I am beginning to hear discussions about the use of "expansive language" authorized by our General Convention. Some conversations are "heated" and others more calm. Some want to retain traditional language, others want to seek words that reflect a different understanding of how we relate to each other and to God.
Those who use Morning Prayer as the source of their daily prayers know The Jubilate or the 100th Psalm very well. A couple of days ago I felt moved to experiment with language of The Jubilate just to see how a few changes might sound. So in every place where the word “Lord” appeared, I replaced that with God. Every time God was referred to as “he” or “him” or “his” I replaced that with “God” as well.
Then I prayed the psalm. I was not prepared for something I immediately felt: The intense power those changes created: God was God! The divine power of God came through the psalm in an unexpected way. I realized why. This simple change had removed all characteristics attributed to God that were human in nature. God’s divine nature was not encumbered by the limitations of human language. God was free to be God however I perceived God.
Here is the psalm using more expansive language:
Jubilate (Psalm 100)
Be joyful in God, all you lands; *
serve God with gladness and come before God’s presence with a song.
Know this: God is God; * God has made us, and we are God’s;
we are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture.
Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving; go into God’s courts with praise; *
give thanks to God and call upon God’s Name.
For God is good; God’s mercy is everlasting; *
and God’s faithfulness endures from age to age.
Glory to the Holy and undivided Trinity, One God, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen
(I looked in the Enriching Our Worship (EOW) series of services to see if this was something I might have seen there. It was not, in so far as I could determine.)
Then I wondered what impact such simple changes might have on others. How often do any of us consider the impact of God always being portrayed as male (and often as a white male) on our kindred? Is the language of a “male God” a source of comfort to a woman who was abused by her father or husband or brother or some other male in her life? I’m not sure how it could be a comforting image in such situations. Similarly, how well could a man who had been beaten, belittled and abused by his father find comfort in God always being referred to as "he?" If there has never been a positive male role model in your life, how can you see God in a positive light if God is always a male?
We are products of the words and language we use. We are shaped by the images conveyed by those words, even if we do not always realize that. Do our words bring comfort or pain? I really don’t think most of us pay much attention to the power of language. When there is a proposal to change language, especially language in our Book of Common Prayer, we often see much resistance. Are we worshiping God or are we worshiping words?
Even Jesus used the symbolism of a mother hen gathering her brood under her wings. Jesus did not use "rooster". He used "hen". He used a feminine image. Surely if Jesus could look beyond the limitations of language, we can do the same. We might even be able to move beyond what we have inherited from our ancestors whose reference points were invariably male for more reasons than can be covered here.
Our language and imagery cannot contain God, no matter how hard we try. Let God be God, however each of us perceives God.
Holy Spirit, expand our hearts, expand our minds, expand our words. Let us see God simply as God. May we experience the divine power that comes when we cast off that with which we have tried to bind God.
Please continue to offer prayers for healing and recovery for our Presiding Bishop as he rests and recuperates from prostate cancer surgery.
Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA: The Episcopal Rainbow