Saturday, July 23, 2011

Introduction to "Her Voice, The Pine"

On Becoming

My sister, JennaMarie Warfield, inspired me to kind of renew or refresh this blog. She recently devoted her own blog to her journey of becoming. By journey of becoming, I mean an ongoing, continuing journey to becoming who one is. For my sister, well, here are her words from her introductory entry: "I have been on a journey, a journey towards new understanding. To be more specific I have been on a journey towards feminism. I have gotten to the point in my journey where I have decided that I can no longer keep it to myself." I encourage any readers of my blog to check her blog out.

I spoke a little about my own journey, specifically as a man, towards feminism in a previous entry. What that entry did not say was that along my journey it got to the point where I could barely sit through a worship service without the strong desire to walk out or watch an episode of my favorite television show without the urge to turn the television off. The exclusive language, the patriarchal images and themes... all unintentional (I hope), but painful and wounding nonetheless. I can only imagine what it would be like as a woman to sit through a worship service week after week, be barraged with these advertisements and television shows daily.

I decided, inspired by my sister's courage and example, to rededicate this blog. I am tired of posting the sermons that I tried to fit into the box of "right" theology. I am tired of constricting myself and my beliefs to align with the limited (and often very sexist) views of Luther and the other reformers. I instead want this blog to be a place to try out new language and thoughts in a public sphere. I want a place to test my new-found and evolving thea/ologies and understandings of the divine, to dip my toes into the water, or, if necessary, taking a running head-first dive into the pool.

One might say that this is very conceited or self-serving. But, I respond, since when was blogging not conceited or self-serving? Even so, I hope this will be more than just an experiment in vanity, but a place for discussion and discovery.

So what might you see on this blog? Well, my passions in social justice, ecology, and feminism, for starters. Perhaps some book recommendations. Perhaps some good discussion (please feel free to disagree with anything I say through comments or messages). But definitely a safe place to discover and be discovered. Perhaps this little experiment will fail, which is alright, too. Simply put, as my sister said, "I have gotten to the point in my journey where I have decided I can no longer keep it to myself."

On Language

You may notice when reading the entries (especially from here forward, but also throughout) that I often refer to the divine as "she." I do this for many reasons, most of them personal. But I'll try to explain a little of my lexicon of the divine here.

First, it is my personal belief, though shared by many, that the divine is neither male nor female. In fact, the divine could simply be the sum total of all the laws of the universe. The divine could be the force from the Star Wars films. Who really knows? But, regardless of what the divine actually is, I do believe that humanity, the earth, and the entire cosmos are a part of the divine (a kind of panentheism, lit. "all in God"--you can check out a previous entry I wrote about the distinctions between panentheism and pantheism). As such, the divine is neither a man nor a woman. The divine is so much more than that. Yes, you might say, but if God is not a man, then God is also not a woman, so why use "she?"

Well, all language of the divine (or anything else) is inadequate. Language is flawed, broken, human. Language often reflects the values, images, and identities with which it was formed. As we live in a patriarchal world, language unfortunately reflects that patriarchy. Masculine terms, such as "mankind" and "men" are incorrectly assumed to include the feminine. Same with the term "God."

The term God has taken on a male identity. God is solely referred to as male, and reflects traditionally "masculine" traits, such as Warrior, Savior, Lord, Father, Son, Master, King, Almighty... the list goes on. The word God then, at least in use and general understanding, is masculine. Sometimes I will use the word "God" to refer to the divine. But, in my use of the word I realize the patriarchal and masculine assumptions tied in and attached to the word, although it is my hope (perhaps a hope in vain) that the word God and other such words can someday be divorced from these broken attachments.

The word goddess is the female equivalent to god. Goddess has traditionally been assigned to female deities of what are often patronizingly called "primitive" or "pagan" religions. As such, many who do see the divine as more than just a penis in the sky will not go so far as to ever refer to the divine with the term "Goddess" because of the assumptions and connections to these "primitive/pagan" religions. I personally find the word "Goddess" liberating in my own understanding of the divine, so you will probably see me refer to the divine from time to time with the word "Goddess."

The terms I probably will most often use to refer to the divine are "God/ess" and, yeah, you guessed it, "the divine." The term "God/ess" is one I first encountered in Rosemary Radford Reuther's book Sexism and God-talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. She introduces the term "God/ess" by saying

"I use the term God/ess, a written symbol intended to combine both the masculine and feminine forms of the word for the divine while preserving the Judeo-Christian affirmation that divinity is one. The term is unpronounceable and inadequate. It is not intended as language for worship, where one might prefer a more evocative term, such as Holy One or Holy Wisdom. Rather it serves here as an analytic sign to point toward that yet unnameable understanding of the divine that would transcend patriarchal limitations and signal redemptive experience for women as well as men." Reuther, P. 46.

In a sense, the word "God/ess" is a word of hope, a word of becoming. In a way, it raises up the very distinctions made by Jacques Derrida when he wrote of "différance," pointing to a meaning outside of itself, something greater, deferring and differentiating all in one.

The word "divine" is another term I use often. To me (I cannot speak for anyone else) it is detached from the patriarchal connotations of the word "god," and also the (perhaps unfair) "pagan" connotations of the word "goddess." It has been used to describe any divinity of any religion, and as such it is a purposefully broad term, spacious enough for my mind to fail to grasp the full possibilities of the term.

As for pronouns about the divine…. Well, unfortunately, the English language does not have an adequate third person sex-less pronoun. It is her/his, she/him, she/he. The word "one" can sometimes be used, as the word "it," but neither have the same weight of the sexed pronouns. So, while I will use "one" on occasion to refer to the divine, I am usually stuck using a "masculine" or "feminine" pronoun. The question then is, which do I use? I will say this right now. I will more often use the "feminine" pronouns to refer to the divine then the "masculine." I do this for many reasons. For one, God has been exclusively referred to as a He for way too long, and it's about time we change that. When it comes to God, the He is assumed. By using She instead, we work against the assumptions that God is in fact male.

She, in a sense, is a shock of recognition. The shock that God is not just a he, but the recognition that follows that oh yeah, God really is not just a he.

More than that, I, for inexpressible reasons in my journey of becoming, simply have grown to relate to the image of the divine as "She Who Is" (Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is). As I have said, I had gotten to the point that any masculine reference to God was painful to me, not to mention causing anger and sorrow rolled up in one. For a while, I could only refer to the divine as completely devoid of sex, never using a she or he. But over time, I tried out the female pronouns. I began to imagine the divine as Mother of the universe, having held the entire cosmos in her womb. I then began to see and experience the divine as Daughter. Over time, the divine, as she often does, broke out of even those images (the images of mother and daughter, after all, are flawed and broken with patriarchy) until... I could only describe what I felt, saw, experienced, lived, as "She Who Is."

So when I refer to the divine as "she," know that for me it is a term of liberation from a very broken and very small old image of who "He" was.

I also might add that I did not always feel this way. Older entries show me using very exclusive language. I considered editing these older entries but realized that would betray the journey. Part of any journey is looking back to see how far you have come.

On the Title "Her Voice, The Pine"

"Her Voice, The Pine" is a reference to a lyric of song. Well, that's actually only partially true. It is in fact a reference to a misheard lyric of the song "Seven Swans" by Sufjan Stevens (from the album Seven Swans, 2004). The actual lyric goes "I heard a voice in my mind / 'I am Lord, I am Lord, I am Lord.'" The first time I heard the album, driving along Pennsylvania's turnpike one fall day, I heard the line as "I hear a voice in the pine / 'I am Lord' [etc.]" (thanks in part to Sufjan's closing to the “n” in "mind" early... bad enunciation, dude). Even though by the second time I heard the song I figured out the actual lyric, the idea of a voice on the pine saying "I am Lord" struck me deeply. It's a powerful image. I picture myself in a field, the stars out in ribbons overhead, the sky a deep purple, the moon a silvery eye. The wind shakes the pine, the pine rattles a whispery tone: "I am Lord."

In my journey of becoming the image has stayed with me. The divine who seeps up from the firmament of the universe, the divine whose body is the very soil under my feet, the air I breathe, the water in my eyes as the sun's light bursts along the optic nerve. When I hear her voice on the pine, I think of the closing to Rosemary Radford Reuther's book, Sexism and God-Talk: "She, in whom we live and move and have our being -- She comes; She is here" (p 266).


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