewed God as Love? What if our image of God was of a Spirit ready to enliven and empower us? What if our concept of sin was focused on avoiding those things that keep us from allowing the Holy Spirit to set our hearts ablaze? What if one of our images of God was of a great collaborator, inspiring us to do all the good work we were put here for, and was crucial to our spirituality? What if, just for a little while, we put the Spirit of God in the foreground and tried to live in a way worthy of its passion and power?
Having grown up in the Southern Baptist tradition in the 1950’s American south, I have a hard time with “father” language and imagery for God. You can probably speculate on the myriad reasons why that might be true; I won’t elaborate here. When I need deep affirmation to feel as if I actually participate in the Divine, I turn to Bobby McFerrin’s miraculous version of the 23rd Psalm. It never fails to wash over me like warm rain; it calms, embraces and reassures like no other expression of Divine Love I have found. For me, the Spirit lives and moves in that piece of music.
My priest, when not bound by liturgical constraints, gives up the word “God” every year for Lent as an exercise in expanding her understanding and images of God. She has preached whole sermons replacing “God” with “Love,” and it is astonishing. She has also preached whole sermons replacing “believing” with “beloving,” which I find turns the whole idea of faith utterly on its head.
That’s all that needs be said.
Rob C. says
Great post, Meg. I think this is connected to a clearer understanding of incarnation as well, i.e. that it did not just happen once and for all in the past, but that it is happening now. The “old boys club” fears this way of thinking, as you know, because it means having to listen to the people of God and being open to change. Just came back from the American Catholic Council, a.k.a. Catholic Rebels Conference. Check out their website: americancatholiccouncil.org