Thursday, March 10, 2005

Cats, Categories, and other Gory details.

Cats have personalities. I was recently talking to a friend about cats, and we could describe the way that cats in our lives acted, and even talked about some cats as "lap cats", and others as "aloof". Since I had never really seen his cats for very long, nor he had seen mine, an interesting thing to me is that we still were able to characterize them, and tell a few funny stories about their behaviour. I would argue in fact, that the absense of personal knowledge of his particular cats actually strengthens the case that cats have personalities in and of themselves. Because I had seen the same kinds of behaviour in cats of my experience. Its not that we are ascribing a personality to creatures who didn't have one. We were simply giving a name to their behaviour and recognizing we could categorize cats.

Most people who think abstractly love categories. It gives us the opportunity to name things that we didn't characterize before. As an example of this, some people describe Man as a "tool-maker" because they want to focus on the building of tools as a part of intelligence. Another example I've heard is "Curious Creature". Again this emphasizes a particular class of behaviour seen in people. I think another accurate descriptor is to call Man a "name-user". In Genesis, we are reminded that God gave to Adam the responsibility of naming all the animals. One of the interesting things about this is that this task was given before the Fall. Thus, one can argue that whatever happened afterward, the principle that God does not take back his gifts [Romans 11:29], means that the ability and even the responsibility to "name names" is an essential characteristic of all humans. So we love associating things from Life with names because it is a built-in drive.

So, as an exercise in category-making, let's say I know someone who has brought life into this world, who is very protective, much like a mother hen with her chicks, who is creating new things regularly, concerned about the style and beauty of the home place where they are, who can even be called a homebody. Someone else who knew our mystery person well, even described them as a "great comfort", and someone who would stand beside and support, someone whose warm presence is a "breath of fresh air". Would you characterize our mystery person as more "motherly" or "fatherly" ?

Now as a digression, I'd like to say that when I'm wearing my "categorize and name the world" hat, I usually use the root meanings of a word as guidance, but not the sole definition of the word. For example, someone can be "motherly" who never actually mothered any children.
I would say that a "fatherly" person wouldn't even have to be married, but I guess that betrays my mindset that anyone who has children should be married to their partner in procreation. Kids deserve all the help they can get, and that means two loving parents who love each other and are married to each other. Its a tough world out there, and I know that the ideal doesn't always become real, but someone with a family behind them is stronger, and able to handle much more than those who don't.

Enough editorializing, and back to our mystery person. I would ascribe the adjective "motherly" to them, and with no contrary evidence, assume that the pronoun "she" would be appropriate, even if I didn't know "her" name. Your mileage may vary.
If I added a hint that the person I was talking about was named Shekinah and sometimes Paraclete, I'm sure some readers would know exactly where I'm going with this.

The name "Shekinah" is based on a Hebrew word "sheken" which means dwelling or home. Hence I said our mystery person was a homebody. Interestingly enough, this name also is tied to the word "eshkar" which means gift. The name "Paraclete" is a Greek word meaning "one beside", and was elaborated by Jesus as the Comforter. At various times, the Divine Breath,
[Hebrew:ruach hakodesh], has been called the Glory of God [Hebrew:Kabod Jehovah], whose warm presence as a pillar of fire led the people of Israel through the desert away from Egypt. The 8th chapter of Proverbs refers to the Holy Wisdom of God (Greek:Haga sofia, Hebrew: chokmah hakodesh) who was present at creation with God. In English, we refer to the Holy Ghost, or the Holy Spirit.

Supporting whether a "male" or "female" pronoun should be applied to God, is in a way, foolish.
According to Scriptures, we know that God has a body solely in Jesus and so it is easiest to use the pronoun "he" in referring to God. The curious thing is that many of the Hebrew words traditionally used to talk about the Holy Ghost are feminine. In fact, my research shows at least one time (in Isaiah 51:9) the phrase "she cut" from the Hebrew text, (refering to the hand/arm of the LORD) was translated as "it cut", perhaps because someone was uncomfortable with a feminine form of God, or because the English word for "arm" has no gender. My guess is that the phrase "...art thou not she who..." would stir up as many conversations as translating the word "baptism" as "dunking".

My final point is that God truly is in the details, quoting Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, again in my blog. Looking at the details adds new meaning to the promise of James 1:5 that "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.". God has promised to send us this Wise Spirit who will lead us into all truth. And if the Bible seems to indicate that the Spirit should be referred to as "she", then we should face up to this and recognize that even amidst our human contradictions of multiple genders applied to God, we still can trust, and believe, for that is who God is.

1 comment:

Beverly Marshall Saling said...

I've always thought that choosing a single, gendered pronoun to refer to God is putting an arbitrary limit on an entity who is supposed to be limitless. We lose so much understanding when we insist on artificially constraining our perception and interpretation of God's word and behavior as fitting into our human categories of either "masculine" or "feminine." And the inability to identify with the metaphor or "mode of being" of a strictly masculine image of God has probably alienated many women from traditional Christian theology.