Many people recall the moment they first encountered their life’s work: photographers remember their first pictures; teachers reminisce about gathering siblings and friends in playrooms to “teach” them; writers treasure the moment they realized what it was like to shape words on a blank sheet of paper. So too with me and theological discussion.
I attended a Catholic grade school from first through eighth grade. A few students came and went, but mostly we were the same group of thirty-six kids for those eight years. By seventh grade I was ready to move on; I needed new people, new friends. One of the boys in my class, Randy, was particularly antagonistic. My father had died when I was five, my mother was in a relationship with a woman, and there were many strong female role models in my life; the strength of the women around me influenced my young worldview. My feminism was not appreciated by Randy.
One day in art class we sat at separate tables in the section of the cafeteria that was designated for the development of our right brains. “You know, Lauren,” Randy said, “the Bible says that women are supposed to be submissive to men.”
And we were off. The women I knew were not submissive. Of course I didn’t think they needed to submit to a man in order to have value. Somewhere along the way our conversation shifted from humanity to divinity. “God can only be a man,” Randy said. His reason: “The disciples peed standing up.”
This logic didn’t work for me; it was faulty and crass. Consequently, we argued for the rest of the class period about the nature of God. I’d not thought about this before. If God is everything, why couldn’t God be woman too?
When school let out that day I ran over to the parish life center where my mother was helping Sister Joellen with some computer work. “How was school today?” Mom asked when I came into the office.
“Randy and I argued about God,” I replied. “He said God can only be a man, but I think God is a woman too.”
Joellen immediately affirmed my uneducated, untrained thoughts; she told me about the Holy Spirit, about Wisdom, about Sophia. She told me about God. From that day, I sought to encounter this Wisdom Sophia, this Divine Feminine. I prayed to her; I read and talked about her.
By the next year, my last in that small group of people, I was wholly invested in this mothering God. In short, I was a zealot. That year we had to give speeches in our English class. For the persuasive speech, I decided to persuade my classmates to recognize God as a woman. I approached Joellen for help with my speech, wanting to interview her about Sophia. Joellen gently suggested that I take a more round-about way of talking about this newfound God. An interview would be fine, but it was to be a different one than I had envisioned.
One night Joellen arrived at our home with a recipe for risotto as well as the ingredients. “My grandmother taught me how to make this meal,” she told me. “And when I think of God, I think of my grandma.” Together we chopped vegetables, cooked rice, stirred the mixture, added cheese. We talked about God and about women of strength, but I remember nothing of our actual conversation. What I do recall is the power of that meal.
It has been eleven years since I first shared risotto with Joellen. It is one of my favorite meals to make and to share. And every time I do, I offer it to Grandma God.