Sunday
Jan292012

Thee, Thy, and Thou: On Language and How We Talk about God (Jordan Trumble, Saint Hilda's '12)

In my struggle to articulate my understanding of the Divine, I welcome the opportunity to use language that I understand but is also out of the ordinary for my everyday speech and writing.  I only use thee, thy, and thou to talk about God.  And I like it that way.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the past few months thinking about the language we use to talk about God, both in personal and corporate settings.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I’ve been working through my issues with “inclusive” language and the overall limitations of our language to communicate about the Divine.  As part of my own personal piety, though, I’ve also been thinking a lot about very specific words we use in Episcopal liturgy, the words I say every morning at Morning Prayer and several times a week at Mass.

For the past year and a half, I’ve attended an Episcopal parish that has Holy Eucharist, Rite I as its primary Sunday service.  For those unfamiliar with the Episcopal tradition, Rite I is the more traditional liturgy found in the Book of Common Prayer.  Although the overall structures of Rite I and Rite II (the more modern) liturgy are the same, the language of Rite I is noticeably different.  Second-person pronouns in Rite I liturgy are thee, thy, and thou; lessons “endeth,” and we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, whereas, in Rite II, we use “you” and “your;” lessons “end,” and we simply confess that we have sinned against God.

It’s probably unsurprising to hear that Rite I isn’t very popular in the Episcopal Church anymore.  There are a number of parishes that stick by Rite I as their primary liturgy, but most people find it dated and unappealing in this age of praise bands and projector screens.  Thee, thy, and thou don’t translate well into many people’s understandings of God.

(To be entirely fair, one of the other main arguments against the use of Rite I liturgy is that many people find the gendered language to be offensive.  I get it.  It offends a lot of people.  But I’m one of those people who doesn’t feel alienated when I hear the word “man” instead of “human” or “person.”  I just don’t.  Thus, I’m not going to delve into the topic of gender-neutral language today.)

Aside from the problem of gendered language, I have heard two other main arguments against using Rite I that I think are worth addressing.

1) In the past few months, I’ve heard a number of people say that they don’t like Rite I language because it doesn’t meet people where they are.  I don’t actually know what to say to this other than that it is an absurd statement.  Of course, it doesn’t meet everyone where they are but, then again, what does?   The traditional language of Rite I liturgy certainly meets many people where they are; to say that it doesn’t is to make a sweeping generalization.  If Rite I liturgy didn’t meet people where they are, there wouldn’t be people in the pews (or chairs, as it were) on Sunday mornings in the many parishes that continue to use this liturgy.

2)I’ve also recently had several people tell me that they dislike Rite I because the liturgy of the Church is supposed to be in the language of the people and the traditional language (subtext: “old-fashioned”) isn’t of the people.  This critique makes sense to me; I certainly want to know what is going on in the liturgy at church.  At the same time, though, is Rite I language really so different that the meaning is lost?  If you answer “yes” to this question, I think your English teachers might have failed you.  I love the language of Rite I because it is beautiful and poetic (as opposed to the often-inelegant language of parts of Rite II and other liturgical resources [Enriching Our Worship]).  Furthermore, I love the fact that it isn’t exactly typical everyday language.  In my struggle to articulate my understanding of the Divine, I welcome the opportunity to use language that I understand but is also out of the ordinary for my everyday speech and writing.  I only use thee, thy, and thou to talk about God.  And I like it that way.

Of course, I don’t mean to say that everyone should necessarily use Rite I; it doesn’t work for everyone but it does work for me.  I recognize that we will never all agree about the language we use to talk about God or what are the best liturgical resources.  Once again, though, I’m reminded to be conscious of the limitations of our language to communicate about the Divine, of what we are communicating with the limited language we have, and that we all communicate in different ways.

Saturday
Jan212012

Loneliness (Aleithia Burgess, Saint Hilda's '12)

I’m trying to wrap my head around the idea of loneliness. Perhaps this is an impossible task. Mainly, I wonder how much loneliness is a product of circumstances, and how much it is a condition of the spirit. Do I feel lonely because I lack a particular kind of friendship in my life, or because I am dissatisfied in some way with the friendships that I do possess? Maybe ‘possess’ is too strong a word here, for a true friendship is something that coexists between two people, both contributing their part but neither capable of encompassing the whole.

Anyway, I wonder if too often we are striving after an ideal, seeking something that does not—cannot—exist in this imperfect world. Over the years, I have been fortunate to have known so many wonderful people, some of them briefly and others for longer periods of time. I have had more friends than many people, and I have also seen many of those friendships fade; this is the greatest blessing and curse of mobility. Yet despite knowing such wonderful people, I have never been able to shake a quiet, persistent sense of separation, of separateness. If you were to ask me, “When was the last time you didn’t feel lonely?”; I’m not sure I could give you an answer. Like I said, I suspect this has little to do with the quantity or quality of my friendships, and more likely reveals something about my own soul.

But perhaps I am not so alone in my loneliness as I might suppose. Surely there are others who feel this way. Maybe—is this too grand a claim to make?—this thing I am describing here is actually just the human condition. It could be that we are lonely because we expect too much, and we would have better luck if we were to look at things the other way around. If I wish to cultivate a meaningful friendship with you, perhaps I ought to start with the assumption that you are ultimately unknowable to me in your entirety. (Can I even fully know myself?) I cannot know you completely, but I can know you at least in part. And we procede from there.

Wednesday
Nov162011

The Beauty of Corporate Prayer (Jordan Trumble, Saint Hilda's '12)

I often feel like I’m not very good at praying.  I can’t think of the words to say to God that are just right, or I don’t take enough time to pray, or  my prayers are too self-absorbed and don’t include enough praise and adoration.

Of course, I’m being at least a little ridiculous.  I don’t actually think God is concerned with whether I have the words that perfectly articulate what I’m trying to say.  I’m pretty sure that it’s more about the attempt than anything else.

Even so, I’ve recently been thinking a lot about how I pray.

In my spiritual direction group through Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, we’ve been talking about different types of prayer…meditation, listening prayers, prayers include physical movements, etc.  As we’ve talked about these different types of prayer, I’ve realized that I really love corporate prayer.  In fact, most of my praying takes place in corporate settings.

One of the great things about Saint Hilda’s House is that we start each day (Monday-Friday) with morning prayer.  I’ll be honest: some days it doesn’t seem like a great thing because I’m tired and don’t feel like getting up.  But it is, ultimately, really good for me to do.  I love having a routine at the beginning of the day, and I like having that time with my housemates and the other parishioners and community members who drop in.

I’ve recently realized that I really love two things about corporate prayer:

1) I find immense beauty in the idea that there are other people praying exactly the same thing I’m praying.  In the Episcopal Church, we have what is called the “Daily Office Lectionary” which prescribes scripture lessons for each day.  I think that the practice of using a lectionary knits together the Church in a very special way that I really value.  There is a comfort in knowing that other people, strangers in far off places, are reading the same lessons, saying the same prayers, and hearing the same collects that I’m reading, saying, and hearing at morning prayer at Christ Church, New Haven.  And I love getting on Facebook later in the day and seeing people I know who live across the country commenting about the day’s lections; it helps me feel present with loved ones who are far away.

2) When I feel unable to pray, others are able to pray the words for me.  A few weeks ago, I was having a really bad day and didn’t really feel like going to morning prayer.  But I went anyway.  I sat in the back the entire time and didn’t really say any of the prayers but just listened.  And it was comforting to know that, even if I didn’t have the strength to say the words myself, others were still speaking.  There is a constancy to this corporate worship that is reassuring.

Of course, corporate prayer isn’t an excuse to get out of doing my own personal prayer.  But today, in particular, I am grateful for having a community of people who can pray with and for me.

Sunday
Nov132011

We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church: "Reformation Day" Reflections (Jordan Trumble, Saint Hilda's '12)

By 8:00AM I had already seen three anti-Roman Catholic comments or statuses on Facebook, in honor of the day’s celebration of “Reformation Day.”   This “holiday” commemorates Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, an event that catapulted the Western Church into turmoil and eventually led to a schism (not to be confused with the Great Schism of 1054AD, but a schism nonetheless).

I’ve never liked the idea of celebrating Reformation Day (though I should qualify my use of the term “never” by saying that I’d also never heard of Reformation Day celebrations until I enrolled at a Lutheran university in 2005).  During my first semester of college, I was surprised to meet Lutherans who celebrated Reformation Day proudly, as I might celebrate a liturgical feast day such as, perhaps, Christ the King Sunday or one of the various Marian feasts on the Church calendar.  It was a little strange to encounter this Reformation celebration, what I see as tantamount to a celebration of Church schism, but I shrugged it off because, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t actually care that much.

As time has gone on, though, and I’ve become more and more entrenched in life in the Church, I’ve returned to my initial unease with the practice of celebrating Reformation Day.  It’s not that I think Martin Luther or many of the other Church reformers have been entirely wrong.  Indeed, Luther and other reformers have spoken out against a number of corrupt Church practices that needed to be changed.

But I think that we forget to recognize that, with much-needed reform, came division.  People did not simply break away from the Roman Catholic Church in an instant; pain, conflict, and death came with this separation.  Celebrating Reformation Day, at best, recognizes the triumph of reform while romanticizing the oft-forgotten strife that went with it.  At worst, celebrating Reformation Day can be a flippant dismissal of a call for us all to be members of the Body of Christ

Now, I understand that for many, if not most, people celebrating the Reformation, the day is more about celebrating church reform and less about anti-Roman feelings.  But to believe that we can celebrate reform without also acknowledging the unfortunate fracturing of the Church is to show a disregard for and devaluation of the Body of Christ.   How can we truly work for Christian unity while celebrating division?

Furthermore, how can we be a people who confess “we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church” and celebrate the anniversary of a schism as a holiday? (The Nicene Creed, from which this line is taken, is normative to most mainline Protestants as well as Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and many Orthodox Christians.)

To put it simply: we can’t.

When we say that we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church, we are saying that we are all called into relationship as a single, universal body.  We are putting aside our differences in belief and worship and recognizing that we are called into beautiful communion with God as the Church.  Not as the Lutheran Church, or Anglican Church, or Methodist Church, but as THE Church.

It is my hope that, instead of celebrating Reformation Day with punch, cupcakes, and anti-Roman comments, we can use this day as an occasion for solemn commemoration.  Let us use this day as a time to reflect on the injustices we see in our own lives and in our own communities, both secular and religious, and how we can bring change in the face of injustice and healing in the face of fracture.  Let us use this time to truly confess, not just in word, but in action that “we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”

Monday
Nov072011

Community, In Tension (Sarah Widney, Saint Hilda's '12)

The support I receive from living in this community far surpasses the stress it creates. It’s not an intentional community without a little tension – and the tension is what makes it so beautiful.

One of the parts of the Saint Hilda’s House program that gave me the most trepidation while I was considering whether this would be the right opportunity for me was the concept of living in an intentional community.  After spending four years living in various college dorms and apartments, I was no stranger to the concept of living in community, but was unsure about taking the next steps to being “intentional” about it.  As a hippie wanna-be I was enticed by the idea of eight people living together and working towards a common goal; as an independent young adult I was concerned about having to shape my daily life around other people’s needs.

Obviously I chose the program, with the vague hope that the year would challenge me to grow as a person. Early on another Hildan explained to me the double meaning of the phrase intentional community: not only are we being “intentional” about how we live together, we are also in tension with each other because this is a diverse group of people with all kinds of backgrounds, life experiences, and expectations for the program.

That tension comes from many places: buying groceries, defining personal boundaries, keeping community areas clean, cooking for eight people, figuring out a chore schedule, agreeing on an evening activity . . . the list goes on, and will continue as people’s varying needs and expectations bump into each other in our close quarters.

One of the Merriam Webster definitions for tension is “a balance maintained in an artistic work between opposing forces or elements.” The tension between the opposing elements of our community (us) provides balance in our lives, and results in meaningful relationships that would not have been possible had we not worked through our disagreements.

After a rough day at work, I come home to find seven other people who can empathize, who are there to listen as I vent, and who can offer creative solutions to my problems. The support I receive from living in this community far surpasses the stress it creates. It’s not an intentional community without a little tension – and the tension is what makes it so beautiful.