David R. Weiss tells a sweet story about a father and a young daughter in When God Was a Little Girl, playfully and joyfully illustrated by Joan Hernandez Lindeman.
Yet, the power of this 32-page children’s book isn’t that it’s another finely produced work to entertain and inspire young people.
This book takes the radical approach of imagining God as a child, not an adult; as a Supreme Being of giggles, not a thundering blame-leveler; and, most significantly as a female, not a male.
God transcends time and space, transcends physical characteristics such as gender. You might just as well assert that God has brown skin or red hair or blue eyes.
Still, as human beings, we like to picture God as one of us. Jesus, of course, was one of us — is one of us. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean that we are required to think of the Creator as an old guy with a long white beard. Or of the Holy Spirit as a little white bird.
As human beings, we use our imaginations to fit abstract concepts into physical images. Or maybe it’s better to say that we look at our physical world and develop abstract concepts. In either case, thinking of God as one of us helps us, in our stumbling way, to get closer to getting an understanding of God.
However, we limit ourselves and our understanding of God if the only metaphor we use is male.
In When God Was a Little Girl, David R. Weiss helps his readers — children, parents and anyone who looks at this lovely book — look at God with fresh eyes.
As the book opens, Susanna and her father are taking a long drive from Wisconsin to Iowa, and the young girl asks for a story.
“What kind of a story?
“Um…tell me a story…about when God was a little girl.”
“Okay…when God was a little girl…she liked art projects.”
Susanna, of course, is tickled at this thought because she likes art projects. And she can see God creating the world as an art project, giggling all the time at how much fun it is to be creative.
And the story goes from there. The young girl who is God sings as she works/plays, sings as she creates love and light, water and green, human beings and the rainbow.
God as a child
God as a child is a beautiful metaphor, not perfect, of course. No metaphor is. We all know how children can get cranky and mean and selfish. Nonetheless, children instinctively know how to love. There is a wonder they bring to life. They have easy access to deep wells of joy and awe. And giggles.
At least one great saint, St. Therese of Lisieux, saw God this way also.
Dorothy Day, another saint herself if not yet officially canonized, writes in her biography of Therese:
[S]he not only spoke of herself as Spouse of Christ, as all nuns are, but also as the playfellow, the plaything, even, of the Child Jesus. Her familiarity with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit might be called her recognition of the immanence of God, and this very familiarity which leads her to liken herself to a little plaything, a ball, a little grain of dust to be trampled underfoot, points to God’s transcendence, to the infinite distance between God and creatures.
Even in envisioning herself as a “playfellow” of God as a child, Therese still falls back on male metaphors in thinking about the transcendent three-personed God.
That’s an indication of how engrained that male metaphor is in Christian spirituality. So, if Weiss had written a book about God as a young boy, it would have been fun and interesting, but still fairly conventional.
What makes his book so striking is its willingness to go all the way beyond the orthodoxy of our imagery of God.
Jesus and the prophets did this in their own way, seeing God not as a king but as a suffering servant. That was radical in their time. And, really, it’s radical today.
Seeing God as a girl provides a perspective that has been missing from Christianity from pretty much the beginning and a counterbalance to 2,000 years of patriarchy. Looking at God as a girl is like looking at God as a poor person, or a person of color. The concept challenges our cultural preconceptions.
If God can only be male, well, maybe that means that men should rule the earth. If God can also be female, what does that say about the limitations placed on girls and women in world societies? What does it say, for instance, about unequal pay for the same work?
Opening a door in the imagination
A child who reads this book or hears the book read has a door in the imagination opened. This book will give a boy a way of thinking about God that is freer and more open-eyed than the traditional view, and also a freer, more open-eyed way of looking at boys and girls, men and women.
This book will give a girl all of that and more. A girl who reads this story or hears it will be able to identify with God in a way that previous generations of Christian women haven’t been able to do.
As the story in When God Was a Little Girl unfolds, the father and Susanna tell the story together, such as in this exchange which starts when the father says:
“God sang, ‘Green —’ ”
“And the Earth and Water and Sun and Love, they all danced together while God sang—“
“And the Green was like sunflower seeds and began sees you help me plant in the garden. God grew grass and bushes and trees and flower of every color.”
When God Was a Little Girl is a sweet story, an entertaining story and a profound story. It’s a fun kind of spirituality. Little girls are like that.
Patrick T. Reardon
[When God Was a Little Girl is available from ACTA Publications.]