Rev. Dan C. Damon was commissioned by Rev. Jim Mitulski, Spirit Church, Berkeley, California, to write a hymn using feminine imagery for the Divine. He wrote the words and the music for this hymn, “Goddess of Love,” published in his collection Garden of Joy, and in the journal of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada (The Hymn, autumn 2011). In this hymn and in many others, Dan calls for inclusion of everyone in the church. His use of the Divine Feminine gives the theological foundation for this inclusiveness.
Dan Damon was raised in the Evangelical Free Church in Rapid City, South Dakota, where he says he learned to value his “relationship with God, scripture, and congregational song.” In his early twenties Dan moved to Berkeley, California, and a few years later attended Pacific School of Religion. “I tell people I have a conservative upbringing and a liberal education,” he comments. “I learned to use a variety of images for God in seminary, and have put that into practice in my hymn writing.”
An internationally published writer of hymn texts and tunes and a United Methodist pastor for many years, Rev. Damon has also served as adjunct faculty in church music at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, plays piano in clubs in the San Francisco area, and serves as Associate Editor of Hymnody for Hope Publishing Company. This multi-talented minister has toured Zimbabwe with the Jubilate Choir from the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church. He is married to Eileen M. Johnson, and has a daughter, Heather.
Rev. Damon writes hymns on a variety of social justice themes. He has long been an ally and supporter of the gay and lesbian struggle for inclusion in the church. One of his hymns reflecting this struggle is “Jesus, Partner, Lover, Friend” (© 1989 Hope Publishing Company), dedicated to the Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco.Jesus, Partner, Lover, Friend, fill me with your Spirit’s fires; I will learn to be and do all that healing love requires. I will be your hands and feet; I will be your heart and soul. Lead me into love and truth, Broken Bread in us made whole. You are grace and peace to me, Partner through the troubled day; with me on the city street, showing me the faithful way. You are more than liberty, Lover of my life, my heart, comfort of my deepest soul when my world is torn apart. Like the outcast at the well, Living Water, quench my thirst; those rejected here on earth at your table will be first. Love me into life and health, Friend of all, when friendships end; never leave me, precious Christ, Jesus, Partner, Lover, Friend.
Care of the earth is another social justice theme in Dan’s hymns. Below are some stanzas from his hymn “Pray for the Wilderness,” published in his collection Faith Will Sing (© 1993 Hope Publishing Company).Pray for the wilderness, vanishing fast, pray for the rain forest, open and vast; pray for the people who live in the trees, pray for the planet brought down by degrees. Learn from the elephant, eagle and whale, learn from the dragon fly, spider and snail; learn from the people in neighboring lands, learn from the children who play in their sands. Pray for the atmosphere, pray for the sea, learn from the river, the rock and the tree; work till Shalom in full harmony rings, trust the connection of all living things.
In addition to “Goddess of Love,” Rev. Damon has written a number of hymn texts using female divine imagery. Two of these hymns that are unpublished are “Holy Mother of All Living” and “Wisdom Watches As We Pray.” Dan also uses expansive, varied imagery in his preaching.
Rev. Damon comments on the power of sacred symbolism. “Paul Tillich said, ‘Never say just a symbol.’ He knew the power of the symbol. In scripture we find many images and names for God. Even the trinity gives us the divine mystery as three-in-one. I believe our tradition has at times reduced the images of scripture to a ‘men’s club’ of images. An all-male clergy also impoverishes the church. I believe we need to use balanced imagery as we create social justice in our world.”
Including female divine imagery in worship, Dan believes, contributes to churches’ receptivity to women clergy. “Many denominations now have women clergy. I think the variety of imagery for God is helping this to happen.”
As Rev. Damon has worked to change the church, taking prophetic stands on gender and other social justice issues, he has experienced some opposition. “Not everyone likes these changes,” he says. “I have learned to be patient, to accept people where they are. I don’t go into a parish and change everything. I do use new hymns when they fit a theme. Over time my churches change toward the balance of imagery. We recently had a study session on language issues.”
Rev. Damon believes in the importance of staying within the church to change the church and the wider culture. “I like the ‘work within’ model of leadership. I think it is the best way to make lasting change.”
In his seventeen years as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Richmond, California, Rev. Damon says he has “fostered a spirit of exploration.” From the “Welcome” on the church’s website, it is apparent that he has also nurtured a spirit of inclusiveness:
The people of Richmond First UMC are called to share God’s love as we minister with and to all persons in Point Richmond and beyond, providing worship, nurture, fellowship, and service. Our welcome knows no boundaries of age, race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation, economic condition, physical or mental ability. We embrace and seek to preserve the beautiful, amazing diversity of God’s creation. We cooperate in ministry with other local churches and groups of God’s people as we participate in Christ’s mission of peace and unconditional love.
Rev. Damon is grateful also that this church is receptive to his hymns with expansive imagery. In some churches he previously pastored that were more conservative, he says he was “less skillful at presenting new ideas.”
No matter what challenges he has faced, Rev. Damon has affirmed the power of inclusive language to change the church and society. “As we speak, so we become. As we change the church, so we change society.”
Hymn writing is Dan’s favorite vehicle for changing church and society. “I find sharing my faith through my hymn writing to be the most rewarding part of my work. I love the challenge of putting simple, fresh ideas to a strong, singable tune.”
An article entitled “A Cry for Justice in Hymnody,” which Dan Damon co-authored with Eileen M. Johnson, published in The Hymn: A Journal of Congregational Song (Autumn, 2010), includes these statements:
Justice is not a peripheral issue in scripture. Justice is not in the margins. It is a central theme. The way we treat people, the planet, and ourselves is important. Our faith makes a positive difference in the world when we “do justice.” The words we sing inside and outside of our places of worship can be powerful agents of change. How are we currently singing about justice? What have we failed to write about, publish, select, and sing?
Rev. Damon articulates a hopeful vision for the future of the Divine Feminine in what we sing and in all that we do in the church. “I think the Divine Feminine will, in time, balance with the Divine Masculine. I think our language will come to reflect the truth that the Divine includes feminine and masculine and transcends them. The Holy Mystery deepens with study, prayer, and experience.”