The ‘Our Father,’ the prayer that Jesus taught us, booms around our churches with hearty maleness, bringing the liturgy down an octave or two. The congregation may or may not believe in God, but the men among them, it seems, believe strongly, and viscerally, that God, if He exists, is male.
This assumption is backed up by thousands of years of Judaeo-Christian religious instruction. When Christianity ascended to cultural dominance, it came to serve a patriarchal culture which routinely devalued women and made them the chattels and victims of men. Scripture proved to be an excellent tool in the service of male prejudice. Liturgical practices, habits of prayer, even the penitential scrutiny of inner motivations, failed to challenge many far-from-holy beliefs.
In the Bible, strange though it may seem, the femininity of God emerges with extraordinary clarity. The Book of Deuteronomy speaks of God giving birth (Deut. 32.18). The prophets Isaiah and Hosea compare God to a nourishing mother (e.g. Isa. 66.12-13, Hos. 11.1-4). Psalm 123 offers a different feminine image, that of God as a kind and caring mistress who is gladly served by the handmaiden soul (Ps. 123.2-3) . In the Gospels, Jesus compares God to a mother hen protecting her brood (Matt. 23.37, Luke 13.34). In the parable of the lost coin (Luke 15.8-10) Jesus compares God to a woman sweeping the floors of her house. Evidently, female creatures in their ordinary lives, from both the animal and the human world, can provide appropriate images for God.
While these passages may have been metaphorical in intent, the Bible also features Wisdom, an unmistakeably female figure, who shares in God’s Divinity. Wisdom appears as the beginning of all God’s works, as the companion and playmate at His side as He creates (Prov. 8.22-30). In the Book of Sirach, Wisdom appears as the Word spoken by the Most High; She is nothing less than the holy template for Creation, who enters the works She and God bring forth, goes out to choose a people to serve God, and then takes root among them to guide them and help them in their growing (Sir. 24.3-12).
When Jesus taught us the words of the Our Father, He referred to God as father and not mother. But gender is a human category. The true God must be as much genderless as gendered, as much, and as little, female as male. Would Jesus have seen God as male to the exclusion of the female? Hardly.
If, as Jesus led that prayer, His voice also sounded with hearty maleness, it can only have been to strike one note among many in the polyphony of sacrifice and trust.