In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Saturday, October 20, 2012

WORDS MATTER



A reflection the readings for  Proper 24/B: Job 38:1-7,  Hebrews 4:12-16,  Mark 10:35-45 - by The Rev. Margaret Rose
            
At the back of the dining hall where I went to camp every summer as a child there is a large wooden plaque.  On it is written:  “Words are so powerful that they should only be used to bless, to heal, and to prosper.”   The saying may have come from some poet, but I knew them from the owner of the camp, Sue Henry.  Sue had many such sayings that only she could get across with great meaning.  She had been a boarding school English teacher—one of those who cared deeply about students, teaching and the world at large.  Another of her sayings was “Humor that hurts another is not humor at all”.  You can be sure there was not a lot of bullying at that camp.    Words were meant to be used carefully and only as needed.  Words are so powerful they should only be used to bless, to heal and to prosper.                                                                                                                                               Holy Scripture of course, and perhaps Christianity itself, is all about words.  John’s Gospel is the prime example:  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the word was God.”                                                                                   

In the scripture lesson from Job, God speaks out of the silence of the whirlwind to the suffering Job, “ Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge.”    

In other words, do not speak unless you know what you are talking about.    
                                                                                                                                 And in the text of the Hebrews  there is a vivid picture of the power of words in scripture.  “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”      I can almost see words dividing soul from spirit when hearing certain news---the diagnosis of cancer, the quiet word from the doctor that there was nothing that could be done, the difficult word that a friendship or lifelong partnership has ended.  Words  “dividing joints from marrow” remind me of standing at the butcher counter watching the skilled butcher at his craft, with the sharpest of knives, remove the bones from the piece of meat.  We don’t often think of words in such a powerful way.                                                                                                                                        
 “Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Not True.  Yes they will.                                                                                                                           
Actually that is what the political campaigns that we have been suffering these past few months are all about.  Whose words will carry the day?  And the debates are certainly a verbal boxing match with the hope that our particular candidate will deliver the knock out blow.   Yet words, even political words, also have the power to heal.  Last night I watched the videos of the two candidates for President speaking at the Al Smith Foundation dinner.   Sponsored by the Catholic Church, it raises money for children in poverty.    The words this time were roasts—humor used to help each laugh with the other and finally to state that what really matters is the state of the world and how to make it better.  These words were used to heal to bless to prosper, even among the politicians.  

Recently, theologian Gustav Niebuhr wrote an article in the Harvard Divinity School magazine called, Choosing Words over Bullets. In it he spoke of   The Parliament of World Religions, an organization which for over a century has sought peace and understanding, and promotes  efforts of the various religions to find ways to talk to one another, to share their religious traditions—Christian, Moslem, Jewish, Buddhist, Jain, and more.  They seek mutual understanding and lay a foundation that puts relationship over turf battles, among religious traditions or indeed nation states. Recent news makes this interreligious understanding and dialogue  even more vital for peace in our world.  How quick we are to assume that one group does not care as much as another about human life or to generalize one experience and claim this is the religious norm.  Words may not seem like much.  But when they are the cause of violence in the name of our religions  they have the power of a two edged sword.   

In the Gospel today, it is the disciples who do not know the power of their words.  
Almost like children they ask Jesus for a favor.  “Let us sit next to you.”  Let us be your special ones, at the places of honor on your right and on your left. Jesus is quick to reply.  “You do not know what you are saying.”  He lets them know that this request is one which calls for great sacrifice, suffering and death.  The other disciples, of course, ( in not much more mature fashion) are angry that the two would seek a special place.  As only Jesus can do, he moves to the heart of the matter.  Their life together is not about who can sit at the right or left hand of God but who can be a disciple.  And discipleship is about servanthood , caring less about who is the greatest, or who might rule over another but how one might follow Jesus, coming not to serve but to serve.   Eventually Jesus words or his refusal to speak brought him to the cross. 
 
I imagine that he was always aware of their spoken power, not only to heal, bless and prosper, but as the Incarnate Word for the salvation of God’s world.  
The Rev’d Margaret Rose

1 comment:

Janine Goodwin said...

Powerfully said, and very true.