March 5, 2010

Inclusive Language: One Reader's Journey

Editor's Note: In addition to comments posted here, the conversation continues via email and in contributions from readers. Stay tuned for a synopsis of the "back channel" conversation. Meanwhile, here's Regina Colleen Heater's contribution.

Regina Colleen Heater, M.Div. is a professional god-talker and active contemplative who engages people in discussion about the Divine. She is particularly interested in postmodern and emerging world theologies as well as interfaith dialogue. Regina blogs at, and is a contributing scriptwriter for the Saintcast podcast series when she's not watching Yankees baseball.

The discussion here about inclusive language relative to the Divine has inspired me to share a Lenten experience I had over a decade ago.

I had read Rosemary Radford Ruether's Sexism and God-Talk just before Lent began in 1998. I’d already been a proponent of using gender-neutral language for God for several years, after a series of discussions with editors of United Methodist publications during my first year at West Virginia Wesleyan College.

Those editors suggested that opposition to gender-neutral language might be based on personal experiences of God without considering how others might interact with and experience the Divine. What might we be missing by limiting our perspective to our personal experience? What if we considered God 'outside the box'? What might God reveal? This helped me begin using gender-neutral language to describe the Divine.

I had never, however, used feminine language until Ruether's book pointed out some fascinating facts from history about God-language. As I mulled over what I was reading, I made a decision. For my Lenten discipline, I would “sacrifice” my comfort zone, and deliberately use feminine language in my personal prayer life.

I began by rewording the Lord's Prayer. “O Mother in heaven,” I prayed. I prayed to “Goddess of grace and mercy,”, “Divine Mother,” to “Sofia-wisdom,” to the “Goddess of my heart.” As I did more research and wrote my prayers, I learned about the Triple Goddess, of rituals that began by creating a circle and binding a community together, and of the Wiccan rede (i.e., counsel) that echoes our Christian Golden Rule: “An[d] ye harm none, do as ye will.”

As my prayer life changed, so did my perspective of the world around me, and my understanding of my role within Creation as someone Divinely Created.

1 comment:

claire said...

I have found that using feminine language in my prayer and meditative life has changed it entirely.
At first, it felt strange. Today, it has become the other way around.
Speaking in masculine terms is like speaking a foreign language. It is nice and interesting, but it is not my mother tongue :-)

Thank you very much for sharing this. It feels like a balm.