Sunday, May 13, 2007

Words words words

One of the things that I have realized I need to work on as I travel this path of discernment is my ability to put into words my understanding of that which is beyond understanding.

I have what I like to believe is a reasonably well-thought-out faith, but I struggle with finding the right words to express what I feel. Furthermore, I am fairly sensitive to the power of words both to hurt and to harm as well as to mark belonging to a group or faction. This is no less true within the church, and I am particularly reluctant to fall into speech patterns which to me seem to indicate a more "evangelical" or "fundamentalist" take on Christianity. My reluctance is deep set (due to various past experiences which I may latter detail on this blog) but these patterns of speech are ubiquitous and familiar: "in my youth" (hilarious phrase considering my considerable current youthfulness) I had evangelical leanings and adopted these speech patterns in order to fit it.

Thus, one of my goals with this blog is to talk about God and faith and theology, to find ways of expressing myself which are honest, accurate, and comfortable. I love the common prayers we use, both in the Alternative Services book and the Book of Common Prayer, and I am very much drawn to their poetry and beauty. However, this appreciation makes me unfortunately afraid of speaking myself, since I want to be able to pray (for example) in a way that is of similar beauty. Hardly a reasonable standard to set for myself, but reasonableness is not aways my strong suit. I hope to overcome this reluctance by practicing in this (nominally) public but also anonymous space.

The converse of new prayers is of course giving new life to old prayers. Jared at Scribere Orare Est is in many ways an inspiration in this sense - in many of his posts he sprinkles everday language with the old-fashioned prayers of the church and thus gives them new depth and meaning; the whole post becomes a prayer. I experienced a similar phenomenon durring Taize prayers, where a sung refrain (e.g. Kyrie eleison) became a response during prayers; we use this response pattern during the prayers of the people, but the meaning of the words seemed different after singing them as a prayer on their own and in Latin. (This doesn't make sense when I explain it like that; perhaps the difference in experience was more contextual. Taize-style worship is in any case quite unique and ought to be experienced by anyone who has the chance.)

This is the context in which I am drawn to write a few reflexions on Mother's Day.

Strong mother God, working night and day,
planning all the wonders of creation,
setting each equation, genius at play:
Hail and hosanna, strong mother God!

I first discovered this marvellous hymn at Holy Trinity, Toronto, which I attended on "Pride Sunday" (i.e. the Sunday on which is held the Pride Parade) one year. It was a very touching service, with the Sunday school children handing out rainbow bracelets to everyone in attendance and the sermon delivered by two teens raised by a lesbian couple. My favorite aspect of this hymn is the way the various verses (mother, father, old, young) do not resort to the "expected" aspect of the position - instead, we sing of strong mother and caring father. It is so easy, especially with Mother's day, to fall back on otherwise outdated notions of motherhood. They are, afterall, familiar and easy. Thus mothers are gentle and pink and loving. Churches too are guilty of this (some purposely). The children's sermon I heard this morning, for example, talked about how a mother's love is always there without us needing to think about it (like breathing), and compared this to God's love.

Now I don't want to cast doubt on the idea that we use human relationships to attempt to understand God. I will never forget the feeling of awe I felt when, in the throes of a new relationship, I went to church and sang of God's love - and was suddenly struck by the thought that God's love was similar to what I felt for my love, yet bigger and more wonderful. It was a startling feeling and one which has stuck with me.

Of course, human relationships are messy. None moreso than motherhood - and that's even when you move beyond the poop-and-puke image. Holding up one relationship above all others is tricky at the best of times, and few relationships engender such strong emotions as motherhood - good or bad. Those who were hurt by their encounters with motherhood, either in absence or presence of their own mother, or in the search for or experience of motherhood itself, cannot but be troubled by this holiday. Even moreso because of the fairly intractable nature of the relationship; unlike Valentine's Day, for example, where coupledoom is exhalted, a person who had a poor experience with their mother cannot even hope for a second chance, a good mother to allow them to experience this ideal of our understanding of mothering.

Yet we do have a collective understanding of mothering, and what it means to mother, one aspect of which is described in that hymn I mentioned. And as a faith body we can grow in our understanding of God's love when we ponder this incomprehensible love in the context of our yearning for mothering.

We can sing into Big Momma's arms, place our hurts, fears, worries and inadequacies on the ground, and just be.

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