A great struggle for a raging feminist Christian like myself is shaping within my son’s mind’s eye a picture of God that is, while not entirely genderless, hopefully not an old bearded man in the sky. I understand that this image has its place in the world - for example, in a Far Side comic strip - but scripture and tradition are so full of a variety of images of the divine that to let my son fall into the images offered by popular culture just seems like lazy parenting.
One of the tools that I have used for my son, and that we have used with young children in our congregation, is Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso’s book “In God’s Name.” Published in 1994, it is a lovely expression of the richness of our experience of God and the ways in which human experience reflects our understanding of who God is. Yes, all that in a book that you could read to a two year old (especially the shortened, board book version).
The premise of the story is that all the people have come together and brought different names for God, and they argue about which name is the correct one, for they can’t all be true names for God:
The farmer called God…Source of Life
The girl whose skin was as golden as the sun…called God Creator of Light
The man who tended sheep…called God Shepherd
The tired soldier…called God Maker of Peace
The woman who cared for the sick called God Healer
The slave…called God Redeemer
The grandfather…called God Ancient One
The grandmother…called God Comforter
The young woman who nursed her newborn son called God Mother
The young man who held the hand of his baby daughter called God Father
The child who was lonely called God Friend.
In the end, the people realize that all of their names for God are good, and that all these names in their diversity name the God who is in fact One. The rhythmic and almost liturgical quality of this book makes it especially lovely as a bedtime story. It was actually the first book that we read as we started to drill a bedtime routine into our infant son.
He must have been around age three when he first shared with me his understanding of who God is. He told me that he was sure that God was a man during the day and a woman at night. Was this liberated understanding of God a result of having Rabbi Sasso's book read to him a hundred times in a row? Hard to say. Was it simply a reflection of his desire to spend every waking minute with his father, but preferring the squishiness of his mother when it was time to snuggle in bed? Probably. But I would guess that this wonderful book taught him, and hopefully will continue to teach him, that he can value his own experiences and that God will meet him in the place of his need.
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