Language is powerful. Imagery sinks roots into our psyches. So let’s talk a moment about language and imagery.
I want to be an anti-racist. I am learning that I need to think carefully about my language and imagery. This week’s learning grew out of a clergy discussion of the language and imagery used in Advent worship. We have all heard about the light “pushing back the darkness.” We talk about doing all we can to get rid of the darkness and bring in the light.
Last week’s clergy discussion and my own friends have taught me that our Black brothers and sisters may hear this language as implying that dark and black are bad. Imagine the pain that would bring, thinking that the Bible is saying that, because you are Black, you are somehow “bad.” This reinforces the racism and white supremacy that have been imposed for hundreds of years. Oh, the damage we do.
But how do we change this language when much of it is right out of the Bible? It was exciting for me to learn that the original Greek (New Testament) and Hebrew (Old Testament) words used for light and dark were specifically referring to illumination from above, from the sky. They were not the words used for skin color. It is a problem of the English language that we use light and dark to refer both to illumination and skin color. So to me that means it makes great sense to find alternative English words that won’t have that problem, that won’t perpetuate racist ideas. There are lots of great alternatives we could use. Some are listed below and many more are in a blog by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings titled Dispute Worship Project. Check it out!
Alternative Words for Darkness:
Gloom, twilight, cloudiness, dimness, duskiness, murk, shade, shadows
Alternative Words for Light:
Candle, flash, glow, radiation, lamp, star, glimmer, luminosity, shine, daybreak.
Putting them together gives me one of my favorites, today’s blog title, a candle in the shadows.
Different language. Different imagery. Maybe less hurt.
We might also realize that Scripture does not always consider darkness as negative or white as positive. Sometimes Scripture recognizes the importance of both light and dark being held together. Ps. 139:12 “even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.”
Also, there are a number of Old Testament references to white skin being the result of a curse. White skin was frequently the result of leprosy or skin disease. Darkness can be interpreted as creative space, space in which new things are made. Darkness can represent the all-important mystery where we come face-to-face with ourselves and with God.
So one thing I can do on my journey to being an anti-racist is to find new language and new imagery. It is not a lot, but every little step counts. Maybe you can be a candle in someone’s shadows, a daybreak in someone’s gloom. May the star of Christ shine in and through each of you.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit,
be with you all.