Rev. Christina Whitehouse-Suggs
I've been attending a church conference and we started with worship yesterday morning with one of my favorite hymns, Be Thou My Vision. I memorized that hymn long ago but when I started wrestling with inclusive language in scripture & hymnody, I started struggling with this hymn because of the words in the traditional version of verse two, "Thou my great Father and I thy true son."
Now, before you jump down my throat with historical language and the fact that when ye writers of olde meant EVERYONE when they wrote about man/son - I know that. I was an English major for awhile before switching to American Sign Language (another story for another time). We also know that for a language to be alive, it will continue to grow and evolve and develop. Think about the fact that just 40 years ago, we didn't have "compact discs" or "cellular/mobile phones" or "electronic mail". Think about the fact that while we still use English (albeit our Americanized/bastardized version), it certainly isn't the same English that good ole' William Shakespeare used. I'm not writing this post in the King/Queen's English.
I also want to point out that I'm not some raging feminist who's advocating a linguistic shift to some ridiculous political correctness or to swing the pendulum to a female-dominant language. But in church tradition, masculine-dominant language has been used to oppress and subjugate women for centuries and I, for one, am tired of it. This is probably an overstatement but I believe that women have sustained the (institutional) church for the entirety of its existence and yet we continue to be among its least valued members.
If we hold to the belief that if God is neither male nor female and if we also believe scripture when it says that God created us in God's image, then we need to change the way we refer TO God and talk ABOUT God (just my humble opinion). And for those of us who have accepted this and have become more inclusive in our language about the Divine, it's a bit of a learning curve but we seem to manage it. But we always seem to struggle and bump into problems with our hymnody - partially because of meter & rhyme but also because we've memorized it and it seems more difficult to address somehow.
So, back to the conference - we stand up to sing Be Thou My Vision and I'm wondering if they'll just use the traditional lyrics or how they'll change them...and this is what they posted:
Be Thou my vision O Lord of my heart.
Not be all else to me save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought by day or by night
Waking or sleeping my treasure Thou art.
Be Thou my wisdom and Thou my true word
I ever with Thee and Thou with me Lord
Thou my redeemer my love Thou hast won
Thou in my dwelling and I with Thee one.
Riches I heed not nor vain empty praise
Thou mine inheritance now and always
Thou and Thou only first in my heart
Great God of heaven my treasure Thou art
Great God of heaven my victory won
Now I reach heaven’s joys O bright heaven’s sun
Heart of my own heart whatever be fall
Still be my vision O ruler of all.
Now, to be honest, I stumbled over the lyrics but I was so happy to see them - not only the more gender neutral/inclusive part but also the less imperialistic stuff (Great God instead of High King). I asked where they found these lyrics and was told these are from the Chalice Hymnal, hymn 595, words by Eleanor Hull. So thankful for writers like her who are willing to wrestle with the traditional text and stay true to the spirit of the hymn but include everyone today.
Christina Whitehouse-Suggs is the Associate Coordinator of CBF of South Carolina, and graduated with an M.Div. from Campbell University. This article originally appeared on Christina's blog, Thoughts From The Journey.