This is part of our series on Male Feminist Theology.
I’ve been arguing, at the outset of this journey into forming a Male Feminist Theology, that the way we think about God shapes and forms how we then live our lives. Further, God’s nature and character is so multifaceted that as theological musings enter new cultures, times, and situations, we must use particular language for where we are today. Just this weekend, I was reading Andrew Walls’ remarkable essay, “The Ephesian Moment”, where he talks about how this worked in the early church.
The transposition of a message about the Messiah to a message about the “Lord Jesus” must have seemed an impoverishment, perhaps a downright distortion. [But] Christian theology moved on to a new plane when Greek questions were asked about Christ and received Greek answers, using the Greek scriptures. It was a risky, often agonizing business, but it led the church to rich discoveries about Christ that could never have been made using only Jewish categories such as Messiah…. Crossing a cultural frontier led to a creative movement in theology by which we discovered Christ was the eternally begotten Son; but it did not require the old theology to be thrown away, for the eternally begotten Son was also the Messiah of Israel.
I see a similar thing today. Many issues of global injustice, the failure of 20th-century Enlightenment idealism, and (for our purposes) the abuse and marginalization of women gives a new prism through which to ask questions about God. We are not leaving old creeds and confessions behind; we are turning the Divine diamond of God’s nature and character to see through additional facets.
To this end, I have found it greatly helpful to focus on this idea that God’s very nature is one of Suffering-Unto-Life, or Suffering-Unto-Shalom. We’ve used these past few posts to talk about how we see this in each member of the Trinity, and today we turn our attention to the Holy Spirit. I’ve written about this before in general, but today we try to think of this in light of our sisters and their experience.
Throughout the Scriptures and Christian tradition The Spirit has had more feminine language and imagery applied to her than any other member of the Godhead. All of the words that the Scriptures use to refer to the Spirit (both Old and New testaments) are grammatically feminine, and even the functions/actions attributed to the Spirit are almost exclusively those things with “feminine” associations: Giver of Life, Breath, Wind, Comforter, Presence, Woman in Child-Birth, Life Principle, and Creator Spirit.
(For that reason, more feminine pronouns will be used throughout this post. Please don’t let that distract you. For more on my thoughts on this, see the recent series I did in which I defend feminine language for God.)
The Spirit is found wherever there is need for life, creative energy, or restoration. She is the means by which God brings the life of Creation and Humanity into Communion with the Suffering-unto-Life God in Christ. What God the Parent ordained, the Child accomplished, the Spirit makes real within the nitty-gritty of on-going human life and suffering.
The Spirit is the Person of God most acquainted—most near—to the heart and depth of human, societal, and creational pain, suffering, and injustice. Where there is pain and injustice, this is where the life of the Spirit is most richly felt. This Spirit grieves, groans, and suffers along with the world—especially women and other marginalized peoples.
But just as with the other members of the Godhead, this suffering is not the whole of who the Spirit is. The Scriptural descriptions of the Spirit as both Creator and Comforter show the all-encompassing communal and mutual reality of the life of the Spirit in the world. In the Spirit we see–yet again–the Divine alchemy in which Divine Suffering is unto Life and Shalom.
From eternity past, we see this Spirit has been fluttering over chaos itself. It is striking that the first picture we get of the Spirit is as one who presides over primordial disorder and brings life and order out of it. She is the breath of life into the lifeless body of both Adam and Jesus. She moves towards brokenness and pain, embraces it into her own, and redeems it unto life and shalom.
Kazoh Kitamori says, “The pain of God, while uniting God and man mystically [by the Spirit], continues to forgive and embrace the sin which betrays and breaks this union.” By the Spirit, God’s loving, Suffering-Unto-Life self enfolds the brokenness and sin of this world and our hearts. Elizabeth A. Johnson in her incredibly powerful lecture Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit beautifully writes,
the love who is the Creator Spirit participates in the world’s destiny. She can be grieved (Eph 4:30); she can even be quenched (1 Thes 5:19). When creation groans in labor pains and we do too (Rom 8:22-23), the Spirit is in the groaning and in the midwifing that breathes rhythmically along and cooperates in the birth. In other words, in the midst of the agony and delight of the world the Creator Spirit has the character of compassion. I multifaceted relationships she resists, reconciles, accompanies, sympathizes, liberates, comforts, plays, delights, befriends, strengthens, suffers with, vivifies, renews, endures, challenges, participates, all while moving the world toward its destiny.
By definition, then, the Spirit is most known and (in a sense) is most Herself in those places and communities that need the most comfort and creative energy in the midst of chaos. Therefore, if we are to experience the Spirit and obediently join in her work in the world, we must follow her to those places of brokenness and injustice in which she resides.
With all this being the case, a male feminist trying to do theology that seriously attends to the realities of women in the world carries the assumption that the Spirit is most tangible, most at work, and most deeply known in communities of suffering and marginalization, namely women.
He relates to the Spirit in her femininity and sees his sisters as one of the primary places of the Spirit’s work, dwelling, and presence in this world. He will then seek to undo systems that attempt to silence or marginalize them (especially the Church), in order to see the Spirit move, speak, heal, and work all the more in our communities.
In our next post, we will talk about how a male feminist thinks about, reads, and views the Holy Scriptures.
[image credit: Anselm Kiefer, “Landscape with a Wing”]