Who is God for us? : images of God in a group of Roman Catholic lay women in Aotearoa New Zealand
Betz, Mary Agnes Ann
God imagery not only expresses who God is, but shapes understandings of God, self, and others. Traditional God language, which is mostly male and often has connotations of controlling power, may not be conducive to psychological or spiritual well-being, and may not be the way most contemporary women understand God. The present study identified the God images of eleven New Zealand Catholic lay women (all in middle adulthood), and documented the people and events which formed or changed their God images at various stages of their lives. The study also probed the gender and power attributes of the women's images, compared their images with traditional and alternative images found in the theological literature, and explored links between women's God images and their self images, understandings of suffering, and experiences of church. Study methods (informal but in depth dialogue interviewing, participant verification of transcripts and life/ faith stories, emphasis on individual difference as well as similarity) were drawn from the social sciences. The methodology for this study in women's spirituality was anchored in theoretical feminist theological methodology, which aims for research which is emancipatory, rooted in women's experience, subjective and participatory, interdisciplinary and concerned with seeking truth. Childhood images such as God as friend, authoritarian, loving, remote, etc. were found primarily to have been ‘caught’ from the traits of parents or other significant adults, and secondarily to have been ‘taught’ by parents, church, school, books and art. The positive and negative God images ‘caught’ from people were the ones that lasted into adulthood. Over the women's lifetimes there was a clear trend toward positive God imagery. By middle adulthood most women's God images were well developed in depth, often integrated and rich in variety. Four women had always had positive images of God like loving, caring, friend. The other seven women had all had at least some negative images of God as children, but by middle adulthood only one retained a partially negative image of God as judge/parent, and three others had traces of controlling attributes in their God images. A few of these women's many positive images are birthgiver, painter of sunsets, unfolding, empowering, the sea, light, mystery, storm, acceptance, justice, love, eternal giver, and creator of opportunity. The most common God images in the group as a whole were clusters of images related to nature, love, liberator/power, friend, presence, healer/helper, creator, suffering, compassion and indwelling. Women who had more involvements with groups, friends, mentors and courses showed more breadth in their God imagery. Women who had experienced acceptance and empowerment from others had better self images, were more likely to image God in a gender balanced or fe:minlne way, more likely to have empowering images, and less likely to have male, controlling or parental God images. All women understood the church as in some way interfering with their relationship with God, and most of the women longed for a church which reflected their images of God as gender inclusive, accepting and freeing.
Advisor: Russell, Tony; Sellar, Stuart; McKinlay, Judith; Johnson, Lydia
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Theology and Religious Studies
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis
xix, 317 leaves :ill. (some col.), maps ; 30 cm. Includes bibliographical references. University of Otago department: Theology and Religious Studies. "28 November 2003"