Since January, I’ve been making an effort to accept my own challenge of re-envisioning God. I made a silent commitment to myself to try to avoid using any pronouns for God at all and to use feminine pronouns when I do. Some Father Time-looking figure often still comes to mind when I imagine God in physical form, but I want to picture a woman, a beautiful, Black, full-bodied, natural-haired, regal woman.
In February (and why is it the end of March already?), I went to an African American read-in during which someone performed James Weldon Johnson’s poem, “The Creation.” I hadn’t heard it performed—not just spoken, but performed—in years, not since my dad made a recording of “The Creation” for me on a cassette tape when I was a child so I could choreograph some modern dance moves to it to perform at some church function.
The actor who performed at the read-in has a stage voice much like my dad’s. He bellows. His voice is—well, god-like. But this actor’s understanding of God was different. Before he began the poem, he prefaced it by saying, as I recall, “The poem was written at a time when people had only one concept of God: as a “he.” So I’m not going to change the language of the poem, but as you hear these words, I do want you to think about a woman giving birth to the world.”
So I did, and I heard those verses as I had never heard them before! That vision of “The Creation” gave me life, like my mom giving birth. And so did the words that night of Lucille Clifton and of Tracy K. Smith. In fact, when I read from Tracy’s book, the event turned into church, with people in the audience saying, “Mmmhmmm,” or “Honey!” and waving their hands. Women authors speaking to the experiences and needs of their people, women authors giving life! And as I left the read-in, I thought, “This, too, is spirituality. It feels like God is here.”
And there is spirit—a good spirit, the divine—in art and rhythm and brilliant words. But for me and the way I’ve been used to conceptualizing what God does and my relationship with God, this spirituality has its limitations. I can’t trust poetry with my future. I can’t approach a major decision and say, “Poetry, what should I do?” I can’t feel trapped or overwhelmed again and cry out, “Poetry, please take this burden from me!”
I need God. But I need her to be … I don’t know. As free(-ing) as poetry?