“Challenge Our Labor to Set People Free”

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Pictured here is Daisy Bates, “the only female organizer who spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.”  The commemoration this year has turned a lot of people’s attention to the ongoing work for justice, jobs, and freedom.  It also rightly reminded the world about the sermonic ending of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech that day, after Mahalia Jackson said, “Tell them about the dream, Martin, tell them about the dream.”

He did.  And we still listen to that preacher’s words.  And some of us are paying more attention to the women who’ve been written out of many accounts of that monumental day.

So if the work for justice is really going to continue, and if preachers and churches are going to be true allies in setting all people free, images and language for God has to continue to expand.  So I’m happy to share today another video resource for expanding our understanding and use of biblical images for the divine, “O Spirit of Power.”  Rev. Jann Aldredge-Clanton wrote the words and in this recording the Pullen Memorial Baptist Church Chancel Choir sings them to the tune composed by Rev. Larry Schultz.

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Jann describes the biblical inspiration for this hymn:

This hymn draws from the biblical affirmations that “God is love” (1 John 4:7) and that the “Spirit of power and of love” dwells in all of us (2 Timothy 1:4), casting out all fear. (1 John 4:18) Scripture gives a multiplicity of divine names and images to suggest the all-inclusiveness of this Spirit of love and power. But most worship services use exclusively male language and imagery for Deity. This exclusivity lays the foundation for male domination and female devaluation.

As feminist philosopher Mary Daly aptly said in another generation, “if God is male, then the male is God.

Including biblical female names and images of the Divine affirms the equal value of females and empowers everyone. Scripture often names and images the Spirit as female. The first chapter of Genesis describes the Spirit moving over the face of the waters to give birth to the universe. The Hebrew word translated “Spirit” (Ruach) is feminine. The word translated “moving” (rachaph) is used to compare God to a mother eagle in Deuteronomy 32:11; this is the only other place in Scripture where rachaph is used to describe divine action. Martin Luther describes a female Spirit giving birth to the universe, linking this image to that of Jesus as mother hen (Matthew 23:37).

Here are some lyrics:

O Spirit of Power, who dwells in us all,

inspire us each hour to follow your call.

Awaken our vision to all we can be,

and challenge our labor to set people free.

 

Though many your names, Love reigns over all;

with you we can claim our life-giving call.

Cast out all our fear so with you we can soar,

creating a world never dreamed of before.

 

For more inclusive hymns and resources for “changing church,” head over to Jann’s blog.

 

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.


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