Gender matters. Yes, I am totally on the bandwagon for eliminating the gender concept completely because I have witnessed how limiting it is, but until that happens, gender matters. It especially matters to those of us who have been oppressed because of our gender. If you think gender is not important, you probably have never suffered because of your gender. Gender matters in our lives and that includes spirituality too.
In my seminary classes, there is a lot of conversation about "inclusive language." Inclusive language most often involves trying to find alternative names for the Divine to make some room for femininity. Unfortunately, this sometimes results in people replacing "God the Father" with "Mother-Father God." The first time I heard this was in a group prayer and I was incredibly confused and pulled out of my prayerful space. "Who does that work for?" I wondered incredulously. Upon further reflection I've come to realize that the only people that upon hearing "Mother-Father God," would further open their awareness to the Divine would have to be either:
Another example of a similar attempt for inclusive language is that some Metropolitan Community Churches, an unapologetically queer Christian denomination, will use "God-Goddess" in their services. It is often said quickly so it almost sounds like a stutter, or like the minister really meant to say "Goddess," but was in the habit of saying "God." The order, also makes it seem like the feminine is an afterthought, tagged on to make the feminists happy. Again, the main issue I have with this is that the "inclusive" language is not being used as an effective bridge to encountering the Divine.
Furthermore, both of these attempts at inclusive language still remain limited by the gender binary construct! That is not difficult to overcome. Why not use: Creator, Holy One, Divine One, Source of All, Guardian, Protector, Benevolent One, Healer, Sustainer, Counselor, or something else along those lines? Those are just what came into my head while writing this.
Even if your concept of the Divine is a formless being, in order to relate to that being in any way, a form is necessary. And that form needs to be relatable. It's just human psychology; humans prefers things that are familiar. This is probably why so many deities, angels, devas, etc. appear in art to have a human form. A human form with a perceived gender.
Think about it. How often have you longed to talk with someone else who shares your gender identity because they will better understand what you are going through? How often have you avoided talking about an issue with someone because of their gender? Does gender factor into your choice of doctor or therapist?
It's not any different when it enters the realm of spirituality. Gender is likely going to come into play in your selection of a spiritual director, a minister, a guru, or a priest. You are likely going to be more open to receiving spiritual direction, healings, or teachings from someone who is either your own gender or the gender of a trusted caregiver you had when you were young.
And then there is your perception of the Divine. Here's an experiment. If you haven't associated a gender with the Divine before, try it out now. Visualize the Divine as a deity of your own gender standing before you, smiling and bestowing protection and blessings. Now try it again visualizing a deity that is the gender of your benevolent childhood caregiver. Notice what is different. Notice what makes you feel more open to receiving those blessings. Now visualize the Divine as a ball of light or a flickering flame. It's different, right?
Now I know some people are going to argue that putting so much emphasis on form is idolatry, feeding your ego, or creating attachment. To them I say, "There is a Zen proverb: The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon."
Want to use this article on your blog or website? Please include the following bio... Reverend Molly Johnson is an ordained Interfaith minister called to help spiritual people of diverse beliefs, sexualities, and genders find meaning and feel connection. Visit: ReverendMolly.com to find out more.
Reverend Molly Johnson is an ordained Interfaith minister, healer, and seminarian in Berkeley, California, USA. Here you can find her rituals, spiritual practices, and musings with the hope that they will be a blessing.