I remember walking into a church in the early 90s and hearing the congregation singing, "Yah is an Awesome Yah." I was alarmed! What had I walked into, and who was this, Yah? For context, let me say that my family church was Anglican, and when I joined AME as an adult, my family thought I had joined the "holy rollers." Needless to say, walking into this Pentecostal church was putting pressure on me, and hearing this calling of "Yah" wasn't helping. Back then, I was of the mindset that everything that was unfamiliar was demonic! Thankfully the song was being sung in the tune of "God is an awesome God," so I collected myself and realized that Yah must be another reference for God. With my fried nerves, after service, I committed to learning more about what the word "Yah" meant.
Come to find out; Yah is the abbreviated version of the word Yahweh. Yahweh is a Hebrew word and is the sacred, unspoken name of the national God of Israel. Christians are familiar with the name because of its association with the Exodus 13 story of Moses and the burning bush. In that text, Moses asks God, "who shall I say sent me?" God answers that I Am the I Am, and somehow academia has tied the name Yahweh to the scripture. Ok?! Lol. While this name may have caused me to raise both of my eyebrows back then, the word is very familiar today across multiple Christian denominations due to its widespread usage in gospel music.
The Spiritual Practice of Naming God
So, what does it mean to call upon the name of the Lord? I gather from old and new testaments that to call on the name of God means there was faith, belief, and trust in the one called upon and a dependency on that one to meet the expressed need of the one calling. A clear example is a Christian practice of calling on the name of Jesus. As Christians, we have a history of fellowship and dependency on God, and we believe by faith that when we call on Jesus / God, they will respond to our call.
Throughout the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, we see examples of people calling God by God's attributes but also by how they experienced God. Building on that concept, I wanted to find ways to personalize my own experiences with God. Here are some examples of how I have accomplished this for myself.
When I was completing my undergrad degree, I called God the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9) because I needed the Eternal God to reveal knowledge and wisdom related to my studies. This practice is still true today in Seminary.
When I find myself in no-win situations, I call upon the God of the Impossible (Luke 1:37)
For protection, I have called God my Strong Tower (Psalm 61:3)
Way Maker – Is who I call God when I need a way made out of no way. When I need open doors, strategy, and level playing fields.
In times of difficulty, I have called Emmanuel - to remember that God is with us in all things.
Lately, I have been referring to God as The Well Spring of Life – to articulate God not only as the font of life but also as the font of diversity in creation.
All of these names and terms I continue to use today in prayer. They have become a memorial to experiences I have had along my journey and reminders of victories won.
The Challenge of God as "She"
While this practice has been meaningful, it was not without challenge. The challenge was adding the personal pronoun "she" to my anthropomorphic naming of God. Anthropomorphic, in this instance, is attributing human characteristics to God. While we all know that God is not human and is neither male nor female, for many of us, our Christian formation has leaned heavily into God as male. I have come to understand that this one-sided vision of God has deeply limited my ability to perceive God beyond being my Father and caused me to question the erasure of God as Mother. Because my formation was rooted in God as a male, it produced a relationship that shaped me in some very particular ways. Initially, this shaping or framework did not have room for a "she" God, and it was tough to find the "she" characteristics of God in the Bible because I was blind to them; after all, God was "he." When I began to recognize the feminine references, I realized they had been passed over or covered up by the patriarchy that lives in the text, which often orates text or provides commentary for the text. Through the study of womanist, feminist, and liberation theology, my sight has sharpened, and my womb of imagination has expanded my borders to receive a broader concept of God.
As I have shared the limitations of only knowing God as Father with conversation partners, there has been some outright rejection. Still, for the most part, many have said that the concept is interesting and has merit, but their relationship with God is rooted in God as Father. I totally get and respect that sentiment because it was my thought trend as well. I will admit that I pushed back on the concept when it was first presented to me. I needed time and prayer to determine how to graft this new idea and its ramifications into my well-worn archetype of God. It has taken years to develop God as "she" into my paradigm. Now I can hold the references of feminine and masculine God in tension together when binary conditioning would desire that I make a choice. While challenging, one might ask then, why make the shift? My God curiosity would not allow me to leave the treats potential on the table. The idea of knowing God additionally was too delectable for me to deny.
The spiritual practice of naming God can be very personal, intimate, and helpful in developing one's relationship with God. I hope that this sharing has stirred ideas on how you might be able to make this spiritual practice of calling on the name of God your own with or without "she" as God.
Do you have any naming practices for God?
How have you navigated God as Mother?