What we say

It's the fourth of January, and I'm working on the details of this Pray First thing. I asked the question on Twitter, if I pray right before I go to sleep, is that Praying First, prior to sleeping, or is it Praying Last, the last thing I do before passing out completely?

(Someone suggested being less linear, but of course that was someone who didn't know the context. Still, something to consider.)

It's troubling to me how often being prayerful leads to apparent unconsciousness. It happens to me at bedtime, for sure, but also as I drift in and out of the world around me in the dark of winter morning. 

And I'm interested in the word I mumble repeatedly, if mumbling is something you can do in the silence of your mind. I mumble, "Lord," and it happens a lot.

This is a word I've trained out of my liturgical writing. It's so Anglophile, so feudal, so unrelated to anything we know about in 21st century America.

But there it is, coming out of my metaphorical mouth, "Lord." And it doesn't feel like a literary reference. It feels like a personal way of talking to God, where "Oh, God" feels like something I would say in frustration or in formality. 

"Lord" feels intimate. 

Fifteen years ago, in the run-up to the first enormous transition of my adult life, I felt attached to the idea of God as Mother. I'm not sure I ever wanted to go with the idea of Goddess. That had other freight attached to it. Well, do did "mother." Serious, serious emotional, personal baggage weighed down the possibility of God as Mother for this bird. I had spent, gosh, probably seven or eight years wrestling with that word, ever since I came to Maine and was introduced to the idea of inclusive language.

Funny, do we ever think of calling God "Lady?" Father/Mother, we get that. But Lord/Lady? That pairing feels like an announcement at a Court Ball, not a set of words for prayer or hymns or liturgy. 

In the Psalm for this Sunday, which is 29, the NRSV gives us the marvelous word "Ascribe."

Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor. (That's Psalm 29:1-2, by the way.)

Ascribe means "to refer to a supposed cause, source, or author." In my preacher group this morning we looked it up, and we also looked up some other translations of the Psalm. "Give unto the Lord," says the King James Version, which in our 21st century cadence sounds like an old-fashioned way of saying we're giving the Lord glory and strength instead of acknowledging what God already has.

Give unto the LORD, O ye mighty, give unto the LORD glory and strength.
Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. (That's your KJV for 29:1-2.)

I love words, especially pretty ones. I love the way a different version makes me thing again about what people meant a long, long time ago and how obscure it sounds to American ears in this new year of the weird number. Is it Twenty-Eleven? Or Two Thousand Eleven? Whatever year it is, how do we say the Psalm, for it begs to be spoken aloud, in a way that makes sense to the people saying it, recognizing that God's ears already hear it in God's language?

Whatever that is.

Cedars I want to make the ideas accessible, while making the point that God's power is beyond our limited concepts of accessibility. If the Psalm speaks of the cedars of Lebanon and the wilderness of Kadesh, do I draw a parallel with the natural features we know in North Yarmouth and its surrounds, creating a comparison that might draw a snicker, or do I over-explain Lebanon and Kadesh after a show-off bluestocking trip to the Bible Dictionary?

I want the words we say to make some kind of sense without losing the rhythm of  poetry and the beauty of wonder.

Which brings me back to where I started. How do I figure out how to proceed?

Pray first.

Even if the first word out of my mouth or inside my puzzlingly retrograde head is "Lord." 

Put it into words, you angels: our Lord is a God of glory and strength.
Put it into words of prayer and praise; speak out loud the glory of God's name; worship our Lord in the irresistible wonder of holiness.  (That's your Revised Songbird Version.)

And if you find yourself feeling small and imperfect in the darkest hours of the morning, or worried and inconsequential before you lie down at night, and you want to say "Lord," I think it's okay. She'll forgive you, I feel certain of it.

(Image can be found here. And yes, I'm trying to get back to lectionary blogging. This week is Baptism of the Lord A.  See, it's everywhere!)

11 thoughts on “What we say

  1. Mary Beth

    In the WordsMatter workshop I learned the word “kyriarchy.” One of my new favorite words, though I don’t like what it signifies.
    Sigh.

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  2. Songbird

    It certainly sounds unpleasant. Have I just outed myself as some sort of patriarchal nightmare without knowing that’s what I am? Is that what you’re saying, MB? I’m not exactly orthodox, I hope you know that. But maybe it’s not safe in liberal circles to own any old ways/words as having personal meaning.

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  3. Valerie

    Hmm…your post inspired me to look a couple things up. First this: “According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, the etymology of the word can be traced back to the Old English word ‘hlāford’ which originated from ‘hlāfweard’ meaning ‘bread keeper’ or ‘loaf-ward’, reflecting the Germanic tribal custom of a chieftain providing food for his followers.[1] Lady, the female equivalent, originates from a similar structure, believed to have originally meant ‘loaf-kneader’.” (from Wikipedia – Lord)
    I like the idea of bread keeper or chieftan providing food for his followers.
    Although I find some parts of The Message version of scripture interesting to read, the psalms usually leave me flat because the old poetry is so familiar to me. However….I like Eugene Peterson’s version of psalm 29
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=psalm%2029&version=MSG
    Just my two cents for the day….

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  4. Songbird

    Valerie, I love that about the loaf-keeper and the loaf-kneader. I also like that version of the Psalm, which I admittedly didn’t even look at because, like you, I don’t usually care for Peterson’s take on the Psalms. (I could do without the first two verses, though.)

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  5. Wendy

    I go back and forth about Lord. It’s almost too easy for me. It’s the other way (other than Father before every other phrase) we Southern Baptist-raised pray-ers were given. It does not actually have meaning to me, but it is ingrained in my prayers. I’ve been working on finding names for God that do have meaning for me, but that usually becomes adjective+God or God of Abstract Noun. No answers, just thinking. I still use Lord if I am not being specific and conscious about it. I think I can live with it, especially if I am not limited to or by it.

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  6. Deb

    I like your version of those verses! I have to admit that while I really appreciate and use the gender-free language, and while I liked Madeline L’Engle’s use of “EL”, deep in my heart I connect best with God-as-Father. However when I pray those deep prayers, it’s always GOD and it’s a deep low almost moan in my heart.
    I didn’t know the origin of the world lord, and I immediately thought of God as the loaf-giver.

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  7. hotcup

    thought of you on sunday as i picked up my boys at the vet… there was a couple picking up their very exhuberant burmese mountain dog. lifted a little prayer for you… not sure if i used the word lord, but i do recall asking for mercy and gentleness to be yours in 2011.

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  8. Mary Beth

    Mercy, no. 🙂 Quite the opposite. I think your difficulty with the word “Lord” (which I don’t have…yet) is an expression of resistance to kyriarchy.
    Per teh Wiki: Kyriarchy is a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza as a modification of the term patriarchy which elaborates intersecting structures of domination. The word is derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein), and defines a system of “ruling and oppression” in which many people may interact and act as oppressor or oppressed.
    So, good job! 🙂

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