Who is God? by Gina Messina


I often say I am a theologian who is uncomfortable with prayer and does not have a relationship with God. What I mean is that I am still trying to figure out how I understand the divine; conventional prayers feel exclusionary and that is not something I want to participate in. Instead, I believe there is so much more to these concepts than traditional theology offers.

I find comfort in Mary, mother of Jesus, Mary of Magdala, Maria Goretti, my grandmothers, and my own mother — in communing with the saints. I feel connected to them. I know what it means to be a woman, a mother, a daughter, and to live in a misogynistic world. Growing up with patriarchal imagery of God continues to influence my perceptions about the divine and I have not yet found a way to develop a sacred relationship with a being I have struggled to view as anything other than oppressive. I am on a journey, and one that often gets pushed to the side in favor of teaching, grading, parenting, writing, cooking, cleaning, laundry…and when I can get it, sleep.

It seems that my nine-year old daughter is also on a journey and having her first crisis of faith. She has come to me with many questions about God lately. Initially she asked if God is real and how we can know. Then she moved on to other questions…and then assumptions. Last week, Sarah came home from school and told me that God is a white man. My heart broke a little. I asked her why she thought that and she responded, “Haven’t you seen all the pictures of God? Duh.” 

Of all the conversations we have had about God, gender, race, power, etc., she is just far too young to grasp it all. Sarah is a deep critical thinker for her young age; nonetheless, in trying to speak honestly to her, it seems I’ve only confused her more. 

Exploring interpretations of God is something I do in class quite regularly and every semester. But Sarah’s curiosity and my failure to offer a comprehensible explanation encouraged me to reconsider the portrayals I have been reliant on.

Like with many things, I was becoming desensitized to what I was doing, teaching. My own loss of connection to God was spilling over and impacting the people around me. Hence, I set out to spend a few hours — that turned into days— organizing imagery that can be viewed as representing the divine. I continued to explore depictions that challenge power structures, but also looked for quotes, nature, sound waves, brain waves, and other reflections of the sacred within our world. 

Here is what I came up with (forgive my amateurish iMovie skills): 

As I worked on this project, I found myself deeply engaged in the experience. It occurred to me that we are so busy focusing on God’s characteristics, we’ve missed out on the fact that the divine is not simply a noun. Mary Daly begs the question, “Why not a verb?” Can it be that God is actually encompassed in our momentary lived experiences and actions and we have simply failed to recognize it? 

I shared the video with Sarah and delighted in watching her take in the different images and feel embraced by the music. With her eyes wide and inquisitive she asked, “Is this how I can understand God, the way I feel right now?” I nodded and for a brief moment, I felt God too.

It is easy to bury the things that are important to us in favor of what we deem “responsibility.” But in doing so, we not only separate ourselves from the sacred — what ever that means to you — but also from the true meaning of our own relationships and experiences. 

I will always feel connected to saintly women, that is an important part of who I am and something I hope to pass on to Sarah. This said, I’m working on being more mindful. It is not an easy task for me. But “knowing” God is not something I want to keep pushing to the side. Nor do I want my daughter to be without my guidance or lost in her own journey.

Without Sarah, I might keep wading through life blindly. But, I don’t want to be the person who is irritated by getting wet in a storm; I want to be the person who feels the rain. And so my journey continues. 

My hope is that you might have thoughts or experiences you want to share in the comments. I look forward to an open dialogue.

Gina Messina, Ph.D. is an American feminist scholar, Catholic theologian, activist, and mom. She serves as Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College and is co-founder of FeminismAndReligion.com. She has written for the Huffington Post and is author or editor of five books including Jesus in the White House: Make Humanity Great Again and Women Religion Revolution. Messina is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives of women around the globe. Messina is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for peace building and spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter @GMessinaPhD, Instagram: @GinaMessinaPhD, Facebook, and her website ginamessina.com.

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Categories: General, God, God-talk, Motherhood, Spiritual Journey, Spirituality

Tags: , , , , ,

33 replies

  1. Thank you for sharing your inquiry – it brought a very uplifting start of my day.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What a wonderful video! It must have taken you ages to put together – such beautiful, moving and uplifting images. I’m sending thiss email to loads of friends immediately…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Dear Gina
    Thank you, once again, for writing to us, for us.
    I’ve long been ‘lost’ in the words given to me in church so I feel for you in your silence.

    I loved your explorations – they made me smile (and please don’t downplay your technical ability – I couldn’t make something so beautiful). I honour you for realising the needs Sarah has and for the contribution you are making to her adventuring.

    I’m researching the ways words to and for the divine are connected to our behaviour and demonstrating the significance of words we use on who we think God is. But if we have no words then knowing or showing or exploring who God is for us is difficult.

    May your resolution to pay attention to your own needs be blessed – the results of it will be a blessing

    So glad Sarah has you

    Be well

    Margaret

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love your video. Bless Sarah for asking.

    Trista Hendren started The Girl God series for her daughter. Every daughter needs these books too!
    http://www.thegirlgod.com/

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This was a very interesting post, especially for me as I have been thinking about patriarchal images of God lately.

    Have you looked into Julian of Norwich or others who talk about God as Mother? The idea of God as Mother is not a new feminist idea, but one that goes back many centuries, back to Julian of Norwich if not before. Reading this, it might be something you’re interested in, if you haven’t looked into that already.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Your daughter-inspired video is so beautiful, moving, thoughtful, multi-faceted, amazing in its gracefulness and touches of humor and so much tenderness. I hope everyone has a chance to experience it!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Beautiful video, Gina. Thank you for posting it along with your essay.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Beautiful video! Thanks for sharing it. I wonder whether your daughter has heard Starhawk’s Charge of the Goddess. It says it all for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Yup, your daughter is very perceptive. The standard-brand god is indeed a white man. Just look at all those old, traditional, medieval and renaissance paintings of him.

    I love your movie with its multitude of other images, especially all the female gods in the contexts of those old paintings. I love all your goddesses and quotes, too. Especially the one about a longer table instead of a higher fence. Thanks for all your good work. Brava!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Your video is beautiful, Gina. Like your daughter, I also felt God as I watched it. Thank you for that feeling, for that reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love this post… I don’t think you have failed your daughter at all – in fact just the opposite – I think you are offering her a chance to have her own experiences… that she came home with the idea of god as a white guy is totally natural – children like adults are IMPACTED by the image like it or not. Your movie was a stroke of genius – If anything can blot out the white guy that does… In the end she must choose her own way of experiencing the divine but your query puts her and everyone else on the right track from my point of view. “Can it be that God is actually encompassed in our momentary lived experiences and actions and we have simply failed to recognize it? ” I would answer this question with a resounding “yes.”

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Who is God? Sometimes I wonder not who but what is God, for instance, maybe what we name God can be thought of as Nature, that is, in all her life-giving goodness and glory.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I have just watched this beautiful movie again… will post the entire article on my Facebook page after I mention that I had a dream last night – just the words “Dear Mary”…. Since Mary was my first goddess I was left with the question: what is it that I need to write?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. And God is in the love that took the time, energy, and talent to create this video for her daughter. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank you, Gina, and thank your perceptive daughter for the inspiration. You have touched my soul with the question that has so often been mine. This video is incredibly meaningful, not amateurish at all.k

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thank you for the beautiful and powerful movie, it touched me deeply.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I tried to share video on FB – it doesn’t seem to want to post.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Hi Gina — What a lovely video for such an important purpose. As you say, of course your daughter will come to her own understandings of God. But as a 9-year-old, she needed guidance, and you gave her some wonderful guidance. When my daughter was that age, I introduced her to the Goddess in ritual, while her atheist Dad introduced her to his “theology” of science. As Unitarian Universalists, we felt that giving her a lot of options when it came to religion was the best path. And now at 37, she teaches yoga and has a deep sense of the divine in her daily life. you daughter will forge her own religious path, almost by definition. She’s an individual, with her own experiences of the divine.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Terrific, Gina!

    The clarity of your message points to the challenges I experience with conventional prayer and references to the Divine.
    The video was a beautiful bonus.

    I so hope you may one day be able to visit Victoria BC.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Wow! What a fabulous video! So rich in imagery and thoughts. I’m going to watch it again.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Which god?! A copy of my refutation of Milo Yiannopoulos’s Middle Rages/Why The Battle For Medieval Studies Matters To America, his defense of the church’s positive role in society/civilization, and my explanation of how Abrahamism believes in many gods, where “God” is not a name: https://pastebin.com/ai6bzDDF.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. It is sounds so healing, the relationship you have with your daughter. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I am sitting here in awe after reading your post and watching your video. You are not only restoring your own soul (as per Alice Walker) but your daughter’s and ours as well. I am in-spired. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Wow, Gina, what an awesome video! It sounds like you and Sarah really inspire each other, which is wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Gina, so beautiful! I have only one bit of critique……it could have been slowed down just a little, as it was difficult for me to read some of the “pages” that fast, and I would have liked to enjoy each one just a little longer. I felt rushed. When my blessed son was about 5 years old we were driving in a westerly direction when he noticed the sun rays coming down through the clouds (as in one of your scenes). He turned to me and said, “Mom, is that God?” Now he shall know; he went to be with God on 7/12/2018. I also want to say that I belong to a Bible study named FBI founded and run by a Cathollic nun. It stands for Feminist Biblical Interpretation.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I would also like to know the names of some of the art you used, specifically the tree images.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Interesting thoughts. Though I wonder if what you are looking for is God or just being Spiritual?
    You mention Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdala. They worshipped Jesus as God. So if you find comfort in them what hinders you from finding the comfort and fulfillment that they found in Jesus? They accepted his resurrection, what does that then say about God? Again I wonder if what you are looking for is a revelation of God or just a warm spiritual feeling? Well?

    Liked by 1 person

    • hello John

      I’ve seen your comment to Gina and as a reader of your comment I would like you please to consider your questions and tone. Using ‘just’ in terms of spirituality suggests a denigration. And your questions suggest that that those of us who express concern or difficulty with the way Christianity is traditionally understood are not being reasonable. Your final question implies scepticism. While your voice is welcome within the community and hearing of what brings you hope would be good, denigrating others is not appropriate.

      Thank you for considering your contribution

      Margaret

      Liked by 1 person

    • They did not.

      Like

  28. Just lovely. I can’t say “God” anymore- it’s too male, and an idol imo. I say “God/ess” or “the divine” or “the Holy” etc. Beautiful piece, I really enjoyed it.

    Liked by 2 people

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