These days, gathering in community is more sacred than ever. When I was invited to Lutheridge Camp and Conference Center in Arden, NC to gather with a bunch of church musicians to explore the new worship resource All Creation Sings, it was an easy “yes” from me.
As chaplain of the retreat, I led worship each day, as well as a workshop on the scriptural images for God provided in the back of the assembly edition of All Creation Sings (pp. 268-271). We sat together for a while, each with a copy of All Creation Sings and me with a whiteboard and a marker.
To begin, I asked them how old they were and how they felt when they first heard God referred to with feminine language (whether pronouns or images like mother, etc.). We shared a beautiful conversation, which brought forth a bit of internal conflict. Many women, who really know that it’s right to imagine God far beyond the limits of gendered expression, had also felt dismissive and judgmental of it when their church leaders first used, say, a benediction with the word mother rather than father. That internal struggle is real.
Then, I gave them time to peruse the gorgeous list of images for God in All Creation Sings, and I asked:
- What made you teary because it was so beautiful?
- What surprised you because you couldn’t believe you haven’t read it in scripture before?
- What image do you want to ask your leaders to consider using in worship?
- Any categories you hadn’t considered before?
This all led to an important conversation about leading children’s choirs. One participant said something like, “I teach 3- and 4-year-olds in my youngest children’s choir. I teach them about the words we are singing, about how much Jesus loves them and all the world. If I am their teacher for two of their deeply formative years, and I only ever use the masculine pronouns for God, I am forming them. It’s a weighty responsibility.”
Then, someone asked me how to talk with someone who is against all this talk about God being anything but male. And I told them I would bring it all the way back to Genesis 1:26-27. God says to Godself, “Let’s make humankind in our image.” And then God does just that, makes humankind. Male and female.* Created in the image of God. So, if you want to get biblical about it, if you want to be faithful to scripture, then the first thing we know about God’s gender is that God will not be either/or, but both/and. And I intend to honor that in my teaching and preaching.
My gratitude is deep, both for the new resource and for those who gathered with me on that mountain as we learned to love it.
*Today, we understand gender to exist in more forms than the binary, but that’s the language we get in scripture. And if you are talking to someone who is adamant about God being only male, it seems faithful to begin with the language of Genesis and find some common ground there before moving to more expansive language about gender.