Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Words That Will Not Burn

mystical clouds drift into the desert 

Yesterday I came upon a website on which a prayer was posted. The prayer began "O God, the almighty and eternal King."  I suddenly realized how far I have moved away from the use of words like these when referring to or thinking about God. 

Actually, if you examine the way in which Western religions in general refer to God, you almost always get God-images and God-words like the ones used in that prayer. I took a quick look at the Book of Common Prayer (Anglican/Episcopal), and every single Sunday of the year,  the assigned prayer of the day begins with phrases like: "Almighty and Everlasting God," or "Heavenly Father," or "God our Protector." One prayer refers to God as the one who is "unchangeable." 

Here's why these images are so unhelpful to me.

The scientists of our own day have uncovered a great unfolding, mysterious universe. The cosmos is a swirling mass of atoms, all in constant movement, constantly changing. And it all springs out of God, the abiding Holy Presence who"utterly inhabits" this swirling mass of ever-changing reality. 

References to God as an "Almighty, Omniscient, Unchanging,  Eternal King" assume that everything is fixed and static. God is a "superman" up in the sky, outside it all.  God is also fixed and static, the puppet master pulling the strings.

Words, of course, are important. The words we use about God establish the way we imagine and think about God.  The God-lanuage traditionally used in Western religions is medieval. It is ponderous. It weighs me down rather than lifting me up. 

In his book, "My Bright Abyss, "Christian Wiman offers this reflection:

Does the decay of belief among educated people in the West precede the decay of language used to define and explore belief, or do we find the fire of belief fading in us because the words are sodden with overuse and imprecision, and will not burn?

I really think this is "spot on." I want God-language to burn into my soul - enflame me with passion- poetry and metaphor that set me on fire and open doors into the great mystery of the wild and uncontrolled Holy One.  

I have also discovered something else about me lately. Since so many traditional God-words are getting in my way, I find myself using less and less words in my prayer nowadays. Sometimes there simply are no words, only Holy Presence.

Wittgenstein, the great language philosopher, once said: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Amen to that!

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