The sermon hymn: “When Masks of God Both Age and Die” can be found here
Listen to the Mothers’ Day sermon here
El Shaddai, Eloheim, Rauach, Chokma, Rechem, YAHWEH, these are the ancient biblical Hebrew names for the reality that we call God. El Shaddai which translates as “she – breasted one, ”Eloheim which is the feminine plural for “majesty,” Rauach a feminine word for “wind” “breath” “spirit,” Chokma, a feminine word for “wisdom.” Rechem also a feminine word which translates as “ womb love” mother love, compassion. YAHWEH – I AM, WHO AM or I shall be who I shall be Ancient biblical Hebrew names for the reality that we call God.
During the time of Jesus there was another name for God that was used by the Jewish people: El Shekinah which translates as “she who dwells among us.” There were other words for the reality that we call God which the writers of the New Testament would have been so familiar with; Greek words like: Theos — a feminine noun which translates simply as “God,” Sophia – which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Rauach for “Wisdom,” Pnumena – the feminine noun which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Chokma which means: wind, breath or spirit. That these names for the reality that we call God are all feminine nouns is remarkable when you look at how these words were translated by the Roman Empire into Latin: Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Stripped of her breasts and her womb-love, the One we call God, the Chokma who Dwells among us, is given the aura of a powerful young Roman God as the word for breasts is translated as “Almighty” and whose Rechem – womb-love is reserved for those who fear HIM.
Yet despite the Empire’s attempt to penetrate the sacred feminine with masculinity’s youthful vigor, (yes, I did mean that pun) this reality we call God will age over the centuries to become a bearded old grandfather-like figure who lives up there somewhere, and woe to those who dare to expose His transgendered history; for God is male and that’s that. The image of the great I AM erected by the male hierarchy to be worshipped and glorified, forever and ever, as Father, Son, and yes, even the nebulous Holy Spirit becomes HE in order to penetrate His Bride the church. No room for talk of breasts or womb as SHE who dwells among us, Chokma, Sophia, Wisdom is banished to the mists of time. That is until women began to be admitted to the sacred halls of the academy; until women began in significant numbers to study the ancient texts and unravel the ancient languages and begin to question the work of their male predecessors and contemporaries. Female academics, female theologians, and female translators’ questions lead to the discover of the long hidden, often denied, and ever present breasts and womb which now that they have been exposed will never again be cast out from their dwelling place among us. Wisdom, Sophia has been emancipated she is woman hear her roar.
OK, now that I’ve gotten that out, now that I’ve risked being labeled an angry feminist, let me assure you that I am indeed an angry feminist; a title I wear with pride. For who wouldn’t be angry at the remembrance of all that was lost over the centuries; centuries which saw both women and men robed of the sacred feminine which was stripped from the image of we created of the reality that we call God. Those of you who have been around here for previous Mother’s day sermons may have grown weary of my point out that the word which our English translations of the book of Proverbs translates as wisdom, comes from the feminine Hebrew word Chokma which when it was translated into Greek becomes Sophia. Some of you will remember that the oldest Greek manuscripts we have were written in capitol letters without spaces between the words. So that the male translators would have had reason not to read Sophia as a proper name; especially as the context in which it occurred clearly indicated that she was a personification of wisdom. So, wherever we see wisdom without a capital we can substitute the name Sophia with a capitol so that it is clear that the writer of the Book of Proverbs was personifying wisdom as a woman and that this Sophia was a feminine attribute of God. Choma – Wisdom – Sophia would later become among some of the followers of Jesus an attribute of the risen Christ so that even the writer of the Gospels of Luke and John sing her praises, as does the Apostle Paul.
Sophia-Wisdom personifies all that is feminine in the image our ancient ancestors used to personify the reality that we call God. But like all personifications Sophia-Wisdom ultimately fails to capture all that is God – YAHWEH will despite all our best attempts to cast YAHWEH in images, YAHWEH will be who YAHWEH will be neither male nor female, beyond gender, beyond our definitions, beyond our images, beyond the beyond and beyond that also.
Is it any wonder that so many people have moved beyond our various images of divinity? For too long now we have offered up various personifications of that which we call God and said, here worship this the LORD your God, Father of Heaven and Earth, Almighty, Everlasting, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, Father, Mother, Lover, Friend, Companion, Judge, source of our Salvation, Mighty King, Gracious Lord, Sophia, El Shaddai, Eternal, Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.
I could go on and on about the various personifications of divinity and none of them, not a single one of them will suffice when it comes to describing that which lies at the very heart of reality, the idea which we call God. For so many people today, the failures our personifications to capture the reality of this thing we call God has lead to the denial of God’s existence. For too long now, we have looked to our various personifications as if they actually are God. But whether we believe in God or not, that does not mean that whatever it IS that lies at the heart of reality this thing that we look to personifications to help us comprehend, that this thing that we call God does not exist. We can argue all we want about what it is, but that it is is beyond us. Take Mother Nature for example. How many people believe that Mother Nature actually exists? Mother Nature is a personification of the Earth. Mother Nature is not real. But whether or we believe in Mother Nature, the Earth still exists. Personifications are wonderful and can be so very helpful when it comes to our being able to relate to something that is so vast our minds cannot begin to fathom. The Earth’s immensity and complexity is more than we can comprehend, and yet we interact with Mother Nature each and every day in ways that we all can understand. We can rejoice in her blessings and we can fear her wrath. We can also be moved to great compassion when Mother Nature is abused, neglected, wounded, damaged or threatened with extinction, or ultimate destruction. Whether we believe in Mother Nature or not, the Earth is real. Whether we believe in the various personifications of that which lies at the heart of all that is and yet is beyond the beyond and beyond that also, the reality that we call God still exists.
We may not be able to name it, or define it, or even relate to it, but it IS and just like Mother Nature, there are aspects of this ISNESS that we can know. Our knowing the ISNESS that IS God has been both helped and hindered by our personifications. Our knowing the ISNESS that IS God has also been both helped and hindered by our sacred scriptures. For centuries we in the West have pointed to the Bible as the ultimate source of information about this ISNESS that IS God. But the reality that IS God, cannot be contained in any book. Indeed, centuries ago, Sir Francis Bacon reminded us that God wrote two books, not just one. The first book was the Bible and the second book is creation. I would go a lot further than Sir Francis and insist that this ISNESS that IS God wrote billions of books among them the Bible, the Quran, the Upanishads, the Gitas, indeed the sacred scriptures of all those who have and do worship this ISNESS but that the most important revelation of this ISNESS has and always will be creation itself. We are learning more and more and more each and every day about the wonders of creation and this amazing cosmos in which we live and move and have our being.
For two long now, we have relied upon inadequate personifications to reveal the nature of this ISNESS and failed to see beyond our own noses to the reality that is so much more that we can begin to imagine or comprehend. Instead of making idols of our personifications we need to open ourselves to the marvelous reality that lies beyond all our notions who who and what this splendid ISISNESS is for God will be who God will be and that BEING is more than any being we can conjure up in our wildest imaginings. But just as I can know the beauty of those tulips on this glorious morning, we can also know this ISINESS. This tulip is a precious gift of Mother Nature, a gift in which I can glimpse the reality that is creation. Jesus of Nazareth was a precious gift of God in whom his sisters and brother caught a glimpse of the reality that IS God. Each one of you are precious gifts created by the Source of All life, in whom we can see glimpses of the reality that lies at the heart of all that IS. All of creation is telling the glory of God, for as Carl Sagan insisted, science is “informed worship.” Science is a source of revelation as we continue to explore the depths and wonders of the cosmos and beyond the beyond and beyond that also. Poetry, art, literature, beauty, humanity in all its splendor and vulnerability are revelations of the reality that lies at the very heart of all that is. And so, we will continue to personify this reality that is beyond our ability to comprehend, articulate, or capture and our personifications will function as revelations as long as we remember that they are not real but merely our attempts to relate to a reality that is beyond the beyond and beyond that also. This is the wisdom of the ages. Sophia who dances in, with, through, and among us, El Shekniah, the Breasted ONE, El Shaddai whose womb-love, Rechem, is the source of all LOVE, the enabler of our Rauach, Breath, the Spirit who lives in with through and beyond us, now and always, the One in whom we live and move and have our being, the reality that we call God, who is was and ever shall be: Beyond the Beyond and Beyond that also, our Lover, Beloved, and LOVE itself! So, let us continue to be revelations of that reality by embodying LOVE in the world.