Worship in a Woman’s Voice

Still thinking about V is for Venite . . .

shin_dot

The events of V is for Venite included a significant element of worship — intentionally. The LPTS community, and wider community of faith of which it is a part, is a worshipping community. Worship within the community of faith is a central practice, one in which, in the course of honoring God — at least, so we hope, given that our narrow understandings of God and the words and ideas we bring into worship also always run the risk of dishonoring God — we bring before God our deep concerns, wounds, trials, failures, regrets, our fears and hopes, doubts and faith, frustrations and joys, our anger, love, need and desire, not least our desire for and delight in God, Godself. A week designed to focus this community’s attention on the problem of violence against women, and the need to mobilize theological and ecclesial resources to end it, had worship as a central element from the very beginning.

Worship on Wednesday, February 11, gave us the privilege of listening to the senior sermon of Clemette Haskins, in the context of a worship service that addressed the intersection of gender and race particularly, and that brought the words of the scriptural tradition to bear in reflecting on the role of women’s embodiment, erotic power and agency. Haskins’ text was Song of Songs 1:2-6, a text that provides an occasion for hearing “the Word of God” in the accents of a passionate woman, a woman “black and beautiful,” a woman who has been assigned the role of a spokes-model for The People or The Church by generations of commentators, a woman whose role as a prophet with the word of the Holy One in her mouth and on her lips and tongue has not been taken sufficiently seriously.

The need to take seriously and pay attention to the fluidity of the frankly erotic images of the Song of Songs, to the way the frankly gendered images of the Song alternate and respond to one another, merge into one another, and upset attempts to make them conform to rigidly allegorical one-to-one correspondences was one arresting message from this worship. The same is true for the imagery of color and race, as was underscored by the prayer composed for the occasion by Courtney J. Hoekstra, riffing on themes in Psalm 139 to overturn conventional uses of light and dark, white and black and bring the images of brightness – warmth – creativity – divinity – knowledge – God – blackness into alignment in the center of prayer for illumination. This honoring of God in prayer, praise, and proclamation reminded us that our categories contain more possibilities and promises than we normally explore, that we limit our understanding when we try to impose a single standard of perfection, aesthetic or otherwise, on the wealth of the riches and wisdom in the reality created by God.

And this was aesthetically rich worship, incorporating music led by Angela Smith-Peeples and Jeremy Franklin on piano, and also original art and its interpretation by the Preacher.

Cultural tradition, with its complex legacy of patriarchy, racism, colonialism, has made the image of a beautiful, passionate, erotic, assured woman, a black woman, a powerful woman, into an ambiguous one, and one we often don’t immediately associate with “God.” Our diffidence here is not supported by the text. It’s not The Book, but our imaginations and their limits, schooled as they have been by rigid racial and gender systems, that make “woman” and “black” predicates in which we all too often don’t envisage the image of God.

And it’s those limited imaginations that can make us dare, in our short-sightedness, to violate that image in the persons of those we too often fail to see as embodying the spirit and the power of the living God.

This rich and enriching worship service worked to liberate narrow imaginations from those limits. We are thankful to Clemette Haskins, Courtney Hoekstra, and others for making it part of the events of V is for Venite.

[site for the image: Wikimedia Commons – shin-dot]

[Please note: this entry was edited 3/11/09 to remove the beautiful image by Anna Ruth Henriques, “Song of Songs Verse III”, which we regrettably included here without the permission of the artist, or the owner of the work, the Art Museum of the Americas. We encourage Wimminwise readers to visit the Museum’s online exhibit, “New Possessions”, to view that work.]

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