If My God Had a Gender


I have always been drawn to a God who eluded me. A God who transcends gender — transcends everything, actually. A God who rebels against all forms, annihilates conceptual constructs, blows my mind. In other words, a God I can’t believe in. Because beliefs are dangerous — dangerous to God, anyway. The minute we define Ultimate Reality we destroy it. God chokes and dies inside the boxes we make.

All the great sages tell us this, have always told us this. Zen poetry compares our human effort to describe the sacred to a scientist dissecting a flower to understand it. We murder the flower. Instead, we must simply pull up our bucket from the well and notice the morning glory wrapping itself around the rope, drops of water clinging to its luminous blue face. The very first thing Lao Tzu tells us in the Tao Te Ching is that the Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. This is the same reason why it’s blasphemy to speak or pronounce the name of God in Judaism. That’s what it means to kill the Buddha when you meet him on the road.

I am as inclined toward this non-dual relationship with the Divine as any reasonably educated person. I too think it’s goofy at best and even perilous to our souls to fall for the illusion that we can know anything about that Ground of Being, let alone speak about it in any kind of dogmatic terms. Even calling it the Beloved (my favorite nickname for God) is a limitation. And yet, as the years go by and I pride myself in fearlessly championing the radical unknowability of the Holy One, I find that I am drifting back toward a wee bit of personification. My God is starting to look like a woman.

She is the unconditionally loving mother and she is the unbridled lover, the little girl lost in play and the dignified queen whose mere presence radiates authority. She animates all that is sprouting and she scatters all seeds. She drives the surprise of creative self-expression and she dwells in stillness. She is fiercely protective and she pours mercy upon all beings. She is the embodiment of compassion and she is not even slightly sentimental.

My God is the Shekhinah of the Jewish tradition: the indwelling feminine face of the Holy One, who guides us through the wilderness of our lives as a pillar of mist by day and a pillar of fire at night. Through the Christian lens I recognize her as Sophia — Wisdom — and as Mother Mary, even as Christ himself, which is what Julian of Norwich concluded “the second person of the Trinity” had to be. In Islam, one of her 99 names is Sakina (serenity) and another is Jamila (beauty). She is Kwan Yin in China, and in Tibet she is Tara — born from the ocean of the Buddha’s tears he looked upon the suffering of the world and wept. My God is embodied. She is incarnational. She is right here.

Some say that until we ransom the exiled feminine from the religious equation we have no hope of rising above gender and restoring the Godhead to wholeness. Without Her, we are doomed to pine for an invisible Beloved we cannot hold in our arms, in whose arms we may not take refuge. Once we welcome Her home, we integrate the Great Mystery into the cells of our body and set our hearts free to encounter the Absolute in the place beyond all forms, in the Garden of Love where we were born.

What I know is that I know nothing. And so why not pretend? Why not imagine God as Divine Mother, as Sacred Lover, as Wise Ancestor and Faithful (Female) Friend? This is working for me. A breath I have long held is starting to release. If my God had a gender, she’d be a girl.

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