A couple of days ago, a friend asked me to read a post written by Stant Litore (which you can read here): the crux of the article is that there are an incredible number of mistranslations in the Bible, one of which camel is actually supposed to reference a thick rope used by sailors. “Very probably, the rabbi Yeshua told his followers two thousand years ago that it is easier to thread a rope (like the big ropes used on fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee) through the eye of a sewing needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. But, in Aramaic – the language he was speaking and the language in which the source text for the synoptic gospels was probably written -‘camel’ and ‘rope’ are spelled the same: ‘gml’.
“And this leads me to reflect on the power of writing. As a writer, I’m a bit biased in thinking about how powerful written language is. But, when we look at a holy book that has been translated and mistranslated and construed and misconstrued over the course of 2000-2,500 years (or, if you want to look at something more recent, of less than 250 years of age, and within our own language without the added complexities of translation, consider the U.S. Constitution), it’s hard not to conclude that sometimes the treatment of a single word can shape entire cultures and political systems. That’s a humbling thought.” (Litore)
This comes into the context of vulnerability because the reality is that the scriptures that we as Christians take very seriously have, in fact, been translated over and over in such a way that it may be possible that the original meanings are in fact lost. Litore goes into detail in the article about how the meanings of words have been used to describe ‘homosexuals’ (and let me be frank, I do not like the word homosexual because it feels like a confine imposed by a colonial system…more on that later) are in fact words which describe men who engage in drinking, lounging around, basically rich loafs who like wine, and not so much about anything sexual. Yet, there we are. A couple of passages make it wrong, so it must be wrong.
Regardless of the direction, words are used by people every day in ways they were not intended. Venerable Fulton Sheen spoke about getting into a cab in New York city, the driver of said cab saying to him that he’d never been to school formally but that he had many people who rode in his cab who used words that he picked up on. He then engaged in a conversation with the bishop using a plethora of polysyllables, all out of context. As Bishop Sheen was exiting the car, the cabby told him that he loved hearing him speak. “You seem to have such animosity in your voice!”
A book which has not been opened is simply an object. It is potential. And that potential can become anything provided it is opened and read. Great example of this is how after Notre Dame de Paris caught fire, people posted images of the high altar and claimed it was a miracle that the interior survived. I’ve then seen images that show burned out McDonald’s restaurants with a Ronald McDonald sitting by the door, equating that Ronald McDonald must still be alive and real. Or my personal favorite, the fingers now pointing at the people donating millions of dollars to help restore the cathedral who could now instead be putting that money towards helping the poor. (I often wonder when I see those comments: how many who say those types of things have actually helped the poor, shook the dirty hands of the homeless, embraced those who suffer with mental illness, addiction?)
What no one has seemed to see is that, with the roof of the cathedral open to the sky, and the spire gone, we are seeing a view of the interior that was last seen probably 700 years ago. Daylight hitting the floor where the sacrificial altar stands. And it is a stunning view to see sunlight streaming down into the cathedral. It’s also stunning to think that masons, 700 years ago, constructed a roof that could withstand that fire.
While we as rational thinkers feel it important to pick a side, and to be on the right side, sometimes that thinking excludes us from being able to see the greater picture, or even the greater truth that may exist. I am perhaps odd in that I believe human beings are born with innate concepts hard wired in. I’ve heard it said by parents that children naturally know how to share, naturally know right from wrong. I knew beauty as a child, I knew God as a child, I knew my identity as a child. As I grew, words and ideas helped and hindered me in forming concepts about those ideas and identities until I was at a point where my concept of God has me eschewed to thinking that there was only right and only wrong and the only way to discern that was from words.
But if we are going to walk away from a colonial way of thinking, if we are going to truly walk as Christians, as Catholics, as Queer people, it’s necessary for us to step back, stop fighting about the melting point of gold that happens to be the content of a cross in an ancient cathedral that just burned, and realize that there is sunlight streaming in on the floor where there was no sunlight before–and maybe, just maybe–the reconstruction of a cathedral should allow for that light to continue to stream in.
When I read scripture, I do so knowing that there are different ways to read. I can read in panic, in fear, looking for inspiration and consolation, I can read in contemplation and quiet inner and outer. But I cannot read without remembering the commandment of Our Lord made this very night: “Love one another as I have loved you.” And that is challenging! That is difficult! That requires vulnerability; the vulnerability to recognize when we come across passages we do not understand, that may be in a context or a time we cannot recognize. It requires a faith which a lot of people are challenged to wrestle with–that I struggle with, namely, when I sit in silence and read the meaning will come from my soul, my heart, through the words.
There’s a conceptualization people make when they hear the phrase, “The Bible is divinely inspired.” Namely, the writers were inspired, and it ended there. Faith, the faith that requires (demands) vulnerability, teaches me that the message will still ring even if there are mistranslations, even if there are still glitches. It’s the truth we are all born with, the truth we all carry with us.
Yes, we are flawed, and there are principles of our beliefs that are flawed. We can continue to point them out, continue to exist in a colonial mode that says there has to be multiple sides with one being the best, or we can step outside of the box, and into the sunshine, and consider new ways of thinking that don’t throw out all the old ideas, or condemn all the new ideas, but find the commonalities in both that make all the ideas stronger.