Building Inclusive Theology Through Names and Images of the Divine

In an article titled “Advent, race, and the intimacy of Incarnation: Why we must see beyond a white Baby Jesus,” Robert P. Jones writes: “This year at Advent, I’m reflecting on the theological importance of an expansive and inclusive understanding of the Incarnation.” Jones, author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, writes that “we have a responsibility to build a theology where all of humanity is assumed in the body of Jesus.” Jones focuses on the need to include images of Jesus with Black and brown skin. I completely agree. But he doesn’t challenge exclusively male divine images that leave out more than half of humanity. If, as he states, we must build a theology where “all of humanity is assumed in the body of Jesus,” then we must include all races AND all genders.

 Our verbal and visual imagery must include ALL humanity. This season gives us a wonderful opportunity to sing carols that include all humanity and use visual images that include all humanity.

This song “O Holy Darkness” contributes to racial justice by changing the traditional negative symbolism of darkness to positive symbolism of darkness as creative bounty and beauty, emphasizing the sacred value of people of color. This carol contributes to gender justice by emphasizing the sacred value of females, connecting biblical female divine names and images to Holy Darkness and empowering us all to contribute to racial and gender justice.

This carol video is a gift for your Advent and Christmas online worship services and personal meditations.

O Holy Darkness, loving womb, who nurtures and creates,
sustain us through the longest night with dreams of open gates.
We move inside to mystery that in our center dwells,
where streams of richest beauty flow from sacred, living wells.  

Creative Darkness, closest friend, you whisper in the night;
you calm our fears as unknown paths surprise us with new sight.
We marvel at your bounty, your gifts so full and free,
unfolding as you waken us to new reality.  

O Holy Night of deepest bliss, we celebrate your power;
infuse us with your energy that brings our seeds to flower.
The voice out of the darkness excites our warmest zeal
to bring together dark and light, true holiness reveal.  

O come to us, Sophia; your image, Black and fair,
stirs us to end injustice and the wounds of earth repair.
The treasures of your darkness and riches of your grace
inspire us to fulfill our call, our sacredness embrace.

Worship language and symbolism all too often contribute to racism as well as sexism. In many hymns, prayers, scripture readings, and sermons, images of darkness carry negative connotations while images of light carry positive connotations. Visual images of a white God and Jesus fill many churches. This symbolism supports white supremacy, giving greatest value to white people while devaluing people of color.

Multicultural visual images of Deity and language that symbolizes darkness as creative power and beauty contribute to racial equality by affirming the equal sacred value of people of color. Imaging darkness/blackness as sacred lays a foundation for affirming that “BLACK LIVES MATTER.”

“Black Madonna,” Stacy Boorn

Multicultural images of Deity intersect with female images of Deity to form a foundation for equality and justice. The song “O Holy Darkness, Loving Womb” images darkness as a sacred well of richest beauty, as nurturing love, and as creative bounty. This song draws from Isaiah 45:3 that celebrates “the treasures of darkness” and from the Hebrew word rahum, usually translated “compassion” in the Bible, but Hebrew Bible scholar Phyllis Trible shows that it’s more accurately translated “womb-love.” Sophia (Greek word for “Wisdom”) is a female divine name and image linked to Christ in the Bible. Sophia is most often pictured as dark. The treasures of Her darkness inspire us all to claim our sacredness and to affirm the sacredness of all others.

It was a joy to collaborate on this video with Shannon Kincaid, an outstanding vocal and visual artist. Shannon sings “O Holy Darkness, Loving Womb” to the tune of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Her beautiful painting of Oprah Winfrey holding a child creates a powerful finale for this video. Shannon’s painting of Oprah now hangs above the fireplace in the library of The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Video Credits

Performed by: Shannon Kincaid

Accompanied by: Ron Dilulio, Danny Hubbard, and Jerry Hancock

Lyrics: Jann Aldredge-Clanton

Visual Art:

Stacy Boorn: “Black Madonna” and “Mystery”

Photo from The Gathering, A Womanist Church

Colette Numajiri and David Clanton: “Divine Feminine”

Elaine Chan-Scherer: “Mary Magdalene”

Mirta Toledo: “Sophia”

Katie Ketchum: “Birds and Roses”

Shannon Kincaid: “Oprah & Child”

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