Walking the Path: My Interfaith Journey

A Pagan seminarian's perspective on faith, theology, and facilitating interfaith dialogue.

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Limitations of the Christian Trinity (God as Mother)

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

As promised, an excerpt from my paper on the Christian Trinity. A few things to consider:

 

I am generally familiar with, but was never indoctrinated into a Christian tradition and I have been Pagan most of my life. The majority of what I have learned has come from my own personal study or from my time at Iliff. So if my tone denotes a certain naivete on the nature of God, it is with good reason.

 

This assignment had certain limitations--number of words, pages, etc. This means as the student we write to the assignment. As much as I would like to expand on certain topics sometimes, such are the rules...

 

This was an opinion piece. I wrote it this way intentionally to generate critical thinking and constructive dialogue. If this piece offends you, I would stop and ask yourself why before you put your thoughts to the keyboard.

 

Blessings,

Denora

 

The Gender Limitations of the Trinity

            “O Lord, our God, we believe in you, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. For the Truth would not say, “Go, baptize all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19), unless you were a Trinity” (McGinn 2006). For many Christians, the Trinity is the ultimate source of comfort and solace, and represents many aspects of the face of God. Of the many examples of mystical practices this quarter, perhaps the most compelling for me was utilizing the imagery of the Trinity to symbolize internal phases of the souls’ journey to God consciousness. This resonated with my own personal tradition in ways I had not thought of prior to this course. The importance of the Trinity and what it represents cannot go unnoticed—however I would argue there are limitations to the symbology that only includes male representation. As a scholar I have to question who are we excluding when we present this view of divinity. What are we losing when we limit ourselves to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

            The key example I want to highlight for this is Julian of Norwich’s account of Christ as mother. When I read her depictions, I had to stop and gauge my own reaction: “Our Mother in nature, our Mother in grace, because he wanted altogether to become our Mother in all things, made the foundation of his work most humbly and most mildly in the maiden’s womb” (Walsh 1978). Coming from a polytheist, mystic feminine tradition I wasn't sure what to make of her statements at first. I do acknowledge the challenges of her time and her role in that society. Her message rings clear and distinct during a very dark and tumultuous time for humanity—“God is love.” Indeed, the editors of the text we read summarize her aims as “The underlying concern of Julian is that of the totality. What she develops is not the idea of femininity as opposed to or distinct from that of masculinity, but that of the motherhood of God as complement to that of his fatherhood…She conceives the quality of a mother as present in the Trinity, as well as that of a Father, a Son and their Spirit” (Walsh 1978). We see these aspects in her writing, especially when she describes Jesus as Mother feeding us with himself, laying us against his breast, and loving us despite our faults as human beings for all of eternity. His sacrifice on the cross is likened to child-birth, and he is the Mother of mercy where man has his “reforming and restoring” (Walsh 1978).

            As an outside observer of the Christian tradition, I see Julian’s words as being vital in so many ways to establishing meaning and purpose for life during her lifetime, but more specifically for women in a predominantly male world. By incorporating the aspects of Mother as merciful, graceful, sure, and always present for her child, we see Julian carving out a place for the feminine to exist in unity with the masculine in the totality of the divine. I applaud Julian’s passion in her message—however I cannot internalize this message. I feel our world which demonstrates the functional balance between masculine and feminine is in need of divinity which embodies both of these aspects in their completeness. By incorporating the Mother under the role of Jesus (the Son), it demonstrates an appropriation of that which belongs to women. The crucifixion is a terrible and beautiful phenomenon that demonstrates the love Jesus has for the world and humanity, but it cannot be drawn in parallel to growing another human being and bringing them into the world, and I paused when I read her statement on physical birth: “For though it may be so that our bodily bringing to birth is only little, humble and simple in comparison with our spiritual bringing to birth, still it is he who does it in the creatures by whom it is done” (Walsh 1978). Is it a byproduct of her time that would cause Julian to see childbirth as such a low achievement? I have often asked in my coursework—why don’t we ever ask how Mary felt when she brought Jesus into the world? Was she in pain? Was she afraid? Surely to be acted upon by male deity is nothing new in the world of mythos, but I feel it is a grave injustice to the story of women throughout time to allow the Trinity to represent and summarize the totality of the human story. I understand also that throughout time man and the religious institution has struggled to define God, and Julian is functioning within the context of the acceptable image. But, standing where I am in relation to these histories, I feel compelled to ask why is the voice of woman silenced so? I am a mother, and for me the experience of bringing new life into the world is a holy experience. It is also an experience that deserves to be claimed as a cherished and sacred rite of women. If God chose Mary to be the vessel that brought life to the Son, then why is she not the example of Motherhood?

            “Listen and hear me; for none can escape me. It was I who gave birth to you, and in the depths of my earth, you will find rest and rebirth, and I will spring you forth anew, a fresh shoot to greenness” (Crowley 2003). I listen to the call of my Mother who is also a Trinity, and wonder if there will ever be room enough in this world for both. Can we find truth in the meaning behind the language we use for the divine? I truly believe Julian of Norwich was a visionary of her time, but still limited by the views and powers of the institution. I resonate with the power and beauty present in the Christian Trinity, but refuse to accept the limitations of confining deity to one gender. I feel this discussion is crucial to our work of understanding ourselves and the divine, along with cultivating those relationships that sustain us in our faith over time.  

           

 

Crowley, Vivianne. 2003. Wicca: A Comprehensive Guide to the Old Religion in the Modern World. London: Harper Collins .

McGinn, Bernard. 2006. The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. New York: The Modern Library.

Walsh, Edmund Colledge & James. 1978. Julian of Norwich: Showings. New York: Paulist Press.

 

 

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Denora is currently a full-time wife, mother, and chaplain. As an eight-year veteran of the United States Air Force, her professional career has spanned network administration, performing presidential support requirements and veteran military funeral honors in Arlington National Cemetery, and executive communications support for the Secretary of Defense, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Denora has an undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Central Florida, an MA in International Relations from St. Mary’s University, and a Master of Divinity degree from the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. She has completed one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education with the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD and has spent a year as a chaplain resident with the Mountain Home VA Medical Center in Johnson City, TN. She has recently been accepted for a Mental Health Fellowship at the Lexington VA Medical Center in Lexington, KY. She is currently an active member of Circle Sanctuary's Military Ministries team and the Lady Liberty League Military Affairs Task Force. Her future plans include board certification with the Association of Professional Chaplains and working as a staff chaplain within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Comments

  • Karen Nolan
    Karen Nolan Friday, 08 September 2017

    Really enjoyed reading this -- more people, especially Christians, should truly, deeply wonder how Mary felt in giving life to Jesus, how she felt giving birth to him, how she felt mothering him, and how she felt having to lose him. A trinity that does not include The Mother, the Feminine, is not just representative of the world -- it is sadly incomplete. Although Wiccan, I have a Catholic background, and have always loved the Marian devotion of many Catholics -- they have not forgotten the Mother, they revere Her every day, and acknowledge her significance. I love that, because I love Her. Thank you for writing such a thought-provoking article, and pointing out that without the Mother, the Feminine, Mary, the Goddess, we can only have part of our life story seen. Blessed Be, Karen

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