Friday, March 6, 2009

Speaking of the Daily Office: the St. Helena Breviary - and some musings on inclusive language in liturgy

I want one of these (the full monastic edition) in the worst way. I think that part of what keeps me from praying the Daily Office when I don't pray it is the language.

Interestingly, sexist language bothered me less when I went to pray with the monks in Berkeley (they've now closed their Priory and merged with the two other houses in the U.S.), the brothers of the Order of the Holy Cross, Anglican Benedictines. Perhaps because of the chant, perhaps because there isn't much macho-ness or hierarchy there. I miss those times of going up the street for Vespers.

In Berkeley, I worshipped at a congregation that had done a thorough revision of the liturgy, under the careful shepherding of a liturgical scholar who is also a priest and a feminist, and it was the first time I didn't have what I call "the cringe reflex," both because there were women clergy (and men clergy too) and because of the language. Female clergy alone won't do it, friends. What words do we use to talk about God and about each other?

It really is possible to name God and to preserve the Holy Trinity without being male-dominant. It takes work and mindfulness. I am always amazed that the conversation about inclusive language, which began when I was in divinity school 35 years ago and which we took to congregations and judicatories of many denominations and communions, is still in its infancy in some parts of our church -- and invisible in others. It's as if our conversations of the 1970s (and 1980s, and 1990s), with some serious thoughtful work and plenty of theology and poetic compositions by now) had never happened.

This is true in other communions, but I wonder if in the Episcopal Church it has to do with a certain literalism of the Prayer Book and the way we use the book. Is the Prayer Book a springboard or a stranglehold? Discuss.

The New Zealand Prayer Book is beautiful and many of us use it. But we are mostly not authorized to use it in public worship, e.g. for the Eucharist. And it is inculturated for Aotearoa New Zealand, not for the U.S. The issue isn't only language that is gender-inclusive (or, as some in the Episcopal Church formal commissions and publications name it, expansive language) but also language that includes images of nature and creation and that is rooted in the life of our local church, in the country or rather countries of the Episcopal Church.

In any event, as soon as I have a bit of disposable income I am going to invest in a St. Helena Breviary and Psalter.

Note: The great irony is that there is sometimes more linguistic change going on in Roman Catholic churches than in Episcopal churches, because parish priests sometimes just go ahead and change the language. Because hierarchy in the Episcopal Church is in some ways more functional than it is in the Roman Catholic Church, it has more of an influence on whether or not folks change language at the local level. I have seen far more Episcopal churches not change the language "because the bishop won't allow it" than Catholic churches; the Catholic churches just go ahead and do it. The bad side of this being that often it's spontaneous and less studied and thoughtful, with a few exceptions. In the Episcopal Church, when the language changes, it's often after a lot of work. (Note: when we changed the language in Berkeley after all the scholarly and pastoral study, it was with the bishop's permission and blessing.) But does this also hold us back?
Yes, we have Enriching Our Worship. But if it's not in regular use at Sunday Eucharist and other public prayer of the church, what use it is?

You want to start a firestorm in the church? Never mind the discussion on lgbt people (well, do mind it) - try changing the language.

And these discussions are not unrelated. They all upset people's cosmologies -- the way they view the order of the universe and who decided and decides what it should be. (Certain blog sites that will remain nameless, in fact, are as upset about language as they are about gay bishops.)

Also, remember, the Daily Office isn't everyone's way of praying. Just a reminder brought to you by When in Doubt, Sing. ;-)

Photo: Sr. Cintra Pemberton, OSH, with the Breviary.


Paul said...

When creating the lesson inserts for St Cuthbert's over the course of the three-year cycle, I recast the psalms into inclusive language. Most folks did not notice the difference and I did not have to cringe during worship.

That process certainly made me aware of the repetitive "he" in the psalter, referring to God.

I also took things like responses before and after the Gospel from EOW and other small changes. So in the end we had a rather inclusive language liturgy. But I had no pressure from the congregation to do it (some thanked me after the fact). We used liturgy booklets based on the BCP (and other Anglican sources) but the BCP itself was only opened on Ash Wednesday. The rest was all liturgy booklets (which I cleared with the bishop).

Godde bless the Sisters of Saint Helena!

Jane R said...

And Godde bless priests like you!

Magdalene6127 said...

Jane, I've been saying the PCUSA morning prayer more regularly of late (it is very, very similar to the daily office) and... yeah. I know what you mean. I don't like that it sets up an "achievement" thing in me... as in, Must. Get. Through. This. Which is antithetical to my understanding of how to do lectio... which, in my understanding is the "right" way to read scripture. (Question: how many SHOULD'S can I squeeze into one comment? Hmmm?)

I've been rising earlier to do this, and of late I've bee thinking: what if during that early hour I read a psalm and simply pray/ be/ meditate, and then do the office later in the day (evening prayer, for example)? I think I'm craving more unstructured time with scripture... and more time that's not about producing a sermon.

BTW, I am using "When In Doubt Sing" as a basis for much of my Lenten series... expect shout-outs soon! And I'll shout it in the congregation, too!

Magdalene6127 said...

Oh, and, yes, I want one too.

Jane R said...

Mags, I am copying your comments into the comments thread below because they are so valuable (to me anyway :-)) and related to the question I raised there. Will reply there more at length. Thanks so much for weighing in from the Presbyterian branch of the Christian family.

Cecilia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Sue said...

I have the personal edition of the OSH Breviary. I do appreciate its lyrical language, and the expanded collects for various festal days.

I just can't do the psalter or the 'common' prayers (OF, Glory Be, et cetera). They aren't the worn, familiar words. I'm not a verbal-lingustic person. I'm a bodily-kinesthetic person, and that means the shape my mouth makes, the contractions of the vocal cords, the expansion of my diaphraghm as I take a breath, these are more important to the prayer than words.

I don't use it much, I've been thinking of passing it along.

MikeF said...

Have you looked at this, Jane? Very non-sexist language - produced with CSF and OSC in mind as well as SSF - and full of useful lectionary bits and bobs, with other prayers, a psalter, etc.

Jane R said...

I'd not seen it, Mike. Thanks for the link!

I really must get to England sometime in the next year or two and come pray with you and visit the Franciscans over there.

By the way, I just got asked to submit a paper (to be peer-reviewed and evaluated for potential publication - so it's not a publication invitation, it's the stage before) to a journal that's published in the UK, so that's another UK contact.

Oh - funny and I meant to tell you: I always thought you were an RC because of all the Richard Rohr quotes and other things, and then I saw something you wrote about your vicar being a woman and a picture of her in her collar, so I guess you're an Anglican. Either way, you're a good Franciscan associate (or oblate, or Third Order, my brain forgets which, sorry). How is the pregnant cat Ftifa, or did she fool you? And how is Jan?

See you here and on Facebook soon :-)

Jane R said...

Mary Sue, I understand the bodily-kinesthetic, even though I am also verbal-linguistic (I seem to be the hybrid model ;-)) -- old words do have power. This may be why I found them more "workable" with the monks, because of the chant and the bowing and the layout of the little chapel. But I'm still verbal-linguistic enough that my body reacts when the words feel wrong.

Interesting, all this, isn't it?

MikeF said...

It would be wonderful to see you in person, Jane - and this part of Dorset is one of the gems of England (Jurassic Coast and all that)!

Yes, I'm TSSF - an Anglican Franciscan Tertiary - and a Lay Pastoral Assistant in the local church. With my Anglo-Catholic roots, the RC mistaken-identity-bit is neat!

Ftifa's fine - but very very pregnant still - every day we say, "It must be tonight!" and it isn't...

Jan's much better - but she'll need more hand surgery sometime soon. Doesn't dampen her spirits one bit!

And very best of, luck?, with your article. If it provides another excuse to cross the water, I'm all for it!

Grandmère Mimi said...

I'm the odd one out here, because the non-inclusive language never bothered me all that much. (hangs head) I like inclusive language better, but some of it is so badly written that it grates.

I'm older than everyone here and was perhaps inculturated at an earlier age to make the mental leap from man to human, etc. that it seemed quite natural to me. Don't be mad at me.

I'm using your book, too, Jane, portions at a time.

Jane R said...

I'm not mad at you, Mimi. People should pray as they are comfortable. That's what matters. Also, you and I had had a bit of discussion about this once, either on blog or via e-mail - I think on either your blog or mine.

You are right that some inclusive language is bad; this certainly was true in the early days. Now, though, the poets have gotten to work and there is some really beautiful stuff out there, theologically careful, too. At first people were like children learning to talk or folks busting out of jail. Now there's been a generation to work on language.


Suzer said...

I'm with Mimi on this one, younger though I may be. Inclusive language has often made me cringe, and even long for the old patriarchal language, even though elements of that bother me as well. Unfortunately, I have too often see liturgy watered down to the point of meaninglessness in an effort to be inclusive. There is part of me that is so comforted by the liturgy as it was written, that I can overlook some of the patriarchal bits, realizing even in the split second the words are said that there is a historical context I can overlook. I also have begun doing this automatically as I sing hymns and, especially, spirituals. I've realized I don't always have to 100% believe the theology or word choices behind a certain hymn or spiritual to appreciate the larger meaning or the struggles of the people from which the text and music arose. This comes after several years of being so bothered by some hymns that I wouldn't sing certain words or entire verses.

I dunno -- changing language bothers me. I guess I've never seen it done in a way that seemed respectful of the original poetry and lyricism in the words, nor that comforted me in the way the old words do. And at the same time, I embrace feminism and the inclusion of female imagery into our spiritual lives as well. Bundle of contradictions, I am. :)

Luiz Coelho said...

I have always wanted to comment on inclusive language, but, since I'm not a woman, I have always tried to be sensitive, but I have to say that, for the most part, inclusive language is what causes me the cringe...

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against it, it's just that, like Mimi, I've experienced very bad inclusive language (and I mean it)... Either it is just repetitive (the repetition of "he" is substituted by the repetition of "God"), or it's overwhelmingly feminine (and thus creating the same undesired effect). Sometimes, it approaches too dangerously heresy and sometimes it is just plain, bad theology (like the ubiquitous formula "Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier", that, imo, puts God in a bounding box, by defining only three divine actions, and can be easily misinterpreted as modalism).

My preferred approach to gender-balancing liturgies, I think, would be the insertion of feminine imagery to counterbalance a masculine bias that exists in some formulas that cannot, or should not be changed.

That said, I have to say that some of the Enriching our Worship liturgies are NOTABLE exceptions and manage to be gender-inclusive, expansive and still recognizable as part of the prayer-book tradition. I particularly love some of their canticles, which are based on Scripture and Tradition, and do not have the "new age" aftertaste that bothers me.

So, I believe it is possible, through a very careful revision, to balance masculine and feminine imagery of God in our liturgies, based on what both Scripture and Tradition have to say, and without departing from some essential marks of the Prayer Book tradition.

And I agree with you that we should be, in that regard, like the Roman Church, and stimulate prayer book revisions rather than encouraging local changes (which not rarely happen without the Bishop's consent). What I really don't like about local changes is that we lose the "common prayer" aspect of our Church, and this is bad. As I said before elsewhere, I wouldn't like, on the other extreme, to arrive at a parish that substituted the creed by "GAFCON's statement of belief" either. So, I think the way is really through liturgy commissions and prayer book revision.

Luiz Coelho said...

I also have to say that I'm not fond at all of "A New Zealand Prayer Book". I'm sorry. I tried it... and even think some of its liturgies are carefully and well thought, BUT, don't seem Anglican to me. The responses and patterns are so different that I just cannot recognize them as Book of Common Prayer ones. Maybe some of it could be used for alternative liturgies, but I wouldn't change, let us say, a thoroughly revised 1979 Prayer Book for it.

Jane R said...

Actually, Luiz, re: your first comment, what I was saying was that ironically Roman Catholics have been changing language at the local level without waiting for the changes to make their way through the bureaucracy. That's the irony.

There are exceptions -- the work on ICEL, the International Committee on English in the Liturgy, has produced gorgeous translations, like that of the Psalter which came out well over a decade ago. But then they run into trouble and don't get adopted (by RC local/regional churches, I mean).

In your second comment you raise a really interesting and important question for us: What is "Anglican?" How much do we have to bear the imprint of the original, English, 16th century, Book(s) of Common Prayer? What is essential about these patterns and what belongs to adiaphora, that which is not absolutely necessary? What is cultural and what is religious? What makes us Anglican and at what point are we no longer Anglican?

I think this is very much part of our current discussions in the Anglican Communion and locally in our individual provinces. We do not want to abandon the wisdom and beauty of our roots -- indeed, we celebrate them. On the other hand, there are the needs of the context and its people.

I find reflecting on the life and work of John and Charles Wesley useful at this point, as I did when the issue of "spirit-filled" worship came up at the Episcopal Café and there was such a firestorm (which partly misunderstood the original essayist). But in some ways the issue of inclusive language is even deeper since it involves the very way we structure reality, from the cosmos to social institutions to our intimate relationships.

I wonder if any of you have read Jaci Maraschin's essay "Culture, Spirit, and Worship" in the book (ed. Ian T. Douglas and Kwok Pui-lan) Beyond Colonial Anglicanism: The Anglican Communion in the Twenty-First Century. The book came out in 2001 so a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, but it's well worth a read. It came out of a conference held in 1998. This was long before the election and consecration of +Gene Robinson, though this makes it all the more worth a read, to see what was already going on. There is an article on human sexuality by Renee Hill and one on Scripture by Archbishop (well, he wasn't Archbishop yet) Njongonkulu Ndungane. While the issue in Jaci Maraschin's piece isn't inclusive language but inculturation and the liturgy, it is pertinent to our discussion here, especially to some of your comments about the traditional liturgy. Luiz, have you run into him? At the time the book came out he was teaching in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

In the same book there is an essay by Jenny Plane Te Paa, whom most of you have heard of by now, and who is the first indigenous woman dean of an Anglican theological college. Her seminary and indeed the whole church in Aotearoa New Zeland and Polynesia have been working very hard to be bi- and tri-cultural in a society that indeed has several cultures and languages. I'm eager to visit, and I'd also be very interested to hear from any of you who might visit someday, e.g. Luiz, a Brazilian visiting New Zealand and having a conversation on what is the way, or a way (better to talk about "a fruitful way" than "the correct way") of being Anglican today.

It's interesting that a conversation on gender-inclusive language has led us to asking fundamental questions about worship and identity - and church. This is exactly why the issue of gender-inclusive language is so "hot." It raises all those other questions.

By the way, there is some really good theology out there on the naming of God, some of it written in response to the liturgical language question, though this is only apparent in the preface of the book or in talks about the book, like Elizabeth (Beth) Johnson's award-winning She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, which is unimpeachable in its Patristic scholarship and raises all kinds of contemporary theological issues pertaining to gender and how we name God. A dense book and not for light reading, but well worth a good look. It came out in the mid-1990s or so, a dozen years ago at least.

Enough from me! Thanks for all your comments.

Keep the comments going...

Anonymous said...

Oh my, it goes so much further...

I posted a very angry entry in my blog about this here.

What got me so annoyed was the excommunication by the RCC of the mother and medical team who supported a 9 year old who had to have an abortion because she had been impregnanted with twins by her stepfather, who had raped her (and apparently had sexually molested the 9 year old's 14 year old handicapped sister).

That to me just outraged me.

And I blamed Christianity for not valuing women and for blaming women for rape and things like that.

So I have really begun to think about returning to feminist pagan Goddess spirituality. I don't see why that book title you cited here couldn't be called "She Who Is: The Mystery of GODDESS In Feminist Theological Discourse."

Note that even in a "progressive" writer's title, she still can't bring herself to use the word "Goddess." That word just freaks people out too much. It becomes totally un-Christian completely.

But why? Why does that word have so much power to disturb people?

Why shouldn't we use the word "Goddess?" Because it's "pagan?" What's wrong with "pagan?" Nothing. The Church came down really hard on indigenous (read: pagan) religions and told everyone that they were godless or devil-worshippers, etc.

Why did they do that? To obtain political power.

Oh the whole gender-inclusive language thing is not just about words on a page. It goes so, so much further than that.

Ken said...

Most of this is way over my head. Theologians go at it and I check the opera and concert schedule. That said:

1. The first time I was exposed to inclusive language was not in an Episcopal Church but at Jesuit-operated St. Francis Xavier on W. 16th Street in New York. "God the Father, God the Mother." It felt artificial because of what I was used to but was not particularly irritating.
2. God the Father is of course also an artificial naming because God is not supposed to have a gender, is It?
3. Truth: I cringe at the naming Godde. Then again, who cares one way or t'other what I think or what you say? The Being isn't leaving without either of us. But please do not expect me to adopt a fashion based on gender politics. I will not do it.
4. Godde is far less smothering that the Recovery insistence on calling the Being a "Higher Power." Oh spare me the excesses of inclusivity. It's God or Godde or The Great Spirit or any other name you like.
5. "HP" perpetuates the idea that spirituality is apart from defined faith or religion. Someone once got on my case about speaking during a meeting about the central act of my adulthood, converting to Christianity from Judaism. "This is a spiritual program, not a religious one!" he snapped. I won't tell you my reply.
6. I used to own the ICEL Psalter until I moved from one place to another. It's gone and out of print.
7. The former Rector of an Episcopal church I belonged to in Long Branch, NJ denounced the New Zealand Prayerbook as (ready?) HERESY. That alone made it worth the reading.

Well, you said let it continue, so don't blame me. I'm going up to New York to see Il Trovatore.

PseudoPiskie said...

My most frequent prayer seems to be, "Thanks, Dad". That I refer to God as Dad is simply habit. I have no idea when it started but it was many years ago. It has nothing to do with God being male or female. It probably has more to do with my father who was a most unusual man and example for me. One of my friends prays to Azna, mother God. She was abused by her father and can't accept a male God. She has no problem with my form of address tho.

The older I grow, the less concerned I become with belief as in "church". My "beliefs" have not only changed, they have almost disappeared. I am willing to live with uncertainty regarding the nature of God and the "veracity" of the Bible. I am not uncertain about my faith but faith has little to do with belief.

Nevertheless I also find some inclusive language jarring. But then I find Rite I jarring. All the thees and thous seem at least as artificial.

Tomorrow I will be received by our bishop after being an active part of an Episcopal parish for a mere 12 years. I appreciate the diversity tolerated, even appreciated by most Episcopalians. And I enjoy reading the opinions of my more learned friends especially on controversial subjects like the nature of God or Godde or, in my case, Dad. Thanks, all.

Luiz Coelho said...

Jane, Jaci Maraschin is very well known in Brazil and we use much of his material in seminaries and diocesan centers.

Let me try to be concise in my response. I believe that one of the key concepts that emerged from the Elizabethan Settlement is common prayer, and that, no matter how we worship God (traditional, contemporary, anglo-catholic, evangelical, happy clappy, inculturated, non-inculturated) our words resonate together, and express our faith and beliefs.

And since we are in a church that values Tradition too, we need to keep some elements from it. And I still believe (EOW would be a good example of that) that it is possible to keep patterns of worship we have been using for so much time without some of the negative aspects that older liturgies had (sexism, old-fashioned expressions, etc.) This is my problem with the New Zealand Prayer Book. Some of the patterns were so different that I was literally lost. It was Christian worship, but didn't have that specific Anglican flavor to it. Do you know what I mean?

Another concern I have, regarding common prayer and inclusive language, is how to make changes in liturgies that maximize the potential of inclusiveness in several different languages. The discussion regarding inclusive language in Romance languages is completely different, because, as you know, they attribute genders to inanimate objects too, and the impact of God being treated in masculine terms is less evident. Also, some of the trinitarian alternatives I've seen in English, when translated, continue to be masculine (and somewhat more oppressive than the traditional formula).

I would like to hear your thoughts on Trinitarian formulas. I have tried to read what different scholars have to say on the subject, but I admit I don't like many of the alternatives they have presented. I'm still convinced that the traditional formula is so essential that it should be kept in key places (such as baptisms, opening acclamations, etc) and coexist with gender-inclusive expressions throughout the text.

My perspective is probably very different from yours, and my points of view might sound a bit strange to some. It's just that I was raised not seeing God as a male, or as a female. I never really thought that female ministry was wrong, or that women emancipation should not exist. So, I've always seen the male bias in liturgies as something that should be regarded as historical only, and, since God doesn't really have a gender, read metaphorically. I don't know how it was with older generations. My interest in gender-inclusive liturgies is much more because I value the hardwork of some women priests and theologians to change the Church so it could be the way it was when I was growing up: a place where women and men are treated as equals. But I feel that, in the past, masculine language in worship might have been openly used as a tool for oppression.

Jane R said...

Dear Luiz, very helpful and clarifying and thoughtful. I'm about to head back into my Big Writing Project (the one you know about but that I prefer not to blab about on blog) so it may take me a while till I answer, but don't take that personally. I am going to ponder what you said, and also everyone else, including you, Tracie.

On that note: dear Tracie: I went and read your blog. I do think you misread Luiz there re: inclusion and Anglicanism. It was the form of the NZ Prayer Book he was talking about, not its inclusive language. That said, your points about Goddess are very important and in the last thirty-odd years of Christian feminist and Jewish feminist and Pagan feminist and other feminist discussion of language, we have gone back and forth on that. I use "Godde" a lot in writing, which is pronounced the same way as "God" but is a kind of compromise - though the Jewish "G*d" also is useful, as is simply not naming the One who cannot be named. But I agree with Beth Johnson (and I think Luiz) that we have to make compensatory moves of clearly female, not neutral, language, to counterbalance the male language. It is very delicate and difficult work but I think both justice and holiness demand it.

Does female language stop sexism and heteropatriachy? Nope. India has lots of goddesses and the status of women there is not so hot. Does this mean we shouldn't seek more life-giving and inclusive ways of naming the divine? No. We have to keep trying. I cringe when I hear all the talk about "radical welcome" in my diocese (which I otherwise love - I mean the talk about radical welcome and the very notion, and I also love my diocese) and no one, but no one, mentions gender or the very language in which our churches pray, which makes any number of people (women but also some men) feel very un-welcome, and which sends unconscious messages that men are somehow more made in the image of Godde than women are.

Oops - didn't plan on going on so long. Bear in mind that this is a quick spontaneous response.

I do have a chapter on language in When in Doubt, Sing. I tried to raise issues while keeping my overall goal of being welcoming to people, however they pray.

That's one of the tensions in the church: challenge and comfort, disturb and welcome. It's right there in the language issue.

Okay, off I go. And I am about to post a couple of related things on prayer, above.

Song in my Heart said...

It's funny, I started praying Morning Prayer a few weeks before I read _When In Doubt, Sing_. I will work through the book more slowly at some point in the future but got a lot out of it even reading it over 2-3 days as I did (I commute). In some way your book also contributed to me starting to blog in this community, though, and I realised I hadn't thanked you. So, er, thank you.

I think we do need to be careful with changing language, but I also think inclusive language is quite important. Right now I'm still using Common Worship (as on the C of E website) because, well, because I figure it's better to pray than not and if borrowing words that make me a bit uncomfortable and skipping the bits that make me cringe works then I will do that for now.

I do find that I have much less trouble with language and with some of the doctrinal concepts (the Trinity is the one that always ties my brain in knots) when I'm singing than when I'm speaking.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Just so you all know, I understand and sympathize with those of you who are put off by non-inclusive language, and I wish that you would not have to bear with it.

Ken said...


Inquiring minds want to know.


Jane R said...

Um, Ken... Remember that big bill I have to pay, the one I wrote you about? And remember I JUST got on spring break and yesterday was my very first day with no school?

You have the hardback. Same thing except for the preface. Will send your copy when I can, really. Remember what I am doing this week. I need every possible minute. Answer me via e-mail. Thanks!