Monday, November 24, 2008

Thinking in Words/Images

I have been reflecting this morning on a dialogue in the post below. I am struggling to put those thoughts into words. Part of the problem is that I don't think in words, I think in images. Unfortunately, those images are not necessarily visual. If they were, I could at least find the words to describe them.

I teach a prayer workshop for parish nursing. The first time I was asked, I was given an outline to follow. Fortunately, for me, I was also told that it was not set in stone. The outline relied very heavily on structured and worded prayer. This is definitely not my forte. I changed the outline to involve a number of forms of embodied prayer. I have found embodied prayer is the style better suited to my way of thinking - it does not require concrete words. I am able to use symbolic actions and images to form prayers that don't necessarily have words.

I was somewhat nervous the first time I presented the workshop. It was very well received. The next time I presented the workshop, there were people there who came partly because they had heard about the first one. One of the things I explain is my difficulty with words - that I think in images - and thus a fair portion of the workshop is centred around styles of prayer that accommodate that. A number of people came up to me and were so thankful because they have the same way of thinking and are so relieved to have things put in a context to which they can relate.

This leads me to the reason for this post. In the comments for the post below, there is a comment about looking at the words and the meanings of the words as written as the defining way to interpret the various scripture passages - especially the ones that are considered to speak to same-sex relationships. I disagree with this method on two grounds.

The first ground is that it sets rigid parameters for interpreting the discussion. To insist on the words only is to limit and box God. I will grant you that language is originally a gift from God. However, it is very human in its make up and thus limited in its scope and understanding. To use words alone is to box God in. To insist on words alone is - to some extent- to insist on being able to control God's revelation. It is - to the same extent - to insist on controlling things so that the outcome is always the same. It does not always allow for the working of the Holy Spirit.

When I read a scripture passage I see images. I don't just see the words in black and white but rather images around those words. I see the culture in which they were written - although I will admit that the image is limited to what I have learned about the culture. I see the possible intent or motivation behind those words. I also see the culture of today and the message the words may have for that culture. For me, this is a much more wholistic approach to reading the scriptures.

I am not being innovative here. I believe the ancient Hebrews better understood the limitations of mere words. Their words did not have single meaning. Rather they were words that promoted thinking in images. Take the word "Shalom" for example. We all know that it means so much more than merely "peace." It brings to mind an image of what that peace is like - wholeness, harmony, justice, righteousness etc.

There is another facet to focusing exclusively on the words. I used to have a real problem with the BCP. A few years ago I would have called it "worm theology" along with some of my contemporaries. The spiritual damage that was done to me was immense and it took years of healing before I was spiritually able to embrace my faith. Actually, the problem with the BCP was not the theology per se but the tendency to think of only the words rather than the images they were meant to convey. When I took my second liturgy class at seminary I was given a real gift. The prof was able to convey the images the words were meant to give and I grew to love most of those images. Where I had problems with the images, I was better able to understand because I was able to see the words in the context and culture in which they were written and thus able to lose a fair amount of my negativity toward them. I now quite enjoy the BCP. The most dramatic of changes came around the Prayer of Humble access which is now fairly central as an expression of my theology where before it was one of the prayers that caused the most harm to my spirituality.

For those who may think that my refusal to engage in dialogue using words alone as terms of reference is a further revelation of my arrogant attitude, my willfulness, my blindness, my being deceived or whatever other term they want to give it, I will only say this in my defense. God gave me the gift of being able to think in images. I realize that any gift as a dual edge, one can use it in service to God or in service against God. One must always be very careful of the way that the gift is being used. Thus, the gift needs to be used surrounded by prayer and meditation. I strive to do that. Now who am I to listen to - human or God? I sincerely pray that it is God to whom I am listening and I tend to believe that because the use of the gift is surrounded by prayer and meditation that it is God to whom I am listening. If that means going against the flow, going against certain cultural expectations, then so be it. I am certainly in good company including that of my Lord and Saviour.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is fine that you think it is the context that changes the plain, meaning, I really only suggested a word study because you asked what a defense might look like. But still you have not offered a defence based on context or anything else.

You are the one who is wanting to change the church's teaching on this question, you cant just allow it to remain in the forum of what you project onto the text and not expect to be challenged. So can you offer any argument why the text ought to be read as you say it ought.

Kevin

Ann Marie said...

I have presented once with clarification again.

"Looking at Leviticus I noticed that prohibition against same sex intercourse was only directed toward males. This raised a question in my mind. When I further thought on it, I remembered that to be female was to be inferior. When one considers the sex act, one could see where it was believed that one male would have to play a female role or be in a female position. This would have been very demeaning. Add to that the understanding of procreation where it was believed that the male seed was a tiny perfectly formed human being. To plant this seed in anything other than a woman's womb was akin to murder."

Now it may only be partial but it is a starting point. To me, it is clear as to why this passage is not talking about adult, healthy, committed same-sex relationships. The knowledge base from which this passage springs is inadequate to deal with how science and psychology have now come to understand sexuality. It is a passage steeped in the baises of it's time - especially a bias against the feminine.

"Sodom and Gomorrah is said to be about hospitality. To me it is about violence. Yes, hospitality is part of it but the violence of what the men wanted to do stands out more. It is not same sex relations that the men want. It is to violently humiliate the guests by using them as women. The passage disturbs me even further when I consider that it would not have been as bad in the men's eyes had it been a woman who was so violently violated. I should mention that this interpretation is very much influenced now by the realization that the reason God caused the flood was the violence of humans. The humans did evil in the sight of God but the evil that is mentioned most pointedly and consistently is violence."

Once again - not talking about adult healthy committed same sex relationships.

When we talk about blessing same sex relationships we are not talking about blessing any relationship. We are certainly not talking about the relationships mentioned in the two passages. We are talking about blessing adult healthy committed relationships.

And that may be why I don't put my defense in terms that you seem to want and I can't seem to grasp. Because I don't think the Bible does talk about the relationships I would support and bless.

As well, the Church does need to provide a defense other than just scripture as to why it sticks to its tradition of not blessing such relationships. It is not enough to say that it is scripture when current scientific and psychological research does not support such a stance. It would be one thing if scripture had proven itself infallable in the past (or at least human interpretation had) but it hasn't.

And as trite as it is - it would be another thing if we still followed all the Levitical laws but we don't. We have allowed that further knowledge - which is also a gift and revelation of God - has changed how we understand those things.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie

Anonymous said...

We approach scripture in a very different way. Where did you go to school?

Kevin

Ann Marie said...

I went to school at Emma - Emmanuel and St. Chad - in Saskatoon. Emma is part of the Saskatoon Theological Union which includes Emma, LTS (Lutheran), and St. Andrew's (United Church). My New Testament Studies was done with Terry Donaldson and my Hebrew Scriptures was done with David Jobling, Christine Mitchell, and Walter Deller. Each used a different method and sometimes more than one method. I found each class fascinating as a whole new world opened up before me.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie