The Magnificat, or the Song of Mary, is one of the best known and most loved prayers in all of Christendom. At a time when an unmarried, pregnant teenage girl was justifiably distracted by her circumstances, she takes time to give thanks to the Creator. It is an amazing act of spiritual maturity that I’m not sure I would have been able to pull off, if I were in her shoes. Luke 1:46b-55, records the Magnificat this way:
1:46b “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
I wonder how different the Magnificat would sound, if Mary lived in our post-modern time. Would Mary have been so quick to refer to God using strictly masculine pronouns? How much more expansive would this amazing prayer have been if Mary’s perception of the Holy One had not been so limited? I like to think that a 21st century Mary, unbound by 1st century cultural restraints, would have chosen language that reflected a bigger, more inclusive, view of God.
I get that viewing the Creator as male has dominated the culture since well before Mary’s time. It is the view that most of us, of a certain age, grew up with and it is still the predominate view of the vast majority of our fellow sisters and brothers in the church.
But what do we lose when we assign a specific gender to God? I wonder what perspectives we deny ourselves when God is seen as a man? I believe we lose the possibility of viewing God in a manner that is affirming to all of Creation.
Viewing God as “Father”, “King”, “Lord”, etc. can be valid expressions of the Divine, however, these views are often used to justify a patriarchal world view that marginalizes anyone who isn’t male. Throw in the fact that many who view God in this manner often have no issue with seeing the Creator as white and heterosexual and, Houston, we have a problem. Witness the sexism, racism and homophobia which still run rampant in our society and in the church.
The full nature of our Creator is far beyond our seeing. To limit our view of God to a specific gender or race places us in a box which blocks us from receiving God’s abundance and allows us to deprives ourselves and others the totality of our Creator’s grace and mercy.
This Advent season, let us sing a new, 21st century version of the Magnificat. Let us sing to the glory of a God who is beyond all comprehending. Let us sing to God bringing many names.
Bring many names, beautiful and good,
celebrate, in parable and story,
holiness in glory, living, loving God.
Hail and hosanna! Bring many names!
Strong mother God, working night and day,
planning all the wonders of creation,
setting each equation, genius at play:
Hail and hosanna, strong mother God!
Warm father God, hugging every child,
feeling all the strains of human living,
caring and forgiving till we’re reconciled:
Hail and hosanna, warm father God!
Old, aching God, grey with endless care,
calmly piercing evil’s new disguises,
glad of good surprises, wiser than despair:
Hail and hosanna, old aching God!
Young, growing God, eager, on the move,
saying no to falsehood and unkindness,
crying out for justice, giving all you have:
Hail and hosanna, young, growing God!
Great, living God, never fully known,
joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,
closer yet than breathing, everlasting home:
Hail and hosanna, great, living God!
Bring Many Names: Words: Brian Wren
Words © 1989, revised 1994 by Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188.
Nathan Sobers is a Ruling Elder in the PC (USA), and the Co-Moderator of More Light Presbyterians national board of directors. He and his husband, Michael Kuntz, live in Seattle where Nathan is currently completing a Pastoral Internship at Lake City Presbyterian Church.