I have a new favorite book. It’s a children’s book entitled “When God was a Little Girl” written by David R. Weiss and illustrated by Joan Hernadez Lindeman. I stumbled across it this past January when I was looking for children’s books for our baptismal reunion. The book begins with a little girl asking her dad to tell her a story about when God was a little girl. The father and daughter weave together a delightful retelling of the creation narrative imagining a God as a young girl using construction paper, glue, glitter, paint and more in order to create the world. God sings Her words into being as She creates, laughs, wonders and rejoices in Her creation.
I read this story to the children at Shepherd of the Hills the first Wednesday in Lent, during our Kids’ Time. We had just finished learning about the Muslim faith and I was keenly aware of all the male pronouns being used to describe Allah. I thought they maybe could use a different perspective. “I have a book I want to share with you,” I told the kids and then I pulled it out from behind me. “It’s called ‘When God was a Little Girl.’” “What?” One of the kids responded. I repeated the title. I notice the little girls get a twinkle in their eyes. One of the boys, said, “let me see that.” He took a closer look to confirm the title. My own daughter said, “I love this book! Can I help read it with you mom?” And so we did, while the kids colored and listened.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this, not just God being a little girl, but the various images we use for God. God is so often described as Father, Creator, Shepherd and, more often than not, the pronoun “He” is used in reference to God. Seldom do we envision God as a woman, let alone a little girl. I include myself in the problem. In spite of my best efforts to not talk about God as a “He” before I know it the pronoun slips out into my sermons and messages. I can explain it away. It’s because of our languages. In Hebrew the word for God is a plural male pronoun. In Greek, God, theos, is a male pronoun too. Jesus of course is male. The Holy Spirit, however, is a female noun and yet I don’t usually refer to the Holy Spirit as a “She.” The one time I did it in my former congregation, I received some negative feedback and gave up.
Unfortunately, what results is the stereotype of God as a male prevails. Genesis 1:27 states: “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female, he created them. (emphasis mine)” Really? Why? Why in this short verse did the author have to use male imagery three times. Why couldn’t this say: God created humankind in the image of God, both male and female God created them. Wouldn’t that leave the doorway open for God to be gender neutral? Wouldn’t this language give the possibility for a little girl to read this story and say- “yes, God looks like me!” After all, I do think this is what the narrative of Genesis 1 is about, the fact that all of us, each and every one of us, is made in the image of God, both male and female.
Why do we gravitate and overuse images of God as a Father like the image of the father waiting for his son to come home in Luke 15 (the prodigal son) and miss that God is also described as a woman searching her house for one coin? Why do we always emphasis God as a male and miss when Jesus compares himself to a mother hen? There are all kinds of images of God in the bible, many of which have a feminine quality. God is named as someone who knit us together in our mother’s womb. God is someone who hems us in and out. God is described as a baker, a seamstress, a musician, a mother, a father, a shepherd and more. The images go on and on. But week after week in our liturgy we use the same images, God our Father and slowly the pronoun “he” slips into our speech.
God is not a male or a female. God is beyond all of this. God is bigger than an image that we might use to describe Her. Every image has a limitation. Every image needs another one to keep our minds and our hearts and our world expanding to seeing God in everything and everyone. Our language shapes our minds. Our language shapes our world. Our language shapes who we are and who we imagine we might become. I believe we need little girls to believe just as much as little boys that God looks like them. We need women to believe just as much as men that God understands them and God is with them and God looks like them. Because if God looks like us, we realize something significant. God knows us uniquely and completely. And if we look like God, well than we can do anything. Anything like creating a beautiful world with song, construction paper, glitter and most of all love.