If Lauren Winner were a Beatle (as though the wide array of women theologians should be narrowed to four and then compared to Liverpool’s most famous quartet)… If Lauren Winner were a Beatle, she would be George. She’s neither flashy or overly charming. She’s not inaccessible or aloof. Her part in the music of spiritual imagination is essential. Her “solo career” is thought-provoking, curiosity stirring, and inspirational.
I have learned to love Lauren Winner’s writing, not because there was anything wrong with it to begin with, but because I had to overcome my jealousy her way with words. Winner’s words click across the pages like marbles, bouncing off each other: “monograph”, “alimentary”, “olfactory”. The words roll through the circle that is the context of her writing- tracing new paths in theological thought, sliding past inhibitions and fears, capturing attention by playing with what she had held to be true.
Her latest book, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God, is exactly this style of writing. The premise of the book is to ponder different images for the Holy, images rooted in Scripture, in ancient and modern writing, and in experience. There are chapters on God as clothing, laughter, laboring woman, among others.
I spent hours(!) with the chapter that deals with this concept: God smells. In both senses of the word. Using the imagery of sacrifices and holy encounter from Scripture, Winner undergirds how the traditions of the faithful perceive God to be soothed by certain smells or to rejoice in others. And certainly, God as a first-century man in a warm climate likely smelled- of earth, fish, sawdust, sweat, and spices. In playing with this idea into present life, what does modern faithfulness smell like to God? Is there an offensive stench around long meetings about rules regarding who is in and who is out relative to the gospel welcome? Is there a fragrant aroma around the sharing of a sandwich in a homeless camp under a dank bridge?
We often worry about anthropomorphizing God, making Her like us? Perhaps we do not go far enough in our imagery. We want God to know what we feel and there is great comfort in knowing that God has experienced human life at its heights and depths. Yet, there is also a sterility we have come to expect in God’s passions. The rolling up of God’s sleeves is surely to strike out for the sake of fearsome justice and mercy that brings grief. We never imagine God rolling up God’s sleeves because God’s arms are surrounding a smocked three-old painting on his first day of preschool.
We forget to imagine God as the real mama grizzly, growling a warning at the forces that dare to oppose her, that imagine themselves strong enough to threaten her cubs. We avoid imaging God gasping in ecstatic pleasure at the scent of a whole congregation of adults, humbling singing “Jesus Loves Me” in four part harmony.
This book begs to be savored, to be revisited, to be slept with, prayed over, and pondered. It is definitely a good read for church book clubs, seminarians, people who love words, persons who may own George Harrison albums, and anyone who is open to new perspectives on how God is in the world. I am thinking of buying a few copies to give to people whom I know will enjoy the book. I am also planning to have Wearing God be the next book for the church book club in the congregation I serve. Of course, as soon as they begin to read it, they will realize exactly what inspired me to start elaborating on some of the more interesting metaphors in my sermons.