Inclusive / Exclusive Language
This week I read the chapter "Conversion: The Feminist Impasse" and Ms. Norris writes of her exposure to feminist theology, her resultant anger and her difficulties with liturgy. What she wrote struck me all a heap because I too have had great difficulty with exclusive language in translations of the Bible when I happened to know that the original language was inclusive. It is something I have had on the back burner that gets my attention from time to time but I never resolve it because my desire for God, Mother/Father, Son and Holy Spirit is stronger than my issues with language.
Then I read in this chapter of Ms. Norris' experience with
"the Benedictine abbey where I became an oblate was using a psalter that made not the slightest concession to inclusively. Man, men, brothers. sons- it was all there, staring me in the face on every page. There were times when this did not bother and other times when it was extremely painful, creating a barrier to my worship. It even seemed like a lack of hospitality on the monks' part. ...
"The monks had become more than good friends and mentors. For both me and my husband, they were a saving grace during hard times. During the period when i was going to the abbey once a month for spiritual sustenance, I occasionally met women who spurned the monks' liturgy because they found the language of the psalter so deeply offensive. while this was comprehensible to me, I decided that in my case, to follow suit would be analogous to to being in need of an ambulance, and refusing to take it when it came because I did not care for the paint job. Obviously language - and specifically the issue of inclusive language-- is not as superficial as paint. I am talking about seeing the ambulance for for what it is and recognizing the possibility for salvation in a situation that seems irredeemable. I am talking about being willing to accept grace in whatever form it chooses to come.
"As the monks so obviously intended to include me, I was able to allow myself to be guided more by my experience of their hospitality than by what seemed the graceless language of their psalter. A kind of miracle ensued: I found myself included, and the obsolete language of their psalter was no longer a trial for me. when I think back on this experience--and it was by no means an easy or quick thing -- I am reminded of what Irene Nowell, a Benedictine nun, once said to me, reflecting on her own joys and frustrations working on committees currently translating the Hebrew scriptures into English: "Does it ever surprise you that God chooses to be revealed in so fallible a fashion?"
"... Feminist theology especially had seemed a safe place in which all of my stances could be argued and defended, as in an impregnable fortress. But I found I could not breath there; I found no room for mystery. I am surely not the first or the last Christian to seek to forsake the fallibility of inherent in Jesus' incarnation for a sure thing.
"It was the false purity of ideology I had to reject in order to move toward the realistic give -and - take of community. Not a community of those who would share my presuppositions regarding feminism, but an ordinary small town congregation, where no one would make much care about the heavy duty theology in which I had been immersing myself. I could still employ it as a useful guide to navigating Christian seas. But I could also learn to to look to the strong women of the congregation, who often seemed to incarnate a central paradox of the Christian faith: that while religion has often been used as an agent of women's oppression, it has also had a remarkable ability to set women free."
As I read this, I could feel the puzzle piece click into place. As a monastic I am challeneged to view things from a different perspective. As I think about exclusive language in the Bible or in the liturgy, I see I have a choice either to concentrate on the content or to find fault with the way it has been translated or the social mores of a different era in human history. When I have done the latter, I have experienced anger, disdain, judgementalism, self-righteousness which is, for me, sinful. When I have engaged with the messagem rather than with it's delivery, I am more likely to discover the Holy Spirit leading me as She wills to some transformational encounter.
I confess I have had scruples about being called a nun. It is surely a word charged with connotations and I have preferred to refer to myself as a monastic. But then I recalled some of the nuns who as abbesses bossed around even the Pope. And I think of what women have accomplished in service to the Lord despite centuries of exclusive language.
I have no desire to invalidate the different expereinces, pain and hardship that many other women have endured. I know their suffering is real. For myself and with the help of Kathleen Norris, I have found a compromise with which I can live.