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She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse.

She Who Is, according to Elizabeth Johnson, is a divine title signifying the creative, relational power of being who enlivens, suffers with, sustains and enfolds the universe." As grammatical counterpart of "I Am Who I Am," the grammar of God's self-utterance, this title is meant to bring feminine essence to the historically male-imaged God. Scholarly deep, this is a lot to reflect on even for the intensely spiritual-minded.

Johnson's mission is to bring the traditions of classical theology closer to an understanding of feminist theology. She quotes Aquinas' line, "Burning all malice like a consuming fire." In other words, no hard feelings, gentlemen; read on.

This fine work is not meant to be gulped, but sipped and reflected upon. Johnson notes how our speech about God from the pulpit and the altar has a profound effect. This historical model of the theistic God as monarch, with constant use of male imagery, has resulted in a mind-set that has permeated Christianity, and most all religion, with patriarchy.

Now the hairs on the backs of many necks are rising with the use of that word. Is Johnson saying we should swing from patriarchy to matriarchy, thus confirming the deepest concerns of men and many women? No, Johnson isn't into pendulum swinging. She is strongly invested in the ideal of justice. She makes clear that the goal of feminist theology is not to make women equal partners in an oppressive system but rather to bring justice to this teaching moment in human history and transform the system:

"Addressing the question of subordination of women brings into view the entire structure of what has commonly been taken to be |reality.' What is being looked for is not simply the solution to one problem but an entire shift in worldview away from patterns of dominance toward mutually enhancing relationships."

Change is threatening when it strikes at tradition. Reading words like "we seek a new social order, a new order of human relations that both mandates and incarnates mystery can create anxiety if not understood in the generous, spirited context in which it is offered."

Johnson validates the genuine differences between men and women's "uniqueness, variety and particularity" that should be enhanced, not minimized. She emphasizes, however, that women have been marginalized throughout history.

If men feel threatened by inclusive language, what must women have felt throughout history, albeit subconsciously, perhaps, when nearly all the imagery and language related to God was masculine? The big question is, "If it is not meant that God is male when masculine imagery is used, why the objection when female images are introduced?" Johnson claims that, in fact, "an intrinsic, literal connection between God and maleness is usually intended, however implicitly."

A tough pill to swallow. The adage remains true: There are none so blind as those who will not see. Johnson appears to simply wish to share her personal vision of truth with us. We readers can accept or reject it. That is justice.

A book to be read, though not perhaps by everyone. Many may not take the time to sip and reflect, which is needed to read this book well. Worse, they may even fear the outcome of their own thoughts.

Taking Off The Patriarchal Glasses is an entirely different piece of work. And I would have to say, in the modern vernacular, it is a piece of work. Both entertaining and important, the book may go far too fast for many, but Cora Cypser takes great pains to explain that she does not wish to be divisive and asks forbearance.

Cypser highlights the lack of knowledge of original language for all of scripture and posits the possibility that much of scripture may have been inspired or even authored by women, ie., Lucy instead of Luke. (Now, stay with me.) She points out that "women's names rarely are mentioned in Hebrew scripture and that if they had written something, it would have had to be affirmed by a male, as women were not legal witnesses." There is a definite step forward for women in the New Testament, though, relatively speaking, hardly a giant step.

This book reflects a kind of longing for a new horizon, one that radiates love, compassion and a kind of union of male and female that allows each gender its own differences and identity but blends the beauty.

Though this book is easier reading than She Who Is, at times one feels the glasses need a bit of polish; it tends to run on a bit. Great for Bible history buffs, who will enjoy the detail.

Though these authors have different styles and approaches, their subject is similar: feminist theology with its hope of becoming inclusive theology, from their pens to God's inclusive ears.

Ellen Young is a clinical social worker in a Baltimore hospital.
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Author:Young, Ellen P.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 12, 1993
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