Friday, February 11, 2011
The Invention of the Book
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Do we need more accessible language in baptism services?
Well, some in the Church of England seem to think so. Reuters is reporting that members of the Church’s General Synod, agreed that the Liturgical Commission should provide supplementary material to help prevent the eyes of worshippers “glazing over” during important parts of the service.”
The problem according to Tim Stafford, author of the motion, is that
“parts of the service were difficult to use “without seeming inappropriately schoolmaster-like”, he said. Stratford said he did not disagree with the words currently being used, such as “I turn to Christ, I repent of my sins, and I renounce evil.” “But it sounds to many as if the church wants an entirely religious response — removed from our behaviour, actions and conversations”. Instead, he wanted words that showed Christ’s neighbourly love. “Not inquisitorial, but aspirational.”
I thought renouncing evil and repenting of sin was a religious response that included our actions, behaviors and conversations. I would hope that one who goes through this process would, in-turn, show Christ’s neighborly love to others.
The problem seems to arise from the lack of biblical and theological literacy among those seeking entrance to the church.
Stratford said many people today did not have enough background in the Bible to understand the images used in the current baptism services. This was “not a plea for a prayer in Scouse, but for a prayer that the majority of non-theologically-versed Britons would understand.” He gave the following as an example of what he called “problematic sentences”:Through water you led the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.…..In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.
He suggested replacing that with a prayer that dropped the Biblical references but kept the meaning:Heavenly Father, bless this water,that whoever is washed in itmay be made one with Christin the fellowship of your Church,and be brought through every tribulationto share the risen life that is ours in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hmm, so let me see if I get this right. We have an entire population of biblically and illiterate people who want to have their children baptized into a faith of which the parents have little or no knowledge. Therefore, rather than working harder to educate them about the important symbolic connections between the Exodus, baptism and the resurrection, we will instead change the wording. It is not that I have any particular problems with the wording of the proposed prayer. But I am curious why we are letting the tail wag the dog? Perhaps the baptized will pick up some of this information along the way as they attend Sunday school and catechism classes as they prepare for confirmation. But I wonder how many who are baptized actually ever make it that far.
You can listen to the synod debate the motion here.
The Beauty of Books and Codex Sinaiticus
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Infertility and the Bible 4: Options Available to the Childless
As noted in the introduction, it is not always appreciated that the childless woman was in a situation of powerlessness to alter her circumstances. Medical treatments were few to non-existent and would require financial means. Thus compounding the feeling of powerlessness by the childless couple/woman would be the reality of limited resources especially for poorer individuals. Nonetheless, the importance of children to the family structure meant that there were a number of options of which the childless couples/women could avail themselves.
This week we will begin looking at the various options available to the childless woman/couple. We begin with prayer.
Appeal to the gods
Among the options available to the childless couple, the first, and probably least costly, would be an appeal to the gods. As mentioned above, several prayers are preserved from Mesopotamia which appeal to the gods to provide the petitioner with a child. In a prayer to Ishtar a woman says: “Grant me a name and descendants, let my womb be productive”. A Sumerian proverb reflects on the presumption of the deity’s necessary involvement when it says: “Marrying several wives is human, getting many children is divine”. This sense of dependence on the gods is emphasized in the Hittite Story of Appu who was a wealthy man, but had no children. He appeals to the Sun God to help and the story concludes with the god granting him children.
In Egypt domestic deities included Bes and Taweret who not only provided protection over the household, but were strongly connected to pregnancy, childbirth and newborn infants. Bes is often depicted unclothed with his genitals exposed while Taweret usually has a swollen, pregnant belly. Both were often depicted in temple scenes depicting a king’s birth. Amulets in the form of the two deities have been found in excavations and were probably worn by women during pregnancy. In addition to Bes and Taweret was the goddess Hathor who was also connected to fertility and childbirth and whose name is frequently included in prayers and hymns.
The Hebrew Bible also focuses on the need for God’s help in bearing children. Several times a narrator will relate that it was God who either opened or closed a womb (Gen 16:2; 20:18; 1 Sam 1:5). Prayer for fertility is recounted on at least two occasions in the Bible. In Genesis 25:21 we read that Rebekah was barren, but that her husband Isaac prayed for her and God opened her womb. Hannah asks for and receives a son from God in a prayer that includes a vow (1 Sam 1:10-20). Although no prayers for fertility are attributed to Leah and Rachel, the narrative implies that this was the case. Genesis 29:31 notes that since Leah was unloved God opened her womb, implying that, while not specifically identified as barren, she had not yet been able to have children and had perhaps asked for God’s help. When Rachel, who is identified as barren by the narrator, gives birth to her first child it is because God remembered and “listened to her” again implying prayers for fertility (Gen 30:22). In each case it is apparent that conception is considered a gift from God that must, at times, be sought after when it does not seem that God has blessed the woman/couple with children.
Next week we will look at medical and magical means used to cure infertility