Sunday, July 12, 2009

Language Matters

July 12, 2009
The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart. Romans 10:8

I have been thinking about a critique of one of my prayers in my chaplaincy group. After sharing my "verbatim" (a detailed account patient interaction including the dialogue and the prayer used) my colleague told me to consider thoughtfully (read: RE-consider) use of the word "servant" in my prayers - particularly with African-American patients or families. My colleague,
herself an African-American, gently reminded me of the recall to slavery that this language brings.

Honestly, I admitted, it never crossed my mind that the language of "servant" (so near to me - on my lips and in my heart) could be offensive. Several morning prayer canticles use the language of "servant," as in: 'Glorify the Lord, O priests and servants of the Lord...' from A Song of Creation. Or 'He has come to the help of his servant Israel' from The Song of Zechariah. Or 'My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord... for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant' from The Magnificat. Or 'Lord, you now have set your servant free' from The Song of Simeon.

Her comment stopped me short. And I have changed my prayers for "Your servant, O God..." to "Your sister, dear Jesus..." It's still awkward for me, so I keep practicing and becoming aware of how the term Servant or Sister changes how I think about God. I hope to remain aware of this subtle shift in language.

And, I believe that language matters.

What words are near to you, on your lips and in your heart, right now?

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