Girl Meets God…

Once in a very great while I find a book that I simply can’t put down. It is a rare windfall when that book feels like it was written especially for me. I was instantly engrossed in Sarah Sentilles’ Breaking Up With God. Like Susan Campbell’s Dating Jesus, this book reinforced the fact that women experience a side of God’s character generally closed to men—the idea that God might be a lover. In our distorted, still patriarchal culture we have yet to grow beyond the idea that God is male. This simple, persistent teaching ensures that a gender-divide will always remain in effect when it comes to monotheistic religions. What truly spoke to me from Sentilles’ book, however, was not the theology, but the heart. Although the gender view from which I approach concepts of divinity must necessarily be different, here I found someone with a journey in many ways similar to mine. The honesty with which the author lays open her experience is beautiful and terrifying.

One of the recurring questions on this blog is whence the concept of God arose. Anthropologists, psychologists, and theologians come up with varying answers but the fact is the real impact is felt in very human minds. We have, perhaps unwittingly, devised a punishing image of the creator of the universe. A God who causes, allows, or at least condones arbitrary human suffering. A God who permits atrocities daily to be committed in his name (for this is a masculine god). A God who has left a burning ruin in his wake. Those of us who’ve attended seminary, as Sentilles makes vividly clear, are taught perceptions of the divine that can never be translated into the pulpit. Those of us who go on to graduate school are permitted a rare glimpse behind the veil to see something that it frightens us to contemplate, let alone write or speak about. It is a burden best worn like a hairshirt—beneath other clothes so that people don’t know it’s there. Many of us are then cast into the career outer darkness with nothing but our highly educated, disturbing thoughts for comfort.

Sarah Sentilles has given the world a gift with her revealing, sensible, and very human story. Having grown up with the image of God as a father, it was a shock when a seminary professor once revealed to me that God could never really fill that role. Nor, he added, could the church. While it cannot be the same as breaking up with God, the realization that what you were taught as a child was merely a metaphor forces a grand reevaluation of perceptions. My professor was, of course, correct. Carrying around a faulty image of God will lead only to intractable complications further down the road. Although Sentilles started down the path some years later than I did, it seems we have wound up in the same neighborhood. Her book deserves to be read widely, thought over carefully, and pondered for a time. We need to consider: what hath man wrought?

3 responses to “Girl Meets God…

  1. Sounds excellent. I’ll check it out.

  2. Thank you for your beautiful review of my book. I appreciate your kind words and careful reading. Many thanks for taking the time to read the book and to write this post!

  3. This a spiritual autobiography in which the author, Lauren F. Winner, a very well-read and erudite young woman, has many profoundly revealing things to say about how both Judaism and Christianity can hold special places in the heart and soul of a person who strives to be closer to God. I fully expected “Girl Meets God” to be one of those books that compels me to spend time contemplating words of wisdom between every chapter; instead, I read the whole thing in two sittings. It’s that good.I have to admit that I’m as impressed with the author as I am with her story, which involves converting to Orthodox Judaism and then leaving this for a deep and abiding Christianity. “Girl Meets God” reads like a conversation rather than a sermon. Although she’s as clever as she is intelligent, Ms. Winner doesn’t talk down to the reader, so you won’t have to worry about feeling guilt or shame as a result of religious ambivalence or spiritual shortcomings. Instead of myriad revelations, she’s just telling her story, and she’s happy to have you listen in.If you’ve ever “felt funny” about praying, there’s a chapter you can relate to. Don’t get as much out of worship services as you expected? She’s been there. Surely, there are many far more formidable hurdles in the spiritual path. In the chapter called “Holy Week,” a roadblock appears in Ms. Winner’s realization that many Jews hated Christ and were responsible for His death. At this point she’s a Christian who can have no malice toward Jews. Her reconciliation of her faith(s) comes later in a chapter entitled “Pentecost” which contains some rather profound words about spiritual lessons.Ms. Winner’s journey through Judaism to Christianity will be particularly interesting to those who find both beliefs palatable. I happen to believe that God upholds a virtually identical set of morals and ethical values for both Jews and Christians, so it’s easy for me to learn about both. Of course, the two hold some divergent precepts; however, Ms. Winner goes beyond calling them out. She studies various angles of interpretation, works her way through the Jewish and Christian history and writings (her knowledge of biblical language is extensive), finds common ground, and seems to be truly grateful for the realization that God speaks forcefully to two different sets of believers. I’m just grateful for a little understanding and a lot more to consider . . . and for the fact that she saved me from spending years in the library trying to sort this stuff out. This book is truly a gem.

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