29 January 2015

"Joyn hands with me in this work"

And so, you, dear babes, that are little and weak in your own eyes, to you is this message sent ...
Once again I have the challenge and joy of immersing myself in words from over three and a half centuries ago, experiencing a call to discipleship from early Quakers that challenges me today.

Again the assignment I got from Friends House Moscow is to help check the Russian translation of a writer included in Hidden in Plain Sight: Quaker Women's Writings 1650-1700. As with my earlier assignment (Sarah Chevers and Katharine Evans on their three-year ordeal under the Inquisition on Malta), the translator faced at least a three-fold challenge: understanding the 17th-century English correctly, whatever the individual writer's idiosyncrasies might be; adding to that the specifics of Friends spirituality as it emerged in those early years; and producing a translation in accessible Russian that preserves the voice and historical overtones of the period.

This time the text I'm working on is by Sarah Jones and dates back to the first year of the anthology: "This is Lights appearance in the Truth to all the precious dear Lambs of the Life. Dark vanished, Light shines forth." It's a difficult text for contemporary native speakers of English, which gives me great respect for the draft translation I was given to edit. Here's one example abounding in unclear antecedents and enmeshed clauses, which was marked as unclear in the translation and which I had to unentangle for myself. See if you think my temporary draft (designed to aid the translator's work) is a correct interpretation:

Sarah Jones:
... For I can testifie, as I have received in the eternal council of the Lord, which lyes as a heavy weight upon my spirit to be discharged, That except the Creature sink down into that that manifest and revealed, and so be wrought into it natures, and so all things of Gods power and authority, ye else shall fall short of that price what that soul may attain to, which daily sinks down into it ...
My working paraphrase:
... For I can testify that unless you are ready to sink down into, and be shaped by, the things that reveal God's power and authority, you will not attain the stature of the soul that daily sinks down into the things of God. I received this testimony in the Lord's wisdom, and it lies as a heavy weight upon my spirit until I faithfully express it.
My paraphrase version 2, attempting to put it all in one sentence:
... For I can give you this testimony--a testimony given me in the Lord's wisdom that lies as a heavy weight upon my spirit until I faithfully express it: unless you are ready to sink down into, and be shaped by, the things that reveal God's power and authority, you will not attain the stature of the soul that daily sinks down into the things of God.
Questions: was it right for me to take out the word "Creature" from Sarah Jones's original, supposing that she was speaking to the reader ("ye else shall fall short...") and referring to a creaturely humility that is already implied by her message? Does "wrought" equal "shaped"? (Formed?) And does "discharge" equal "faithfully express"?

In the service of her overall lesson--to stick close to God and not get distracted by superficial appearances or sensations--she has an interesting interpetation of Jacob and Esau:
So cease thy mourning, thou weeping babe, that mourns in secret for manifestations from thy beloved, as thou hast had in dayes past; for I can testifie unto thee by experience, whosoever thou art in that state, that he is bringing thee nearer him, for that was but milk which he fed thee with whilst thou was weak, but he will feed thee with the Word from whence that milk proceedeth, if thou be willing and obedient to live at home with Jacob, which is daily to retire thy mind; though the gadding, hunting Esau persecutes thee for it, thou shalt receive the blessing in which all happiness and felicity doth consist for evermore. For as Esau went to hunt abroad, when the blessing was to be received at home, so I testifie unto thee from the Lord, whomsoever thou art, that art convinced that the Word is in thy heart, and yet goes a gadding and hunting after the manifestation that proceeds from the word in others vessels, I tell thee, in Gods eternal truth, whomsoever thou art, that thou maist receive them in a wrong ground, and that nature that is contrary to the Word of the Kingdome, may be alive in thee, and thou in it, in which thou canst not enter the Kingdome....
(But what would she say about Genesis 27:1-41?)

I have loved this exercise, because there is so much here that challenges my take-charge, problem-solving nature and stresses the lowliness of discipleship. She even cautions us not to be distracted by religious debates: "... and so, dear babes, reason not with flesh and blood, nor with the voice of the Serpent, for if you do, you will darken the council of God in your selves...." But we're also not to focus on our own weakness: "Look not at your own weakness, but look at him who is calling you in his eternal love, who will make the weak strong, and will pull down the mighty from their seat."

She claims personal knowledge of God's wisdom in counseling us this way, but she makes no claim that she's learned her lessons perfectly:
... not as though I my self have altogether attained to that degree of perfection; but this I can say in the fear and truth of the Lord, that I am one that presseth hard after it, and it is the desire of my soul, that others may joyn hands with me in this work....
That's my plea, too, that we can "joyn hands" with Sarah Jones and each other in this work, and together experience God-given strength to build a discipleship for today's challenges.

Here's a link to the full epistle by Sarah Jones. The full collection Hidden in Plain Sight: Quaker Women's Writings 1650-1700, edited by Mary Garman, Judith Applegate, Margaret Benefiel, and Dortha Meredith, was published in 1996 by Pendle Hill Publications and is available through them or through Amazon.

Craig Barnett provides an example of what joining in a dialogue on behalf of Sarah Jones's work might look like today: "My own understanding is that being a Quaker involves a respect for our collective discernment, but not necessarily a submission to it." Barnett invites us to comment.

The makers of the documentary Lord Save Us from Your Followers are about to release Undivided, "the unbelievable love story of a church and a public school."

Two thoughtful discussions on worship: "But contemporary worship brings people to Jesus! Right?" and "Christianity Cannot Survive the Decline in Worship." ("Though both my Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic friends can testify to my skepticism of any excess in worship, I do believe that the faithful should experience worship as something extraordinary and uplifting.") Thanks to Nancy McCormick for this second link.

"The Great Evangelical Break-Up," with autobiographical insights from Micah Bales.

Two contrasting commentaries on a film that I haven't viewed yet: Zvyagintsev's Leviathan faces a storm of criticism, but also approval from his local bishop

"Waiting" as a form of protest.

I love this song--this must be the third or fourth version I've put here....


Marshall Massey said...

Hi, Johan!

In the passage you quote from Sarah Jones, yes, “wrought” means shaped, or more properly in this case reshaped; “discharge” is being used in the sense of discharging a commission. I would suggest she is saying, “...unless the Creature sinks down into that [which is] manifested and revealed to it [i.e., the Light and Word of Christ], and so becomes reshaped into its nature [i.e., puts on its righteousness, as the Apostle would have said], and [does] similarly with all things of God’s power and authority [as it encounters them], you shall fall short of that prize....”

Good to see you doing this!

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you, Marshall. I've passed your comments on to the Friend in charge of editing.