I sometimes feel challenged by the language of traditional High Holiday liturgy. Though I believe in an impersonal God, many of the images and metaphors that the prayers evoke are tangible and even anthropomorphic in nature.
To me, the most vivid and vexing metaphor for God is found in the "Avinu Malkeinu" prayer, whose title can be translated into English as "Our Father, Our King."
I do not conceive of God as a person and find the symbol of an autocrat to be problematic, rather than majestic. Yet the melody of the Avinu Malkeinu remains haunting, and the effect it has on me is powerful. I feel swept away by the words and the melodies and the feelings they evoke -- that is, until I stop to think about the meaning of the words themselves.
This year, rather than simply avoiding the subject, I raised the tension that I feel when reciting the Avinu Malkeinu with congregants. Doing so made me feel authentic in my prayers and transparent in my search for theological language:
Our Father, our King. In our moments of greatest personal uncertainty, we often seek ideas and images for our lives that are most concrete.
Our Father, our King. I do not believe in a God who is human, much less a male, much less a temporal ruler.
Our Father, our King. It is an image that strikes fear and inspires awe, and yet distances me from the prayer.
Our Father, our King. In spite of my doubts, in spite of my disbelief, I do feel small in the presence of my own misdeeds and the magnitude of the universe.
Our Father our King. Though you may be a very different kind of God, I still find myself prostrate before the magnificence of your creation.
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