Inclusive Language, Pray First, Psalms, Revised Songbird Version

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!)