My nomination for the most lovely and amen-inspiring introduction to a book review ever goes to Glenn Pauuw for his review of Sarah Ruden’s The Face of Water: A Translator on Beauty and Meaning in the Bible
Just let this all sink in…
[quote]If we take seriously what the Bible says about itself (insofar as it talks about itself), then the Bible is a divine speech act—a collection of words meant to do things on God’s behalf, to effect change and inaugurate new realities. Yet God has chosen to do all this in and through regular people doing regular human things. Some angry prophet denounces the injustice he sees. A worried leader dictates some letters. Storytellers capture and hold audiences with their skillful narrations. A visionary somehow transcribes his fantastical dreams and nightmares into language, so others might catch a glimpse. Our words, God’s work.
For a long time now, human words have been more than bare symbols of basic meaning. Maybe that’s what they were when we first started using them. But we’ve learned how to shape those sounds and intonations in special ways to add depth and strength, crafting more powerful and moving expressions of things like pain and humor, beauty and pathos. With these new, more thoughtful combinations of the building blocks of language we created literary genres—unique ways of fashioning fresh structures for the delivery of more meaningful words. Thus we moved beyond flat and lifeless statements of facts to words that sing or mourn or drive home or surprise—words that do more than merely inform. We found ways to use these carriers of meaning to cross the empty spaces that arise between us. Rightly employed, words allow us to commune together in our yearning for that deeper understanding that just might enable transformation. Not merely to know, but to see and to feel and then to do.
It was not a happy moment, then, when modernity imposed a new form on the Bible, changing its songs and letters, stories and wisdom into a holy reference book with endless columns of numbered, neutered lists of propositions. Much of the literary power drained out of the Bible, its sacred words straight-jacketed into unnatural channels. This template changed what we thought the Bible was, and therefore what we thought we were supposed to do with it.
In the heated battles between left and right that followed, in which the Bible was either smugly attacked or desperately defended, a key casualty was often the wonder, power, and emotion of the words themselves. We lost touch with what they once did and could do again if only we would let them. In the smoke of our warfare, the more interesting and determinative human aspects of the sacred text were no longer seen. The Bible was either truth or fantasy. But where then is the creativity and flavor and liveliness of its language, embedded in ancient literary forms, doing great and mighty work?