Neither He nor She
By Caroline M
My early religious training as a child in Sunday school used the pronoun He for God. I learned too, that when God was angry because we were all sinners, He sent a mighty flood to wipe out life on earth except for Noah, his family and pairs of every other species who survived on an ark that God instructed Noah to build. The impact of this bible story on my five-year-old’s mind sent me into hysterics when a thunderous rainstorm pelted me and my father while visiting the London zoo. I screamed in terror that we were all going to die because we were sinners and God was going to flood the earth and wipe us all out. My father’s reaction was to remove me from Sunday school and never mention God again.
Years passed and I won a scholarship to a college track high school for girls which happened to be run by the Church of England. We sang hymns at daily assembly and had regular bible study periods throughout the week. Religion was merely another school subject and I found no application for it in my daily life. As soon as I graduated, it was goodbye to church and I didn’t give God another thought but I still held to the idea that God was a He. That was just a given I didn’t bother to question.
Decades later, when I was introduced to Al-Anon, a recovery program for families and friends of alcoholics, I struggled with the notion of God and Higher Power and what it all really meant. I was desperate and miserable in my marriage to a violent alcoholic and needed to get myself and my two young children to safety. So I followed the 12 Steps as well as I could, referring to God as He or Him as written in the literature. I have to admit that at that time I never felt a connection from my heart to God or a Higher Power. God was still a he and still out there somewhere. I still prayed to God in the way children make a list for Santa Clause. It was the best I could do at the time. And by the way, my drinking had become a daily habit and I even drove drunk with my children in the car.
A few years later when alcohol finally brought me to my knees, I crawled through the doors of the Alano Club in San Rafael with a hangover, five days before Christmas 1984. I felt sick to my stomach, the cigarette smoke in the room didn’t help. I hadn’t slept at all, my head pounded and yet I could not deny a feeling of relief that slowed my breathing and helped me sit through that first meeting. And something happened to me. Some shift within me that is hard to describe in words, but when I left that first meeting I felt better and wanted to come back.
Looking back now I can see how my heart had been touched by something bigger than me, bigger than any one person at that meeting, something mysterious that was invisible yet real. It was a power that touched a part of me that had been dormant for years. This new feeling of connection to a Higher Power did not match the image I had held of an angry punishing old-man-in-the-sky kind of God. This power was neither male nor female. It was simply a healing force, a loving, creative force, pure and good. And I wanted to sit with it, be close to it and be connected. I soon found a sponsor and experienced yet another breakthrough when we got down on our knees to recite the Third Step Prayer. I felt that heart connection again and began spontaneously weeping. The memory of that moment 38 years ago is still vivid.
These days I sometimes use the word God as a convenient way to refer to this power but I cannot bring myself to add a gender. Gender is appropriate for humans and other species but this mysterious power that cannot be experienced through the five human senses and yet is accessible to us, does not need to have a gender as far as I am concerned. It simply is and for me that is sufficient.