Saturday, February 17, 2007

This Is the Day The Lord Hath Made

You must realize that I have a personal affection for Psalm 118 that comes from the fact that my church choir sang its lyrics at my candidating Sunday and again at my Installation.

This is the day the LORD hath made
Let us rejoice and be glad!!

So I was perhaps more deflated than usual to read of one Unitarian Universalist minister's translation of the psalm as,

This is the day we are given,
let us rejoice...

My problem is linguistic and theological. There is such vibrancy in the Biblical psalm! To switch from the majesty of "This is the day the LORD hath made" to the passive voice of "this is the day we are given" just kills the poetry for me. As a friend and I were discussing yesterday, the pale language of "we are given" puts me in mind of a weary drive-through attendant at McDonald's: "Hey lady, here's your quarter pounder with cheese, and your fries. And here's a day."

There's a good conversation about this small detail of the Rev. Galen Guengerich's article in the latest UU World --proposing gratitude as the theological center of Unitarian Universalism --here at Philocrites:
http://www.philocrites.com/archives/003420.html#allcomments

I'm looking forward to reading the entire article. Despite my small quibble with the issue of the psalm, it's always good to have a theological conversation. Does gratitude feel like the theological center of Unitarian Universalism to you? Would you like to see us work on that? Is gratitude at the center of your personal spiritual life or practice? Would you like it to be?


The conversation at Philocrites left me thinking about other things that I think just don't work in a non-theistic translation. One is a healing service, which I'd like to do at my church for Lent. The only healing services I've ever been part of were centered around the idea that God loves us and that Jesus offers healing to all who ask for it. I am wondering how Unitarian Universalists do healing services in a non-theistic way. Do you have any stories of such services, and would you be willing to share liturgies?

6 Comments:

Blogger ms. kitty said...

I love that psalm too, PB, and have such fond memories of singing and dancing it in chapel during seminary. I was taking a sacred dance class and we came down the aisle of the beautiful little chapel at Iliff School of Theology with red banners (I think it was Pentecost)singing and swaying as we walked. Lovely!

I've always wanted to sing it in a UU congregation and might just get up the nerve one of these days!

19:54  
Blogger Ian said...

If you want a theistic healing there is one at Grace UCC in Framingham at 4:00 tomorrow. All are welcome.

20:54  
Blogger Matt said...

For those who find the word LORD tricky, could it be changed to GOD?

I don't have a problem with it personally - and kind of get concerned when we start changing the Bible to suit our own ideas.

But it was just a thought.

Even if we say, "This is the day we are given, let us rejoice..." we are still implying that something gave us the day.

03:32  
Blogger Berrysmom said...

At the risk of sounding totally wa-wa and new agey, I will say that I think there is power in the combined efforts of a loving circle of people doing some kind of imagery for a sick person to be, if not healed, at least made comfortable. I know that people have taken comfort from being at the center of a "healing" circle even if they aren't healed.

Ever since CPE, I've tried to be very careful about praying for the wrong thing. That is, I would never pray for someone to be made well when they have a chronic disease such as cancer. But I would pray for them to be free from pain, comfortable, and to feel and be fully aware of the love that surrounds them.

So I think you need to be careful, in planning and organizing a "healing" service, that you don't set people up with false hopes.

This begs the question of where God fits in. I do believe in God, but not the "his eye is on the sparrow" kind of God who takes away people's cancers and heals their wounds. Fortuntely, I'm also pretty optimistic about the kinds of successes that medical personnel can effect -- it's not all up to God, thank goodness.

Let us know what you come up with.

13:53  
Blogger fausto said...

My problem is linguistic and theological. There is such vibrancy in the Biblical psalm! To switch from the majesty of "This is the day the LORD hath made" to the passive voice of "this is the day we are given" just kills the poetry for me.

Me too. Frankly, I don't have a problem with "Lord" or any other traditional Biblical language. The Bible is what it is, and if we were more honest and rigorous with ourselves we would acknowledge that it has been just as central in shaping our own UU tradition as it has been to any other denomination. It's not our place or prerogative to revise it to be a better reflection of who we see ourselves to be today; it's our responsibility to come to terms with it as it is. Where it challenges our understanding, it is our responsibility to stretch our understanding. In doing so, we may not arrive at the same understanding as more orthodox denominations do, but we will nevertheless grow spiritually. If we merely ignore it or revise it, we remain spiritually stunted -- or perhaps the appropriate phrase would be "spiritually challenged".

So (moving on to the more specific point) reciting the Psalms as written or even holding a Lenten healing service in which Jesus' succor is extended to all who ask is just as authentically UU -- especially to our Universalist side -- as anything else you could do in worship. No need to be afraid of it. IMHO it's more authentic than, say, the flaming chalice or the water communion or the flower communion, all of which were invented entirely out of thin air within only the last two or three generations.

Anyone who has a problem with that, or with the word "Lord" or any other Biblical language, has a problem that is not really with Jesus or "Lord" or the Bible, but with themselves. It's the responsibility of the church, through worship and religious education and the life of the covenanted community, to help such people overcome their challenges -- not to burden the entire church with the same handicaps.

Does gratitude feel like the theological center of Unitarian Universalism to you? Would you like to see us work on that? Is gratitude at the center of your personal spiritual life or practice? Would you like it to be?

It is, or should be when I am properly centered, close to my own spiritual center, but it does not feel close to the center of UUism as a whole to me. Rather, the principle that feels closest to the center of UUism as a whole is self-justification and self-worship. It is the principle that allows, for example, a UU minister to presume the authority to rewrite a Psalm. I think you can trace it back to the influence of Emerson and his celebration of individualism and self-reliance, which we have overemphasized ever since. We need to return to an orientation where we are grateful for every blessing we receive rather than inherently worthy of them, and where we are called to test, discover and correct our own personal shortcomings against timeless ideals and standards. That was the central tendency of 19th-century Unitarianism before the dual assaults of Transcendentalism and Humanism, and it's an attitude that is worth trying to recover.

But if our clergy are too timid to lead us there, how will we get there?

08:04  
Blogger Matt said...

I totally agree with Fausto's comments - very well put!

04:31  

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