The lessons for Sunday presented a stark difference in the images of God. There, in the Song of Solomon (2:8:13), was a marvelous image of God as our cosmic lover, beckoning us to come out and play.
My beloved speaks and says to me:What a wonderful image of a God who bids us throw all caution to the wind and enjoy the gifts of nature.
- “Arise, my love, my fair one,
- and come away;
- for now the winter is past,
- the rain is over and gone.
He Qi, China
- The flowers appear on the earth;
- the time of singing has come,
- and the voice of the turtledove
- is heard in our land.
- The fig tree puts forth its figs,
- and the vines are in blossom;
- they give forth fragrance.
- Arise, my love, my fair one,
- and come away.”
The preacher picked up on this theme and played with this image with us, teasingly saying, "And, to this we say with droll voice and flat affect, 'The Word of the Lord'?".
It was an excellent sermon.
Compare this image of God with the one revealed in Jesus and painted by Mark (7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23)
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."
I suppose both are true and it is when we are "doers of the word and not merely hearers" (James 1:17-27), that we get closer to image God has of us.
I got that and loved it. There was much about the service I enjoyed - the 'Pia Jesu' was exceptionally well done - and found meaningful.
I got stuck on the first hymn: # 574: "Before They Throne, O God, We Kneel" (St. Petersburg)
Search out our hearts and make us true,I couldn't finish the last two lines, beginning with "Wean us and train us with Thy rod."
Wishful to give to all their due;
From love of pleasure, lust of gold,
From sins which make the heart grow cold,
Wean us and train us with Thy rod;
Teach us to know our faults, O God.
I felt the cold shock of memory course through my body.
I knew it had been a while since I had sung that hymn, but I suddenly remembered why. In the Diocese of Newark - oh, must be 15 years or so ago - we actually passed a resolution at Diocesan Convention which asked congregations not to use this hymn and others like it which subtly but clearly promote this kind of violent infantalization of our relationship with God.
My mother would make a list - an actual list - of our transgressions during the day. When my father came home from work, he would hear my mother's complaints and administer the "appropriate" discipline.
I'm certain it was their way of "sharing parenthood" - my mother the homemaker and caretaker, and my father the breadwinner and disciplinarian. Guess where they got that model?
I could hear his drunken slur as he administered punishment for talking back to my mother or not picking up the clothes from the floor of our bedroom - things I had long ago forgotten or already taken care of. "You think I like doing this? I'm doing it for your own good."
Wean us and train us with Thy rod.
I picked up my Prayer Book / Hymnal and held it close to my chest as I offered a silent prayer for my father and all parents who felt that this is the way to 'train' children, somehow secure in the knowledge that this 'discipline' was sanctioned by the church.
The Bible has been used as a cover for lots of violence. God knows, there are many 'texts of terror' in scripture which have been used over the centuries to justify violence.
And, God knows, there are many undisciplined kids running around these days. I'm constantly amazed and aghast when I go to a coffee shop or restaurant and watch parents ignore their children as they whine and cry and yell and run - RUN! - around tables, disturbing other patrons while their parents seem absolutely oblivious to it.
It's not only not 'cute', it's a form of parental neglect.
I am in no way saying that parents ought to whack their child or otherwise verbally abuse them, but I think this 'benign neglect' has become malignant and virulent.
One of my former parishioners used to tell her adult children about her grandchildren, "You are not only raising children, you are raising future parents."
I wish more parents heard that message.
I watch one of our daughters with her two children. When they need admonishment, she takes them aside - away from anyone's ear shot so the child is not shamed or humiliated - and they talk. She has a system of expectations for behavior and responsibility as well as accountability to those expectations.
It's exhausting to keep on top of it and remember what privilege gets lost and what one has to do in order to regain the privilege - especially when it would be so much easier to yell or raise a threatening backhand or smack them soundly.
She is not just teaching them about good and bad and acceptable behavior and consequences. She's teaching them about self-discipline and moderation and control. She is modeling the kind of behavior she expects from her children.
She's raising children who will, too soon, become adults and future parents. It's an awesome, holy task, this business of being a parent. We underestimate its value to our own peril.
Somewhere between the image of God as a lover who beckons us to wild abandon and God as one who has expectations for our behavior is the reality of our relationship with God.
We have been created in God's delight to enjoy and care for each other and the rest of creation and, together, to usher in the Commonwealth of God.
There is nothing outside us that can defile what it in us. There is, however, everything inside us that is good and noble and kind that can honor and respect all of God's other creatures and creation.
We can do that with violence or we can do that with a love so deep as to take care and attend to that which may seem to some to be inconsequential and insignificant.