Whakapono: Spirit as source of life

Recovering Holy Spirit

‘…Holy Spirit is the Mother of God’s children and can in this sense also be termed a feminine Spirit.’ – Jürgen Moltmann

Both in the Old and New Testaments as well as in the Apocrypha (the writings in between the two), Wisdom-Sophia,is the most developed image for Holy Spirit. Think Proverbs: Lady Wisdom. Think Jesus: conceived by Holy Spirit. Think Nicodemus, told by Jesus, ‘You must be born again.’ And in the book of Sirach[1]: "…as a mother and a young bride, she the intimate pitches her tent and dwells among the people."

This maternal feminine language conjures up a sense of nurture, care and belonging, in contrast to our more commonly ‘masculinised’ version of Holy Spirit; a version that tends to lean in to the concept of power, suited more to a patriarchal & hierarchical society.

Feminist theology claims that "a robust feminist theology is critical for women to regain their voice and speak in a language that they are familiar with."[2] It also enables women’s inclusion into the divine community as image bearers. As well as that, the most common pronouns used of Holy Spirit: ‘It’, ‘The’, and most often ‘He’, have confirmed a masculine way of seeing God, once again denying the presence of the divine feminine in the Godhead. This in itself is exclusionary language.

One of the most common metaphors used to describe Holy Spirit is that of a dove, who descended upon Jesus at his baptism, inviting a sense of peace and comfort, which is beautiful. Another image developed by the Celts is that of a Wild Goose, presenting another kind of Spirit, one who is not tame, who goes wherever she will. These two seemingly opposite images have been used to suggest that Holy Spirits relegation (historically) to ‘one who does the bidding of the Father,’ or a kind of ‘Cinderella of the Godhead,’ in many ways parallels the plight of women and their subjugation to men. The neglect of Holy Spirit (until the 4th century) and the marginalisation of women somehow went (and possibly still goes) hand in hand. 

Changing our Language help us to change our minds, inviting us into a new and more spacious way of seeing and being. 

God is neither male nor female. But unless we are able to find language of inclusion, we will default to an old and entirely inadequate way of relating to God, ourselves and the world around us.

When Jesus’ time on earth had come to an end he took his friends aside and breathed on them saying, ‘receive Holy Spirit.’ The word for breath in Hebrew is ruach, which is feminine in its origin. The ancient Hebrews understood Spirit as the source – the breath of all life, giving life to all things, moving between and holding all things together and grounding all of life into one being, of which we are a part.  From the womb of humanities’ conception, Mother Earth | Papatuanuku, we are birthed and to her we will return.

[1]The book of Sirach, found in the Apocrypha

[2]Theologians such as Elizabeth Johnson & Catherine Mowry Lacugna explore these themes in   depth.