Monday, September 29, 2014

Jesus and Sophia by Liz Hall Magill

What works for me about Christianity—what has always worked, though my church-going has always been sporadic—is Jesus. I love his humanity, his passion—turning over tables in the temple because he’s sick of hypocrisy, crying out in a moment of doubt on the cross. I love his divinity, his miracles of healing and grace—walking on water and turning water into wine and casting out sickness and bringing back a lost son to his grieving mother. And oh, how I love the combination of his humanity and his divinity—his embodied compassion, poured out for those around him, feeding them spiritually and physically even when he was exhausted. Of course, Christians cannot truly separate Jesus’ humanity from his divinity. This means that every moment I love about Jesus—his anger at hypocrisy, his doubt on the cross, his compassion poured out for those around him—are God’s moments, enacted through a human being, a man.

It is because of this man-who-fully-embodied-God that I name myself Christian, despite my sometimes conflicted relationship with Christianity. Although I’ve considered myself Christian since I was a teen, I’ve often felt uncomfortable in church. I went through a confirmation period in a Presbyterian church at 16, yet didn’t fully grasp many church traditions, such as Pentecost. As an adult, I have sometimes felt like an outsider at church, someone who didn’t really get what was going on or why it was important.  

As a young married woman, I was recruited to be on far more church committees than my husband was, expected to comfortably plan Sunday school classes or make decisions about church activities. In the churches we attended (there were a few, as we moved around a bit), I chipped in to help gladly, but still felt at a loss to understand how I fit in to the grand scheme of things—how church and God and Jesus and I were all working together to do whatever it was we were doing. And in the back of my mind, I was annoyed that my husband was rarely, if ever, asked to chip in as well.

And then there are my opinions and my friends—I don’t think Jesus is the only path to God, and I think God is fine with all people living their authentic selves in ways that don’t harm others—sexually, spiritually, and otherwise. My friendships reflect my approach to life and to spirituality. That means I hear a lot of perspectives, and I want to be open to them all. I think God is open to them all. Although there are many Christians who feel this way, their voices don’t get much airtime in our culture, and the voices of intolerance often made me feel as though I wasn’t a “real” Christian.

This is where I was—attending a new church, this one Episcopal and much more open and accepting than any I’d previously attended—when a woman leading a spiritual group introduced me to the book She Who Is, by Elizabeth A. Johnson. As I was in the midst of a political feminist awakening, this book fit right in with my work, and opened my eyes to what I’d always felt was missing in my faith but hadn’t consciously named.

I was missing the feminine divine, a female God working through people, bringing compassionate action to a world that needs it. I was missing Sophia.

Sophia is often referred to in the Bible as Wisdom, as Compassion. Ms. Johnson describes Sophia as “…a female personification of God’s own being in creative and saving involvement with the world.”1

Conceiving of God as female as well as male is not an either/or proposition—not a betrayal of Christian belief, but rather a way to settle more fully into it: “The mystery of God is properly understood as neither male nor female, but transcends both in an unimaginable way. But insofar as God creates both male and female in the divine image and is the source of the perfections of both, either can equally well be used as metaphor to point to the divine mystery.”2

As humans, how we conceive of God matters a great deal. To believe that divinity is always and only male requires us to shut down the truth and wisdom that Sophia brings—creation, compassion, engagement in the here and now of this world’s pain and struggle. And that is what I have always loved most about Jesus—his ability to engage, as God, in the here and now of human experience.

Bringing Sophia to my faith has shed new light on the stories from Jesus’ life, all those stories of Jesus treating women with radical equality for the time—speaking to the woman at the well, stopping a crowd from stoning a woman who had committed adultery, allowing a prostitute to wash his feet, connecting to women as his apostles, his emissaries, his sisters. This Jesus, too, I had loved, and not seen fully. Now I see him, just as I see Sophia in him—helping us reclaim that which we have lost, so that we might learn how to move as God moves, fully aware of our own powers, and with compassionate action as our guide.

by Liz Hall Magill,

A selection from the upcoming Girl God Anthology, Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak.

Celeste Gurevich, Whatever Works Contributor

Whatever Works is a unique collection of writing by feminists of diverse faiths from around the world. This anthology combines personal essays, poems and academic musings with the goal of sparking conversations among women of all faith backgrounds. Religion plays a key role in defining and maintaining value systems, and yet it is often disregarded within feminism itself. This book shares the stories of highly diverse women with the hope that we can find collective solutions to the global problems that plague women and girls living under patriarchy.
Available late March - pre-order here

1. Johnson, Elizabeth A. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. Tenth Anniversary Edition. (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2012.), p. 91.

2. Johnson, Elizabeth A. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. Tenth Anniversary Edition. (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2012.), p. 55.

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