New Old Language - Michelle Harvey, Diocese of Oregon

February 29, 2012
By: 
Episcopal Young Adult and Campus Ministries

In the beginning there was the Word…

“We have to be very smart with our words.  Be very cautious with the word empowerment.  Empowerment implies that that someone else has the power and will empower you who are powerless.  However, everyone has power as a child of creation. Also, do not say people are poor.  There are no poor people – people are living in conditions of impoverishment that are man-made creations of oppressive systems that can and must be changed … There is no such thing as poverty alleviation.  It must be poverty eradication.”  – Marta Benavides, speaking on “Rural Women in Central America: Defining What We Want”

I live in Portland, Oregon.  Walking around New York there are a few things that really strike me.  The first is that Oregon’s idea of “business casual” does not match that of the rest of the country, and that everyone here wears black.  The second is the incredible disconnect with nature – even the sky is hidden by concrete.  The third is the language.  Walking down the streets of NYC is like walking through an aural candy store. 

As a graduate social work student I’ve started focusing on the power of language and the way we use language to define and separate identities, paying special attention to the way in which words and the way that we use them aggravate oppression on micro and macro levels.  I am aware of language daily; I am bilingual and as part of my job I discuss with families the ways infants and toddlers communicate.

This week I have been encountering completely new language for God.  Yesterday morning I went to a phenomenal presentation on Women, Spirituality, and Transformative Leadership, led by Women of Spirit and Faith.  I was suddenly bathed in foreign language for experiencing the Divine – yet the language was one that caused something to bubble and respond in the depths of my soul.  As a woman of faith, I can point out the obvious discord in rehearsing “Our Father” and announcing that “Blessed is *he* who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Some have made such “bold” moves as changing “Father” to “Creator” and “he” to “the one,” and I learned that the reason the mere word alterations still fail to resonate within me is that the entire format of our western prayer is contextually and structurally masculine.  I have been stating over the course of the week that the way for a woman to succeed in our culture is to “be a man.”  Yesterday I learned that even the word “succeed” is not found in the language of the feminine; neither are the concepts of “achievement” and “power,” as such indicate a vertical power hierarchy oppositional to circular collaborative power.  Yesterday my soul heard a completely new old language of the feminine, and I felt the creation of life.

CONTACT:
The Rev. Shannon Kelly
Staff Officer for Young Adult and Campus Ministries

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