by Christine Hargraves, Guest Contributor

When I came into divinity school I didn’t understand why it was a problem to refer to God as “he” or “father.” This was the God I knew, grew up with – the God I felt comforted by and sought guidance with. It felt like this new system of language at the divinity school was trying to take God away from me (and I spent time being mad at the divinity school for it).

It’s not that I was against calling God a “she” – I understood why that could be liberating– but that didn’t make it any less hard. I didn’t know this God with feminine pronouns and I didn’t know what to do with her. I was comfortable with the God I called “he.” However, I knew that others were not, others had been hurt, and others would be offended. So I sought to not use “he”– it became an act of hospitality that eventually benefited me more than I can express.

Even though I kept thinking that the image of God as a man was helpful to me, deep down it wasn’t – deep down it was limiting me as well as hurting me. Though it took me awhile to admit, the image of God as a man had been used against me in many harmful ways. I thought I had buried that God, but in reality I just covered it up with comfortable sayings because I thought I had to – I thought this male God was the only God I had, and I had to fix this image.

I learned that God can embody many different images, I don’t have to keep working with the same one. I can see God as a female or not as a personified image at all (currently that is my favorite).

And now, though I don’t mean to, I feel more defensive when I hear “he” and I am less likely to fully hear what that person is trying to say to me. That’s one of the reasons I think we use inclusive language in divinity school – it helps us find common ground with each other. In other words, no matter where we stand in our personal lives, by using inclusive language we are acknowledging that God is big enough to relate to her in one way, him in another and me in even another way.

Before encountering other images of God besides a male image, I didn’t know how freeing it could be to be in relation with the divine (simply because my past experiences had prevented it). There is nothing inherently wrong with saying “he” (or “she”). The problem is that it keeps us from exploring other images that may free us in ways we don’t expect.