By Lauren F. Winner
Hardcover, 304 pages
Reviewed by Jean Rodenbough
“How we talk about God matters,” author Lauren Winner states in her new book, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God (p. 26). She has selected six metaphors found in biblical passages to define divinity. These are ordinary images, easily grasped by those seeking to understand the great Mystery that cannot be defined.
Beginning with language associated with clothing (“Above all, clothe yourselves with love . . .” Col. 3:14), she illustrates how the biblical authors described the indescribable. Through enlightening and wonderful sources included throughout her book, she helps us as readers to grab hold of images that resonate with us. In seeing Jesus through the language of clothing, for example, we have valuable means for understanding a concept that is not otherwise easy to grasp.
Winner, an Episcopal priest and Assistant Professor of Christian Spirituality at Duke Divinity School, moves us through additional metaphors, such as smell (“God emits a fragrance . . .” and “We are the aroma of Christ . . .” from 2 Corinthians 2:14-15), to discover how our senses can inform us of divinity. She then carries us further into definitions by drawing upon the image of bread and vine, where God supplies the wandering Israelites with manna in the desert, and Jesus offers wine at a wedding banquet. This is the One as God or Christ who fills us hungry seekers with good things, the One we meet as the “bread of life.” We fill ourselves with that Bread and we become drunk with the wine of heaven.
For me, a most powerful image in the book is that of God as the woman in labor. She is the one who yearns to bring the exiles home from Babylon, exclaiming “I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant” (Isaiah 42:14). Those of us who have given birth and those who have witnessed such miracles recognize the all-encompassing energy required to bring forth new life. Adjunct images might be those describing God as a midwife, or as a nursing mother, providing comfort and nourishment.
But such descriptions cannot provide us with a fully comprehensive portrayal of God’s power and Jesus’s presence. Winner adds the quality of laughter, reminding us how, early on in the book of Genesis, Sarah and Abraham both have spells of laughter over the promise of a child at their advanced ages. In return, God says their son will be named Isaac, or “Let-Him-Laugh.” Laughter can have different meanings. It can be a sign of delight, or a means of ridicule or sarcasm; but with God’s laughter, we know joy. The laughing Christ has been depicted in wonderful portraits that show us more than a suffering servant.
Not to be overlooked is the metaphor of fire or flame. Beginning with the burning bush that Moses encounters, and the fire by night which leads his people out of Egyptian slavery, the Israelites come at last into a new land and new power. Centuries later, it is Jesus who proclaims “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled”(Luke 12:49). The Refiner’s Fire has many images for believers.
Yet after Winner’s study of these images, she points us to the truth of never having words to describe completely the essence of God or of Christ. We confront the “self-hiding God” or at least hints of that fullness but never a final face-to-face experience during this life. Winner states, “The self-hiding God seems to be the God who wills Her own disclosure”(p. 236).
Pages and pages follow the main body of the text: notes illuminating what she has written and lists of other books which may be helpful in seeking to understand who God is. She doesn’t claim to have covered every aspect, and she points out that she did not include violent images, such as those of abused women or of God as warrior. Although she is aware such images are all too common in our own time, they should not be considered as a norm.
This book is one that works well as a group read or simply for reading alone. The metaphors are commonplace and readily accessible from much that is familiar from our own everyday lives. They thus become a beginning to explore further just whom we know as God and how we have experienced both Creator and the One who redeems.
© 2015 by Jean Rodenbough and Christian Feminism Today