Context: Last Friday I tried to write a blog whilst having a treatment in hospital. However, this proved impossible, so in the evening I tried again, this time using a prayer I wrote a short while ago:
What you have done is put aside your old self with its past deeds and put on a new self, one that grows in knowledge as it is formed anew in the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:9-10; TIB).
God, transcending race and gender,
My Creator and Defender,
Teaching me with love so tender:
May I grow like you.
God, transcending creed and nation,
Worthy of all adoration,
My forgiveness and salvation:
Make me one with you.
God, transcending earth and heaven,
Heal the sin and fear which deaden
My poor heart, so I may leaven
All the world, like you.
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened (Matthew 13:33; NRSV).
Context: After my hospital trip to London I’m absolutely drained, so I’m particularly thankful for this short blog, which came to me a few days ago, whilst I was recovering from a migraine:
The Lord our God, the Lord is one (Mark 12:29; NIV).
One God, one Lord,
One Holy Ghost;
One faith, one hope,
One cup, one host;
One flesh, one mind,
One heart, one soul;
One life, one goal.
Let love be your highest goal! (1 Corinthians 14:1; NLT).
Godislove, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them (1 John 4:16; NLT).
There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called into one hope when you were called. There is one Savior, one faith, one baptism, one God and Creator of all, who is over all, who works through all and is within all (Ephesians 4:4-6; TIB).
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; KJV).
YHWH fashioned an earth creature out of the clay of the earth, and blew into its nostrils the breath of life. And the earth creature became a living being (Genesis 2:7; TIB).
God, the LORD, created the heavens and stretched them out. He created the earth and everything in it. He gives breath to everyone, life to everyone who walks the earth (Isaiah 42:5; NLT).
I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me (John 17:21-3; NLT).
Context: Yesterday, after the briefest of waking-up prayers, I wrote solidly from 6-8.30am. By then I had more or less completed “Golden light” (https://wp.me/p45bCr-bR3), which later became the day’s blog. It was time to get up, but I decided to take a moment to pray before going downstairs. However, I had barely begun to collect my thoughts when I was hit by a series of revelations.
By the time they came to an end, I was shaken, tearful, joyful, reeling and awed, because I had just been given a glimpse of God’s infinite love and omnipresence. I had made some notes, but have no idea whether I wrote them during, or just after, what happened.
The experience was like watching slow-motion ripples spreading out wider and wider after a single drop of water had fallen into a vast, motionless sea. What I saw is very difficult to express in words, but I will do my best to describe each ripple in turn.
1. All love comes from God I perceived that whenever I receive love, whether from a person or an animal, that love always comes from God, who is present within the one who is loving me.
2. God is in everything Next, I grasped that God’s loving presence is in all that exists on earth, including everything made by people, as well as by God.
3. God is in good and bad Then, I understood that God’s loving presence is not restricted to good people, creatures and things. Rather, divine love is equally present in difficult people, creatures, circumstances and events, including accidents, sickness, suffering, fear, grief and disaster – that is: all life and death.
4. God is in the cosmos After this, I realised that everything in the cosmos also contains God’s loving presence, including the planets, suns, stars, comets, galaxies and even the dust of space.
Comment Thus, I learned that divine love is present in everything, here and now, without exception. It has always been so, and always will be so, yet, like Jacob on his journey to Harran, I had not recognised this (see Genesis 28:16-17; NIV). As I write, I’m still shaking my head in wonderment at what I saw, yet there was more to come.
5. God is in all Following this, I glimpsed that God’s loving presence can also be found in ugliness, destruction, abuse, violence and sin, though this is very hard to put into words. However much human beings damage and despoil the divine image in people, creatures, objects and creation, God’s love is still present in all things. Seeing this helped me to understand a little more about how God is able to bring good out of bad (see Romans 8:28; NLT).
Furthermore, I saw that there are no exceptions to God’s loving omnipresence. This means that there is nothing I can…
See, hear, smell, taste, or touch;
Use, waste, neglect, ignore, break, or discard;
Feel, think, say, or do;
Judge, hate, or destroy,
…that isn’t filled to overflowing with God’s loving presence.
6. Living in heaven Lastly, I saw that when I consciously and fully recognise God’s constant, loving presence everywhere, and in all things, I live in God, which means living in heaven on earth. Similarly, after death, I will live in God, in heaven. Thus, I perceived that whether I live or die, oneness with God is the same.
God is present in all people, creatures, things, experiences and events, everywhere and forever, and God is love (1 John 4:16; NIV).
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever (Psalm 23:6; NLT).
There is one Lord …who is over all and in all and living through all (Ephesians 4:5-6; NLT).
Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8; NLT).
The LORD is like a father to his children.
(Psalm 103; 13; NLT).
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you. (Isaiah 66:13; NIV).
Holy Spirit, pray within me –
Like a father, safely guiding,
Like a mother, reconciling,
Like a teacher, gently chiding –
Now, and evermore.
Holy Spirit, pray within me –
Like a potter, smoothly moulding,
Like a mentor, wisely scolding,
Like a comforter, enfolding –
Now, and evermore.
Holy Spirit, pray within me –
Like a pastor, interceding,
Like a doctor, caring, healing,
Like a pilgrim, sighing, pleading –
Now, and evermore.
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
(Romans 8:26-7; NRSV).
Reflections on Biblical translation
I’m often struck by how powerfully Biblical translations influence the thinking, attitudes, beliefs and behaviour of their readers. The consequences of such effects can be positive or negative, both for the holder, and for those they relate to.
Below are four renderings of the quote which ends today’s blog. They illustrate how differently these verses can be translated in terms of the grammatically gendered pronouns used to refer to God’s Spirit. I have highlighted the relevant words for each quotation:
1. Neuter/masculine Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God (KJV).
2. Masculine In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God (NIV).
3. Feminine The Spirit, too, comes to help us in our weakness. For we don’t know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit expresses our plea with groanings too deep for words. And God, who knows everything in our hearts, knows perfectly well what the Spirit is saying, because her intercessions for God’s holy people are made according to the mind of God (TIV).
4. Inclusive The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (NRSV).
These four quotes illustrate significantly different ways of translating the original Greek text. All of them are justifiable, though the first three are incomplete. This is because the Greek word used for “Spirit” here is grammatically neuter, whilst its definite article (the) denotes feminine, masculine and neuter. Moreover, the reflexive pronoun translated as “Himself” in the second example, actually means he, she, it, they, them and same (Strong’s Greek).
The sheer breadth of meaning that needs to be compressed into a single pronoun here is stunning, and sadly the English language offers no easy way to express the extraordinary inclusivity of the Greek. The fourth quotation is the only one which manages this, by carefully using solely inclusive, non-gendered vocabulary.
I have great sympathy for translators faced with the challenge of trying to convey such complex meanings, especially as the decisions they make are also likely to be influenced by countless conscious and unconscious factors. Here I would include, for example, the conventions, attitudes and prejudices of their era regarding the ascribed roles and status of women and men. Each translator’s individual upbringing, education, training, experience and stage of faith development are also likely to play a part in the words they choose. So I don’t envy these brave souls, who carry a heavy burden of responsibility for how each reader understands, and responds to, every word they read in their chosen Biblical translation.
Acknowledgement All the grammatical information on which this discussion is based is taken from Strong’s Greek, which is publicly available, free of charge, via Blue Letter Bible, at: https://www.blueletterbible.org
Context: This prayer is an outpouring of joy, as I slowly come to feel God’s love. I have always felt essentially unlovable, so this is a very new experience for me. It’s taken me a long time to reach this stage of faith development, because I never felt loved as a child, nor did I love my parents. Excitingly, I have already begun moving into a new future, in which I am slowly learning to show love to myself.
Worship God (Revelation 22:9; KJV).
I worship you,
Elohim – My Lord.
I live in you, And you in me:
Adoring – And adored.
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O LORD, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things.
(1 Chronicles 29:11; NLT).
Long ago the LORD said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”
(Jeremiah 31:3; NLT).
Context: Despite a migraine, I was able to go to hospital for a stack of blood tests. Then my wonderful husband met me, and we went in the lift together: one floor up, and one floor down. This was truly the achievement of a lifetime for me, and I wept with joy afterwards.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Genesis 1:1-3; NLT).
Speaking and creating,
Comfort when my heart
Is breaking: You alone are God.
Yahweh, Never once forsaking,
Liberating: You alone are God.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden
to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15; NIV).
As we kill, pollute, exploit
We’re moving backwards
All the time –
Back to the very dawn
Of this ancient world.
If we don’t repent
And change our ways,
We’ll render your fertile planet
Barren, flooded, and dark,
As fast as we can.
With blind eyes, closed minds
And greedy hearts,
We’re blundering back
To the start of evolution.
Empty, extinct, formless and void –
This Earth will cease to exist.
All will be as it was
Before creation –
Before your Spirit
Brooded over the deep;
Before you spoke, Lord, Long before time began.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day (Genesis 1:1-5; KJV).