Reflecting on the language
of the church of my childhood,
it seems we were trained to believe we were broken,
competing for God's conditional approval.
With time and experience I've come to believe
we were born into an infinite stream
of unconditional love,
and called to carry that out to the world,
each in our own unique style.
I'm sad that our churches
still so often mislead us that way...
"May the words of our mouths,
and the meditations of our hearts,
be always acceptable in thy sight,
O Lord, our strength and our redeemer"
Recently, at a retreat on Teilhard de Chardin, I found myself sitting at lunch with a delightful young man, an Episcopal priest, who proudly proclaimed that he had returned his congregation to the old prayerbook; that he loved the Elizabethan language.
"I love that language, too," I replied, "but how can you reconcile what you're doing and saying on Sunday with what we're learning here, in this place? Don't you find that language jarring?"
He assumed I was objecting as a feminist, so the conversation got a bit off track at that point. But what I was trying to say -- and the reason I now find it so difficult to attend the churches I once loved so much -- is that I find it impossible to reconcile the concept of God expressed in that language with what I now believe to be true.
Cynthia Bourgeault reminded us, at that retreat, that the word person comes from the Latin words per sonare, meaning to sound through. I read that definition again this morning in Richard Rohr's wonderful book on Franciscan theology, Eager to Love, and found myself thinking (having been caught in a weekend of drama and arguments where I've been trying to consistently sound a voice of reason) how important that is to me: to be a person who is sounded through; a channel through which the Divine voice of compassion and reason can be heard.
So of course that old prayer came to mind -- I sincerely want the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart... but then I came to a stop. "Acceptable in thy sight" implies that God is somehow separate from me, an authority figure whose approval I crave, which is not what I'm thinking at all. What I'm asking is that I be a clear channel so that what I say has truth and resonance; is not cluttered with my own egoic needs but comes rather from that deeper source within that is fed from the still deeper stream of wisdom and love to which we are all connected. I don't want to "Look okay." I want to sound true, in the fullest sense of that phrase.
... and then there's that word "redeemer," as if I am somehow broken, unsalvageable except through divine interference. And I don't believe that anymore either. I don't think Christ was sent to save us (and folks, I get that some of you think this is heresy, but bear with me here) because we are terrible human beings. I think Christ was sent to show us that we are ALL both human and divine, that EACH of us carries within us that essential goodness and wisdom that links us to the divine stream of wisdom that flows through all of creation.
It's okay if you don't believe that, too. But I think if we continue to believe we need God's approval (which is conditional, and we're supposed to somehow know what those conditions are), and that we are broken and need to be redeemed, then, like children -- and especially siblings -- we'll always be competing for that approval, defining those conditions, and pointing our fingers at others claiming they're more broken than we are.
That's never going to foster a sense of oneness with humanity: as long as we are separate from God then we'll continue to remain separate from each other, in competition for some limited dispensation of acceptance rather than sharing in God's infinite wealth of love.