Part of the title for this Dose of the Good (and Not So Good) Words is pulled from a prayer found in the New Zealand Prayer Book: He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa, published by the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand Polynesia. The prayer juxtaposes paris of conditions (hungry/overfed, victims/oppressors, silenced/propagandists) followed by requests for benediction.
For the hungry and the overfed
May we have enough
The “and” between the juxtaposed conditions first appears simply to be the connection of opposed positions in which one suffers and the other does not. But the “and” can suggest that the conditions are not mutually exclusive. Someone who is overfed in one way might be hungry in another.
For the homeless and the cosseted
May our homes be simple, warm and welcoming.
The blessing asks us to re-evaluate the categories, to look closer and to cultivate a more nuanced understanding of what it means to be in either position. We are asked to see how both sides are harmed by the dichotomy. Someone who is homeless has no shelter, but someone who is cosseted is over-sheltered. The blessing ask for a balancing that helps not just the “poor” position but also the apparently “rich” one.
My favorite of the pairs is the one I used for my title, mainly because of the word “sleek.” Sleek slips out of the mouth but is brought up short by that “k” at the end. Sleek is the more reputable cousin of slick. Slick lives on the wrong side of the tracks. Sleek is moving on up to an apartment in the sky. Sleek brings up other images and words: vitality, shiny, oily, twisty, surface, finish, smooth. Sleek, depending on context, quickly shifts from positive to negative and back again.
The benediction for the troubled and the sleek is “May we live together as wounded healers.” This is a reminder that a sleek surface can hide deep wounds, and that that someone with easily seen troubles can be called upon to offer healing to others.
For the silenced and the propagandists
may we speak our own words in truth.
This prayer with its blessings that complicate made me think of Paolo Freire‘s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. “Human existance cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with which men and women transform the world” (Freire, p. 69). It might seem that bringing Freire’s work of “old school” revolutionary education together with a prayer out of the Anglican tradition, once part of the backbone of the British Empire, is destined for dissonance. Besides the difficulty of comparing a short prayer with a book, there are plenty of ways that the ideas and/or values of the two pieces do not mesh well, where they cannot be aligned. But there are a couple of places where ideas resonate.
“Dehumanization, which marks not only those whose humanity has been stolen, but also (though in a different way) those who have stolen it, is a distortion of the vocation of becoming more fully human” (Freire, p. 26). For Freire both sides of the oppressor-oppressed dichotomy are dehumanized by the system though the oppressed bear a much larger burden because of that dehumanization. The goal in freeing the oppressed is not to flip the system and make the former oppressor into the new oppressed, though Freire points out that how oppressors “feel” when they lose their power and privileges is not the same thing as actually being oppressed.
When I look at this world of wonder and woe, sometimes all I can see is the woe. We do so much harm to it and each other. But sometimes I am brought to wonder through the woe. While I do not agree with everything Freire writes, the ground of his vision is a revolution based in love that refuses to replicate the worst, as Audre Lorde put it, tools of the master.
For the victims and the oppressors
May we share power wisely.
Besides being enjoyable and helpful and beautiful in its own right, the benediction from the New Zealand Prayer Book reminded me of Paulo Freire’s work. Re-reading bits of Freire reminded me of my youthful enthusiasm for social change work. My enthusiasm is tempered by hard won wisdom about the difficulty of enacting change in the face of the real world limitations of both the power structures and of “radical” organizations. But it is good, now and again, to recommit to hope, to believe that a better world is possible, to put love- for saints and sinners, for friends and enemies- into action.
In this 2012 campaign season, when more hate than love is being slung and when it is so easy to see someone with an opposing viewpoint as less than, I need this reminder.
For the mourners and the mockers
May we laugh together.