Today I spent the day with children. This year instead of doing a week of Vacation Bible School in which we meet every day, we chose to do "Terrific Tuesdays" where we spend one day of each week together. We've learned skills and practiced our care for others and the world while addressing important needs around us. Today's emphasis was on literacy.
During the course of this day we read one of my favorite children's books. The book by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso is titled In God's Name. If you haven't read it, I'd suggest you find it. It's really a lovely book.
The storyline basically says this...once people who knew each other's names and names for every other living thing were searching for God's name. So, they started finding names for God, each finding a name they could connect with (the farmer - Source of Life, the tired warrior - Peacemaker, and so on). However, as they all discovered names they fought over whose name was the best. Finally, in a moment of clarity they came to realize that it was when they lifted all the names together that they discovered who God was.
By the way: You still need to read the book...it's much more well written than my brief synopsis and the illustrations are lovely.
Whenever I read this book I am reminded of the fullness of who God is. We can't help but relate more closely to one name or picture of God. And it's okay to have our favorite way of understanding God...okay, unless that gets in the way of acknowledging that our favorite way isn't the only way.
I remember as a college student learning about the use of inclusive language for God - in other words, using non-gendered or multi-gendered language (particularly broadening our scope from the limitation of Father and male gendered-only language). One of the most common defenses I heard in those early days was that there were many people who had been harmed or disappointed by their earthly fathers and that using such language for God was problematic for some of them. While wanting to sensitive to the realities some people had lived through (although perhaps not as sensitive as I thought I was being), my first reaction to this was that perhaps, rather than taking away certain language, the church needed to be addressing parenting skills, family systems, and helping people find healing. In other words, I wasn't first convinced about the use of inclusive language.
And the reality is that I became convinced of the importance of inclusive language for God the day it was put in a different context...the context of fidelity to God.
The reality is that scripture gives us many images of God - from father to mother, rock to shepherd, creator to spirit. And what that means is that although we can each have our most comfortable image, our "go-to" name for God...in order to be faithful to God, we must understand that God is always more, always fuller than we can see.
I wonder how this process would have been different for me had I read Sandy Eisenberg Sasso's book at five years old or ten years old.
I wonder how my children's understanding of God will be different because they will grow up knowing that God is many things, many names, many ways.
I wonder how many people would be more deeply connected to God if other "good people of faith" weren't so worried about having to prove that their name or understanding of God is the best.
And I wonder - if we were able to see the fullness of God - how that would also translate into our ability to affirm the many different facets of ourselves and other people we meet.