Lauren Winner, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God (New York: Harper Collins, 2015), 286pp.
By Debie Thomas
King. Father. Shepherd. Light. These are a few of the stock metaphors churches use to describe God. They’re not wrong — they’re profound and true — but in fixating on them, writes Episcopal priest and Duke University professor Lauren Winner, “we have truncated our relationship with the divine” and “cut ourselves off from the more voluble and variable witness of the scriptures.”
In her sixth book, Wearing God, Winner mines this more variable witness to offer her readers a meticulously researched and often startling series of reflections on “overlooked” Biblical images of God. She explores God as clothing, as smell, as bread, as vine and wine, as laboring woman, as laughter, and as flame. She unpacks these metaphors with great care, pulling back layer after layer to reveal new treasures. Just when you think she’s exhausted a particular image, she turns it again, allowing a more nuanced insight to emerge. Especially impressive is the way Winner keeps an eye on her own privilege as she engages with these ancient pictures of God. Whenever she's tempted to sanitize or whitewash, she reminds herself that “God identifies most with the most marginalized.”
Her approach is devotional, serious, self-deprecating, and bold. Though there are moments when her prose falters, there are many more when the language in this book simply sings, doing full justice to the multilayered poetry of scripture.
My favorite chapter is the one that begins with the God of Isaiah 42, who groans, “Now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.” Winner’s shocking paraphrase asks readers to imagine a God at the extreme end of vulnerability and suffering: “God with a baby’s head threatening to tear at God’s vaginal flesh.”
All images of God are necessarily partial, Winner finally reminds us at the end of this ambitious book. And this is as it should be. It’s in our “poverty of expression” that we truly find God, our all in all.