I would like to tell you about a 36″ round painting that I call “Experiencing the Feminine Characteristics of God.” Once she was carried into a seminary chapel by liturgical dancers and placed on an easel that was awaiting her on the chancel. This was in 1996 at Lexington Theological Seminary (Disciples of Christ) where I took 31 hours toward my Master of Divinity degree.
That painting began with a pen and ink drawing I did at a Catholic retreat center in Monroe, Michigan in 1993. I went there for a seven-day (mostly silent) retreat. My mother and son were in nursing homes in Ohio and Kentucky respectively and both were failing. I knew I needed a couple of days to cry. On the morning of the third day I decided I’d done what I needed to do of that so I decided to change gears. I knew that one of the sisters in the order (IHM, Immaculate Heart of Mary), Sister Sondra Schneiders, had written a book called Women and the Word so I looked for it on the shelves and found it.
Sister Sondra’s book is the best thing I have read about gender issues and Christianity. It is a small book and contains a clearly reasoned thesis with abundant scripture to back it up. The first chapter talks about the fact the God doesn’t have a gender: God is Spirit, God is Love. The second chapter is about Jesus. Jesus, no doubt, was male but she talks about what kind of male he was and talks about his relationships with women and his teachings.
Well…I thought I had changed the subject and the focus of my retreat when about then I realized that what I needed was a huge dose of that nurturing, feminine side of God. I was wounded in my feminine relationships as I was losing my mother and my son.
I experienced that nurturing, feminine comfort.
I spent the next three days trying to draw what that experience was like. Two years later one of those drawings was the source for the painting.
Since I was working in acrylic, I could easily paint over and change things. I wanted the face to be somehow “universal.” It went through several versions: skin darker then lighter, eyes more almond-shaped then less so, hair different colors. Finally I stopped and put it away for several days. When I came back to the studio, I realized it was finished. I saw that what I had painted was my mother’s face with my mother-in-law’s coloring. For ME this would be the face of the feminine side of God. I realized I couldn’t paint that face for everybody. For a Black woman or a Chinese women or an Indian woman the face would have to be different. I couldn’t paint all of those. I could only paint mine.
The response to this painting has been interesting. I displayed it once at a Catholic church in Lexington, Kentucky and it was beautifully received. Catholic people are accustomed to seeing a woman glorified in their churches so many people there embraced her. One woman who was looking at it most thoughtfully told me it looked like her grandmother! It was more universal than I thought.
The triangle represents the triune God of Christianity, the Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Notice that the smaller woman (roughly “me”) is bound to the earth where there is a storm raging over the southeastern US; beyond the earth’s atmosphere, all is well.