Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ephrem the Syriac

Ephrem the Syriac was a saint in the remote eastern edge of the Roman Empire in the fourth-century. And yet, with modern translations, his words are often timeless. This morning in my Unitarian Universalist church, a tradition that was formed by American idealism and Enlightenment philosophy many centuries after the time of Ephrem, I lit our worship candle to these words of his from Hymns on Paradise:

Learn too from the fire
how the air's breath is all-nourishing;
if fire is confined
in a place without air,
its flame starts to flicker
as it gasps for breath.
Who has ever beheld
a mother give suck
with her whole being to everything?
Upon her hangs the whole universe,
while she depends on the One
who is that Power which nourishes all. (Brock, Paradise, 141)

Ephrem was in love with Christ but also in love with the myriad ways he could find to describe God. In the above passage, he cleverly compares a candle going out, to a mother suckling her child. The mother is both a simple metaphor of God taking care of us, but also she hints at Mary, at mother church and the air we need to breath. The Baby is us, but also Jesus and also 'everything' in our dependent universe and the flame. While Ephrem creates the jump from fire to mother, he is using feminine imagery in an unselfconscious way that describes our usually powerful, male, father God as a nursing mother. If we asked Ephrem about it, he would probably answer with the fourth-century equivalent of 'so what is the problem with that?' If we tried to do this ourselves, with our centuries of male tradition, it might look a little forced.

All we can do is say thanks Ephrem for showing us how it is done.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hard Writing Choices

My "Hard Choices" post was printed in the Oregonian as a letter to the editor.  I felt good about that.  But I also felt dissatisfied even as I sent it off. 

The piece is so glib and logical.  I am generally afraid, in the public sphere, to offend.  I DO believe in all working together.  I do believe that we don't make hard choices as a people.  We need to.  I don't see the point in being negative about groups of people and so I don't do that.  That particular set of beliefs pushes me toward a feel good, logical kind of essay.  I wonder if it has other effects on me--more than my writing style.

I failed to communicate my key insight that these choices cause pain.

There is pain in these choices that we shouldn't cover up with other emotions.

I am logical, and ironically, logic moves me toward the pain of these decisions. If you cut schools you have beautiful young people who are abused, ignored, tragically undeveloped.  They could become so much.  To me that is painful.

Really, I think it's the emotionally driven who trick themselves out of feeling it.  They can dive into another emotion that masks it.  Or, stop themselves in some personal pain that distracts them from their community's pain.  Or just not be logical about it and come to some other conclusion (teachers are the problem).