Today I was at the Ignatius House Retreat Center in Atlanta, just long enough to meet with my spiritual director and talk to a few folks about an upcoming retreat — and who should I run into but Carmen Acevedo Butcher, who’s in Georgia visiting family!
For those of you who do not know, Carmen is a gifted translator who has published several wonderful contemporary English renditions of the writings of the mystics. Her Hildegard of Bingen, Doctor of the Church: A Spiritual Reader is one of my favorite anthologies of writings by St. Hildegard, and the Acevedo Butcher translation of The Cloud of Unknowing with the Book of Privy Counsel is a modern-day classic — and by far my personal favorite translation of The Cloud.
More recently, Carmen turned her considerable talents to Brother Lawrence. Her rendition of his mystical masterpiece, Practice of the Presence: A Revolutionary Translation, brings her trademark warmth and accessible scholarship to the words of the great Carmelite friar. But she also took a bold step in this translation that I hope we’ll see more of: she gave God the pronouns they/them/their — in other words, the “singular they.”
As someone who has long recognized and celebrated the truth that God transcends the limitations of the human gender binary, I found this way of referring to God to be both refreshing — even though at first, the novelty of it was a bit challenging (old habits die hard). But just as I grew comfortable using the singular they with my friends who identify as nonbinary, I soon came to see the beauty of acknowledging God as not just he or she but also as the inclusive they. Reflecting on how something as simple as the pronouns we choose can have significant theological — and social — consequences, I wrote an essay about my experience reading Acevedo Butcher’s translation of Brother Lawrence. The essay, called “God’s Pronouns,” will be featured in an anthology of new contemplative writing that is coming out this fall, called Soul Food: Nourishing Essays on Contemplative Living and Leadership.
I should also mention that I do a bit of soul-searching in my essay about my own gender identity and experience; I’ll write more about that in a future blog post.
Anyway, what a joy it was to run into Carmen Acevedo Butcher today! We’ve had plenty of dealings on Zoom over the years, but this is the first time we’ve seen each other in person since she moved from Georgia to California over a decade ago — when my hair was both shorter and darker!