People of the Books: Woman: Image of the Holy Spirit by Joan P. Schaupp

Dang it all, this Daylight Savings Time really screws with my perception of what part of the day I’m in.  (Of course, spending five or so hours at church doesn’t help, either, but I’m thinking a lot of it is the sun blazing away at nearly 7 in the evening.)

My brain is on overload and so is my desk, so you get a book review of a book I read a few months ago while I listen to lots of Page CXVI (who, by the by, are giving away all their music for free until the end of March.  That is epically awesome).

Woman:  Image of the Holy Spirit is another one of those researching-something-else-title-caught-my-eye finds, but this wasn’t nearly as satisfying as those often turn out to be.  I think part of this was due to the fact that the book is so very, very Catholic (it’s published by Catholic Scholars Press) and I am not.  I do have roots there, though, so I got what that part was.

I think the bigger thing was that this was a whole treatise on the Holy Spirit as the feminine aspect of God so as to balance the traditionally male Father figure and the male Jesus/Son, and that isn’t something with which I have a problem.  For all the fact that I’m female, I’m not distressed or intimidated by the overwhelmingly male language we use to talk about God.  We can take this to my having been born after the biggest shock waves of feminism, or the fact that I’m seriously not in touch with my feminine side, or whatever, but it’s not a problem for me such that I would need to seek out ways to make part of the Trinity very female.  I can see why this might be a bigger problem in Catholicism, since the whole power structure is male, but I’m fine and dandy as a Protestant who understands that when we talk about God, it doesn’t matter what gender language we assign because it’s wrong.

God is genderless.

That kind of blows my mind, in roughly the same category of mind-blowing that occurred when I first took Spanish and realized that linguistic genders have nothing to do with the sexual/biological aspects of things.  Jesus, as a real flesh person Who lived and loved and died and rose, is a He.  That’s not something I’m willing to negotiate in the way I understand the Trinity.  But the Father and the Spirit?  Whatevs.  They/He/She/It are/is what They/He/She/It are/is, and the sooner I recognize that I don’t understand that in the least, the sooner I can start really being in that relationship.  God isn’t even really a person as we understand the idea, at least outside of the Jesus manifestation.  How’s that for mindfuckery?  Schaupp herself gets into this, on pages 54-55:

“…God is greater than femininity.  God is boundless.  If there is a problem with my original thesis, of seeing woman as an image of the Holy Spirit, it is in falsely separating the traits of male and female.”

Yet, while Schaupp explains that we need to redefine how we think of “male” and “female,” her characterizations of both within the Godhead are terribly obvious to our present assumptions.  “Woman, as such, is not generally the builder of things—although there are many notable exceptions.  Rather, the feminine nurtures, protects, accommodates herself to the needs of others.  She nurses, heals, teaches, guides, consoles, inspires.  She is more concerned with inner space…She is inclined to the interior.  Man is symbolized by the Appolonian reason, the building of things, by external action.”  (99)

I heartily disagree—and again, this could be because my feminine side and I are usually in different solar systems.  But I attribute any internality to being an introvert, not to being a woman.  I protect, sure, but I don’t nurse, and I’m definitely inclined to reason and external action when I see that it needs to be done.  I am a doer, I was reminded today.  And some of the men in my life are incredible teachers, inspirations, and healers.  I don’t say this to say the characterization is totally wrong, just to say that I’m frustrated with the assertion that we need to talk about God outside of social gender constructs followed by the social gender constructs we were supposed to stop creating.

Other arguments I had included sheer editing frustration, because, well, typos.  Come on, CSP, you can do better than that.  This read like a poorly proofread early draft of a master’s thesis, which is unfortunate considering Dr. Schaupp has a DMin and I totally respect all the work that must have gone into that.  I also knew a lot of what Schaupp was arguing before reading this, which isn’t anybody’s fault, but it did make the book much less revelatory than it could have been.  Last argument was with her linguistic construction of the argument of woman:  ruah, which means “spirit of God” in Hebrew, is grammatically feminine.  From this, Schaupp moves into the basis of Spirit-as-female.  I felt that she took the grammar a little far, although she does admit that that can’t be a full reason on its own.  Grammatical gender, as stated above, has little to do with the way we usually understand gender.

But there were some really solid points:  woman and man are necessary together, just as both are present in the Godhead.  “…it is the male and female together that exemplifies the fullness of the Hebrew, Adamah, or mankind.”  (72)  And an interesting argument out of the Eva/Ave tradition that I don’t totally agree with but I do appreciate:  “It seems there is a parallel of opposites between the story of Eve luring Adam to be tempted in the Garden of Eden and the tale of the Spirit leading Christ into the desert to be tempted…In the desert, history was reversed.” (84)

I’m glad to have picked this up, but one go-through was enough.  I and my own weird conceptions of God are good enough for now.


Rating:  2.5/5 stars      

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