Since January, Iâ€™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 Johnsonâ€™s poem, â€œThe Creation.â€ I hadnâ€™t heard it performedâ€”not just spoken, but performedâ€”in years, not since my dad made a recording of â€œThe Creationâ€ 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 dadâ€™s. He bellows. His voice isâ€”well, god-like. But this actorâ€™s understanding of God was different. Before he began the poem, he prefaced it by saying, as I recall, â€œThe poem was written at a time when people had only one concept of God: as a â€œhe.â€ So Iâ€™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.â€
So I did, and I heard those verses as I had never heard them before! That vision of â€œThe Creationâ€ 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 Tracyâ€™s book, the event turned into church, with people in the audience saying, â€œMmmhmmm,â€ or â€œHoney!â€ 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, â€œThis, too, is spirituality. It feels like God is here.â€
And there is spiritâ€”a good spirit, the divineâ€”in art and rhythm and brilliant words. But for me and the way Iâ€™ve been used to conceptualizing what God does and my relationship with God, this spirituality has its limitations. I canâ€™t trust poetry with my future. I canâ€™t approach a major decision and say, â€œPoetry, what should I do?â€ I canâ€™t feel trapped or overwhelmed again and cry out, â€œPoetry, please take this burden from me!â€
I need God. But I need her to be â€¦ I donâ€™t know. As free(-ing) as poetry?