Relying on Her
Excerpted from GOD OF LOVE: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (2012). Go here for TIO reviews of this book.
You have been wondering: If we are made in the image of God, why doesn’t the bearded white Father-God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, breathing life into the first man, Adam, look anything like you? This stern elderly gentleman, draped in expensive robes, lives in the sky. Maybe you are brown-skinned and full-breasted, which you accentuate with plunging tank tops embroidered with the Harley Davidson logo. Your fingernails are dirty from May through October from planting and harvesting corn, beans, and squash. You are rooted to this earth. Maybe you are a woman who loves women and a man who loves men.
The God of Genesis punishes His children for wanting to know too much. You may get annoyed from time to time with all the questions your kids ask while you’re trying to carry in the groceries, check your email, and get a pot of water on to boil for spaghetti, all at the same time: Mommy, why do dogs pant when they’re hot? Why can’t we eat cupcakes for dinner? Why do I have to make my bed when I’m just going to sleep in it again tonight? Mommy, why do grandmas die? But you could not imagine inflicting pain as a penalty for curiosity, let alone for more serious offenses. Much more serious offenses. No way.
Your God does not turn away when you are enraged and does not ridicule you when your feelings get hurt. Your God is comfortable with inconsistency. There is nowhere your God is not, and nothing you could ever do to make your God give up on you.
Your God transcends gender. And yet She is also Mother. She is Shekhinah, pillar of holy fire, guiding you through the wilderness. She is Sophia and Al-Hakim, the essence of Wisdom, filling your troubled heart and telling you exactly what needs to be done next. She is Jamal, beauty, and Sakina, serenity. She is Rahim, the merciful source of all life. She is Shakti, coursing through your veins when you cry out for God, infusing you with unbearable longing. She is Guanyin, radiating wellbeing. She is Tara, formed from the Buddha’s own tears as he gazed upon the suffering of the world and wept. She is Miriam, Mary, Maryam.
You feel Her closest when you are shattered and when you are exalted. She dives into the heart of the tidal wave and scoops you into Her arms, promising that no matter how disastrous the disaster, She will always be with you. She is in the front row clapping too loudly when you get it right. Your God sneaks you in the back door to daven with the learned men in the synagogue. She whispers in your ear when you are trying to control yourself: Go ahead, She says, break the alabaster jar and cover His feet with priceless nard.
Your God transcends form. And yet She also dwells within every created thing. She animates all that is growing and going to seed, all that is ripened and fragrant, all that is raw and undomesticated. She dwells in creativity, in beauty, in chaos. She breathes with the laboring female animals, breathes with the newborn’s first inhalation, breathes with the old ones as they exhale one last time. She is the passion of lovers, the dignity of the queen. She is merciful, but She is not the least bit sentimental.
You do not mean to break the rules and call Her God. You try not to even conceive of God that way. But sometimes you can’t help it. Everything that feels holy feels like Her.