The first time you came to Church in the Cliff, you probably heard some things you had never heard in church before. I’m not talking about our foul-mouthed taco vendor, our secret Enneagram code words, or the occasional obscure philosopher. I’m talking about Sophia. You’ll hear this term in our welcome and in many of our hymns. You might have read the footnote on the program that briefly explains it. (Yes, we’re nerds; our program has footnotes.) You might have gone home and googled Christ-Sophia and found something that might be a cult. (We have no connection to them, FTR.) Perhaps it seems a little weird and disorienting. Some hear that language and never return. Nevertheless, we are committed to it.
I’ll explain in more detail what (or who) Sophia is on Sunday, but I’ll provide something brief here, just so we’re on the same page. Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom. It is used frequently, sometimes in reference to Jesus. At times, such as in Proverbs 1-9, in Sirach, and in the Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom (Sophia) is personified as a woman. Even more important, she is understood to have some intrinsic relationship to God, coeternal, coessential, and co-creative with God. One could fairly say that she is a person within the Godhead, as one would speak of Christ or the Holy Spirit. But all of that is kind of abstract. In my experience, most Christians don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Trinitarian doctrine or the essential nature of the Godhead. So, while these things are important to consider, our real commitment is something more pragmatic.
As Mary Daly pointed out more than forty years ago, “If God is male, then male is God.” If God is a man, then God is for men, concerned with the things of men. I’m not using the term “men” to refer to humankind; I mean the gender. Most people would admit that God does not have a gender, but might insist that we should speak of God in masculine terms because that is how the Bible often refers to God. However, as Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” If we don’t speak of God in feminine terms, then women are excluded from the life of God. We automatically construct a hierarchy that diminishes the lives of women. Women do not hear their presence in the life of the Church.
Fortunately, the Bible provides many ways of speaking of God. God is bread, water, breath, a shepherd, a gate – and God is a woman. God is a mother hen gathering her brood. God is a mother bird hovering over her nest. God has a womb. And God, as Sophia, stands on the street corner trying to coax people to her way – to the Way. If God is All in All, then that must include some notion of the divine feminine. If that is the case, then we must speak of God in all that God is. Women must hear their lives reflected in the life of the Church and the life of God if our God-talk is to be the Good News.
It does seem strange at first. When I first came to Church in the Cliff, inclusive language hit my ear wrong. I didn’t understand. It was disorienting. That’s good! In my experience and in my study, God is in the business of undoing us, pushing us out of our comfort zone so that we see the world anew. It didn’t take long to adjust. After about six months at Church in the Cliff, I had trouble attending churches that use exclusively male language for God. It now hits my ear wrong in the exact same way that inclusive language did before. Even more, really; I wince when I hear it.
I am blessed by the strong and brilliant women that began this church so many years ago and sustained it for so long. I am blessed by the strong and brilliant women who continue to assert that they have a place in the life of God. I am blessed by the strong and brilliant women that are Bible scholars and theologians and who continue to consider the weightier issues of the Christian faith. All of these continue to make God present in my life and in the life of the Church by showing a fuller picture of what divinity looks like. Our church and the Church are blessed by the full participation of women in the living of the Gospel.
Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we discuss the feminine divine, the cross, and the relationship between wisdom and salvation.
Grace & Peace,
The Board would like to invite the congregation into a period of discernment about hiring Annette Thornberg Owen as a part-time co-pastor. Annette has her Masters of Divinity from University of Chicago and was formerly a Pastoral Resident at Wilshire Baptist Church. She has also worked as a chaplain and in non-profit through AmeriCorps. We are thrilled to have Annette and her partner David in our congregation!
So that you can get to know Annette better in a pastoral context, she will help lead services in the coming weeks. Also, we will have a couple of Q&A sessions coming up. We’ll get you time and place as soon as we nail it down. We will also provide details about pay, budget, and responsibilities over the next couple of weeks. Our goal is to have a vote October 11.