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For Love of Ink on Paper

June 13, 2013

I have been sitting, alternately staring into a generous cup of Dragonmoon (an elegant blend I highly recommend to those who enjoy tea) and at my laptop screen, trying to get a handle on my latest post.  The last couple have taken considerably more effort than usual, and I was reflecting on the process in an effort to understand my experience of something akin to writer’s block.  Part of my predicament I can attribute to my being somewhat of a perfectionist, but closer to the truth of the matter I recognize something larger.

My mind is a messy place.  I am a hoarder of ideas and no sooner do I begin to sort through the clutter in an attempt to bring order than I schlepp in some more.  As a consequence, when I sit down to write, sometimes it takes a long time to root through all the boxes and piles to find what I am looking for.  While hunting, I chance upon all kinds of interesting things that I elect to bring into the fold, and pull them out.  The trick then is to assemble everything into something that will make any sense at all to anyone but myself.  Sometimes I spend a long time trying to make a piece I believe belongs in the puzzle fit before resigning myself to the fact that it simply does not.  Moreover, as I am stumbling around I inevitably trip over my beloved quotation box, always kept close at hand, and rummage through it in search of pertinent material.

Somewhere along the line my love of language kicks in and I latch onto the “beautiful” words and phrases that come tumbling from every nook and cranny of my attic.  God has blessed me with a deep sense of the beauty and richness of His created world and I am passionately appreciative of the extraordinary capabilities of language to embody it.  I despair at what I see as the flattening of the language to be acceptable to a modern consciousness, the sinking toward the lowest common denominator that results in a plodding banality barely befitting an office memo, much less being capable of soaring to the ethereal heights of the sublime or carrying the freight of momentous ideas.  I hunger for words and phraseology that stretch the reader and seek not only to engage the mind but also to lay hold of the heart and the soul.

Sometimes I can navigate this process fairly efficiently, but other times I find myself sitting on the floor in the middle of the disorder, wrapped-up in the treasures I have unearthed during my search and adrift from my original purpose.  At that point I have to step back for a while.  Often a day or a week later I am able to clear the cerebral logjam and push on.  But if not, I file the whole project away in the “For Future Consideration” drawer.

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Soon after my arrival in the Okanagan, I made a trip to the public library in search of Brennan Manning’s book, The Furious Longing of God.  It was not in the local branch, but I was able to order it along with his final book, All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir.  I did, however, turn up a copy of Erwin McManus’ Soul Craving.  I had quite enjoyed his The Barbarian Way: Unleash the Untamed Faith Within a few years ago, so was interested in more of what he had to offer.   In my reading of this book, McManus was preaching to the choir, but I enjoyed every page, his ideas aligned to my own experience.

You were created with an insatiable thirst for truth. You will always crave it, even when you run from it. It is always God’s desire to move you toward truth. He created you with a drive and to pursue it.
From your first breath, you have been on a journey, and a significant part of it has been a search for meaning. Contrary to what you may have been told all your life, God is not offended by your questions, even questions about his existence.
He made you inquisitive and curious and has placed within you an unquenchable thirst for knowledge–not for information, but for meaning. We need to know.

Amen.

The library was very quick to get the Brennan Manning books I reserved, and I wasted no time in getting to them.  I subscribe to much of what Manning wrote, making it very difficult to choose favourite passages.  The following, however, from The Furious Longing of God, is rife with ideas that resonate with me.

The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.

His memoir All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir, is a forthright account of his lifelong struggles and his failures, talking about leaving the priesthood, his marriage, and later divorce, and the grace of a God who seems too good to be true that saw him through it all.

This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion.  It works without asking anything of us.  It’s not cheap.  It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility.   Grace is sufficient even when we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover.  He is enough.  Jesus is enough.

For over forty years Manning preached the same message:  God loves you as you are and not as you should be.  To me (and I know to many others) he was able to articulate God’s that message more clearly than anyone I have come across.  Again from his memoir:

Do you believe that the God of Jesus loves you beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity—that he loves you in the morning sun and in the evening rain—that he loves you when your intellect denies it, your emotions refuse it, your whole being rejects it. Do you believe that God loves without condition or reservation and loves you this moment as you are and not as you should be. 

Again walking through the stacks of the library, I was accosted by a copy of Rob Bell’s Love Wins.  I first encountered Bell through his Nooma series, in which he posed some very thought provoking questions.  Being somewhat isolated in Haiti, I had only caught a whiff of smoke from the firestorm his latest book ignited, and was anxious to see what all the excitement was about.  Although I do not agree with every idea Bell puts forward in Love Wins, I found nothing that, as he himself points out, hasn’t been said previously by some very respected theologians.  Personally, I think some of the questions he advances need to be asked.  Turning to the Internet to see what others were saying about the book, I was appalled, though not really surprised, by the shrill hate-filled vitriol posted by self-appointed Crusaders in the defense of the faith.  In my opinion those onslaughts reveal far more about his critics’ belief systems than Bell’s.  Like McManus, I believe God is big enough to handle all our questions, all our doubts, and all our mistaken ideas about Him.  I believe our uncertainties upset Him far, far less than they do some Christians.

As I was setting out to enjoy a few days at Echo Lake, an exquisite four-kilometer-long sliver of emerald green water nestled into the bosom of the Monashee Mountains’ Creighton Valley, a friend who is a prodigious reader rather purposefully proffered Adam Nicolson’s God’s Secretaries:  The Making of the King James Bible.

Nicolson points out that the Authorized Version or King James Bible was somewhat of a socio-political construct.  When upon the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, James I, a Scot, ascended to the English throne, he was faced with a country and a national church deeply divided.  The new king’s vision was of a fusion of church and state in which order outweighed freedom, an England where he was undisputedly the highest authority.  In an astute move to draw the anti-clericalist Puritans inextricably into his planto bring harmony to Jacobean England, and to preserve “the divine right of kings”, an idea repugnant to them, he pounced upon an offhand suggestion by one of their leaders and commissioned a new translation of the Bible, one he intended to straddle the fence between the antagonistic factions within England’s polarized church.   “It was an’irenicon’, a thing of peace, a means by which the division of the church, and of the country as a whole, could be. . . one unifying fabric founded on the divine authority of the king”.   James’ choices of the scholarly elite who would comprise the huge committee of Translators he assembled were clearly politically motived, and most of his appointees accepted “out of selfish ambition rather than pure motives”, seeing their participation as a step up the power ladder both at court and in the church.

The result was a Bible whose language is remarkable in beauty, but that no one ever actually spoke.  Although it is relatively easy to skew statistics, it has been suggested that the Translators lifted perhaps eighty-five percent of the words of King James Bible directly from Tyndale’s translation.  But wherever possible, the committee chose words for their ecclesiastical weight, rejecting those of Tyndale that suggested a Puritanical doctrinal bent—opting for priest rather than elder, church rather than congregation, do penance rather than repent, charity rather than love.  James had made it clear that he would not tolerate any “seditious” tone, anything that questioned the supremacy of the crown over the church.  This was to be very much a king’s Bible.

Although it is impossible not to admire the King James Bible or to deny its success, I find it very telling that although it was to be the only Bible authorized to be read in English churches after 1611 (though no official document authorizing it has ever been found), none of the Translators came to use the it as their pulpit Bible.  It never gained much acceptance at all until after the English Civil War ended in 1651.  In fact early sales were so poor that the project bankrupted Robert Barker, the King’s Printer, who was contracted to produce it.  The principal reasons it ultimately became popular were political and economic:  the printing and importation of the then predominant Geneva Bible were outlawed, leaving the King James Bible with no real competition.

Nicolson’s book is scholarly without being abstruse, never boring.  I was swept along by his enthusiasm.  He is a historian, not a theologian, and his attraction to his subject matter is clearly his love of its “majestic” Jacobean language and imagery.  For him, the KJB is “England’s equivalent of the great baroque cathedral it never built.”

A few days after turning the last page, I viewed When God Spoke English, the BBC documentary based on the book with its author as narrator.  In it Nicolson gushes even more praise onto the King James Bible than he does in his book, clearly conveying his personal opinion that this translation is by far superior to all others.  He never makes even the slightest allusion to any criticism of his darling.

But I have no desire at the moment to wade into the Bible translation debate, believing that, as I saw it phrased somewhere, those involved have made mountains out of molehills and then built fortresses on those mountains.

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My original vision of this post was for it to encompass a broader range of ideas.  But the inordinate amount of difficulty I was experiencing getting all to flow together led me to the realization that some of those ideas were not yet fully developed in my mind.  So I have decided to end here, letting a great deal of material drop to the cutting room floor.  I will sweep it up and file it in the aforementioned “For Future Consideration” drawer, and hopefully very soon will be able to splice it together into a post I can put “in the can”.

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