On taking the middle path.

We have (optional) chapel services every morning, and Wednesdays always use the traditional form of sung morning prayer, with music that changes every few weeks. The set that we’re currently doing inspires . . . very mixed feelings in me. The theme is “traditional songs in new contexts,” and for the most part it works really, really well. When you hear “O Worship the King” as a solemn, shadowed Indonesian chant –

O tell of God’s might, o sing of God’s grace,
whose robe is the light, whose canopy space,
whose chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
and dark is God’s path on the wings of the storm.

– it really resonates in a way that both deconstructs and amplifies the hymn’s unsettling reverence. Most of the songs are like that, and I’ve really enjoyed participating in them. And then there’s “Psalm 23,” as reset by Bobby McFerrin. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I have all I need. She makes me lie down in green meadows, beside the still waters, She will lead. . . Even though I walk through a dark and dreary land, there is nothing that can shake me. She has said She won’t forsake me; I’m in Her hand.” Et cetera, and finishing with “Glory be to our Mother, Redeemer, and to the Holy of Holies.”

What’s frustrating is that I want to express the fact that I have a problem with this, without falling into simple literalism. Honestly, I don’t have a problem calling God “she.” After all, God doesn’t have a penis, and any sort of attempt to say that maleness is closer to God’s nature than femaleness gets really silly really quickly. What bothers me is that this isn’t just saying “when I was at my loneliest, crying out to God, I finally felt Her presence again.” This is the Bible you’re rewriting, and not just in minor, “all people” instead of “all men,” ways. The Bible does not call God a mother, nor does it call the Spirit the “Holy of Holies,” and if you’re going to call them that, then don’t pretend that you’re using the Bible’s language.

What’s funny is that in Patristics, we’re reading Tertullian, who at one point essentially states that Sophia, Wisdom, is the same as Christ, Logos. Just as Jesus is a He, Sophia is a She, and they both point to the same immeasurable God. This, of course, is in about the year 200. It’s slightly baffling to me that there isn’t a commonly agreed-upon middle ground where, at the same time, we can accept that God is ultimately none and all genders, but that the Bible does indeed refer to different aspects of God’s action in the world with different genders, and that we’re whitewashing history to pretend otherwise.

Of course, I could make the same middle-ground complaint about the role of God’s intervention in history. Amazingly enough, it is in fact possible to believe that the Bible is not a word-for-word historically precise record, but yet believe that it does tell true stories about God’s supernatural interactions with humanity. A close look at almost any part of the Hebrew Bible reveals problems – contradictions, anachronisms, etc. – that are extremely difficult to resolve, if you’re going for an understanding of the Bible as flawless history in the same way that our post-Enlightenment disciplines understand history. What’s perpetually frustrating to me in my Old Testament class is that it’s not enough for most scholars in the field to acknowledge that fact and say, “but we’ll study the story that the authors were telling, and it’s still a meaningful story about a real God.” No, there seems to be a certain pride in sticking to one extreme or the other: either every word of the Bible is precise factual and historical truth, or the whole thing is a bunch of fables that have absolutely nothing to do with reality. And, sure, the latter is fine if in fact you’re operating from the assumption that God doesn’t exist, or at least doesn’t interfere with humans, but most professors in the field wouldn’t say that they make that assumption.

Some days I really feel like grumpy Professor Kirke“‘Logic!’ said the Professor half to himself. ‘Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?’

P.S. I apologize to those who’ve commented on the RSS feed and received no response; I did read your comments, but I can’t reply anonymously on an LJ feed, and I’m trying to keep this journal separate from previous ones. I know it’s an extra step for you, but if you click through and comment on the original blog post, I can respond to you there. Again, sorry for the inconvenience.

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