On translation and the iconicity of language – this comment posted earlier today is worth more attention:
I’ve been enjoying thinking about your words on the subject of there being something revealing about the act and result of translation. It makes me think of weeping and other miraculous icons. The particular icon, written faithfully according to the canons, nevertheless is already a unique expression of the truth into which every occasion/expression of that icon is meant to draw us. It manifests something special about what or whom it is meant to reveal, drawing us ever deeper.
I do not mean to belabor the point – but it is very much worth asking – how does language carry its meaning if in translation we encounter the same content? If the “inspiration” of Scripture extends beyond the precise original manuscripts and words – then how do the words mean? And if the meaning is something that is manifest through the words and may be manifest through words in translation – then how should we hear and study Scripture?
It is precisely at this point of understanding that we may begin to see something of the role of the heart in the study of Scripture. I do not mean by heart the seat of emotions – but rather the deep seat of our very person – an understanding and knowing that is more intuitive than deductive – more perceptive than discursive – not busy or noisy but marked by stillness and quiet. Reason and emotion have their role to play in our lives – but they play their roles best when they have been integrated into the heart and there live in a more integrated manner.
Such a heart-reading of Scripture might well be aware of reason and emotion – but will listen to them and beyond them rather than be dominated by them.
I recall (profoundly) my first encounter with the Sermon on the Mount. I was probably 15 years old. There was a great deal of religious energy swirling about in my life at the time. My older brother was headed into the military (during the height of the Vietnam War). I had ceased going to Church but had begun to visit an Episcopal Church (my first introduction to liturgy, Church history and a strikingly different world of religious encounter). I picked up and read Matthew 5-7 having read a number of essays by Leo Tolstoy on the subject.
The nature of my encounter was something beyond the question of interpretation. I was not (at that point) reading in order to reach conclusions or decisions. I was simply reading (and listening). What I encountered was an icon of Christ (for I hardly know what else to call it). It was an encounter with an image of Christ that had a sense of completion – and a clear presentation of character. Far more apparent than the what of the text was the Who behind the text. It was not unlike the experience many have upon entering an Orthodox Church only to find Jesus (the Christos Pantokrator) looking down to them from the hovering image in the central dome. I saw Christ in that reading and knew Him in a manner I had not known before – and I loved Him.
The shape of my Christian life after that reading was not immediately clear – but that it would always be in relation to the One Whom I encountered was a settled thing.
Such a story has much within it that is idiosyncratic. It is part of my story. But it is also not unlike the stories of others – particularly if their encounter with Christ is an encounter with a person and not with an idea.
The same Christ whom I encountered as a teenager in the words of Matthew’s gospel, continues to make Himself known in the words of Scripture. I am often engaged in the serious study of Scripture – drawing comparisons – digging at words – but nothing serious is accomplished if that study is bereft of encounter.
The possibility of such an encounter is a revelation about the nature of language (and of the world as well) and of the possibilities that exist within a world which is iconic in character. God is not only everywhere present and filling all things but also everywhere and at all times making Himself known to us. It is revealing of the human heart and its dysfunctional state that we live in such a world and still fail to know Him.
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