O Praise Her! Hallelujah!

I am deeply conflicted about worship.

As a child, though, I loved going to church, my favorite, of course, included the Sunday evening potluck where staples included homemade casseroles, pies, and cakes, followed by an old-fashioned hymn-sing. While most of my friends didn’t show up until youth group, the hour following the United Methodist Sunday evening service, I opted for all of it, eager to interact with the holy elders: Ruth and Jay Andrews, my Aunt Merle, Oral and Mildred Esplund, among others.

We’d sing all of the verses (and there must have been about 15) to “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder,” played often like a funeral march, but still, I soaked it in. The small black cover of the spiral-bound song books, I can still picture in my mind, even as I recall many of the melodies and words of the early Gaither praise tunes, forerunners of what is now the prevalent option in most churches.

But over time and more than a wee-bit of study (academic and in the context of local churches) my understandings of self, God, the world, humanity, religions of the world, and a host of other things have shifted considerably. I suppose for some, this means I am on the slippery slope leading to all places profane, but for me, I think I am learning to embrace Mystery, to be challenged by the journey, to be changed in surprising ways. No longer, for example, am I willing to concede my time and energy to church gatherings just because I’m supposed to think they are necessary or important or because that is just the way things are.

The most significant change, I suppose, stems from my conviction that our images of God construct more than anything else our conceptions of ourselves. When we hear of God as a male figure, when we use only male terms for God, when we celebrate so-called masculine characteristics of God, we reinforce the idea that men are closer to God, that men are rightfully called to leadership more than women; that men are better-suited to define who God is and how God acts.

As a young person in the church I had no idea how much of a masculine preference I absorbed simply by being in church so much of the time. But now that I know, you see, this knowledge must change how and where I worship.

So, these days I opt most Sundays to dart out of church after Sunday School rather than stay around for liturgy, singing, and sermons written largely by men, led by men, and seemingly, in many cases, for men: feminine images and anecdotes absent, and more to the point, an overwhelming masculine preference dominates in leaders, in worship planning and structure, in visual hierarchy, and in assumption that we must continue to do things as we always have including the way we pray the Lord’s prayer.

And yet, when I hear the tune of a familiar hymn, I feel “at home” with the music while very much out of step when I remember the words. While some of the hymns have lyrics I can whole-heartedly sing, most of them do not. To attune my mind to words and ideas that exclude me, that fail to give voice to the inclusiveness of God’s love, to the celebration of nature and the joy of living, would be to proclaim a lie. I simply cannot participate in that lie any longer.

The good news is that there are several people today writing new liturgy, creating new lyrics, helping us build better tools for worship. One of these skilled practitioners is Rev. Jann Aldredge-Clanton. She recently created a YouTube version of a hymn celebrating the divine feminine Ruah (which is the Hebrew word for Spirit).

As I listen to this beautiful rendition of an old favorite, I think about the possibilities for children growing up in the church today, in places of worship where feminine images of God are celebrated alongside masculine ones, where divine care and nurture call us to work with God to continue the mysterious process of creation. I think, too, of what it might be like to be seen in the divine image, to be truly reflective and not Other.

Thank you, Rev. Aldredge-Clanton, for your dedicated work that one day will remake the church into the just community it has the potential to become.

Praise Ruah,* Spirit who gives birth
to worlds unknown and life on earth.
O praise Her! Hallelujah!
Stars dancing mystery through the night
show forth her joy and endless light.
Praise Ruah! Hallelujah!
Praise the great Creative Spirit!
Come and praise Her!

Day dawns at sound of Ruah’s voice;
wake all creation to rejoice:
O praise Her! Hallelujah!
Sun gleams like diamonds on the dew;
birds join to sing the hymn anew:
Praise Ruah! Hallelujah!
Praise the great Creative Spirit!
Come and praise Her!

Tall trees in red and golden dress
and ripened fruits their Maker bless:
O praise Her! Hallelujah!
Come now and gather harvest home;
all beings feel a deep shalom.
Praise Ruah! Hallelujah!
Praise the great Creative Spirit!
Come and praise Her!

Cold winds and drifts of icy snow
part us from all that we would know.
O praise Her! Hallelujah!
Each soul awaits in slumber deep
Her warming love to wake from sleep.
Praise Ruah! Hallelujah!
Praise the great Creative Spirit!
Come and praise Her!

Fresh tulips lift their crimson cups;
hope newborn in the heart leaps up;
O praise Her! Hallelujah!
Wildflowers rising into view
clothe fertile fields in rainbow hue;
Praise Ruah! Hallelujah!
Praise the great Creative Spirit!
Come and praise Her!

*Hebrew word for “Spirit”
Words © Jann Aldredge-Clanton; Stanza 4, Karen Ivy; Music Arrangement © Larry E. Schultz; fromInclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians (Eakin Press, 2006)
Recording © Jann Aldredge-Clanton & Larry E. Schultz; from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians CD(Eakin Press, 2007)
Music: Chancel Choir of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina (http://www.pullen.org/). Conductor Rev. Larry E. Schultz