Thursday, March 02, 2006

Reflections at the beginning of Lent

Lent has begun. Last night Reconciler joined our host church Immanuel Lutheran Church and St. Elias Christian Church for an Ash Wednesday Service. St. Elias is an Arabic ELCA congregation, so parts of the service were in both English and Arabic. Also, the choir sung at the beginning of the service a Kyrie from Pakistan. Our church's participation in the service was small, Tripp Hudgins one of my co-pastors read scriptures.

In a time where it seems everyone wants to re-create Christianity anew in everytime and every place, I was struck that there in fact was a Pakistani Kyrie (in part because I had dreamt several weeks ago about Pakistanis coming to Reconciler). It seems then that at some point Christians brought the Gospel to Pakistan (I am ignorant of this history, so this is not a factual reflection) and most likely brought with them a service of worship that included the Kyrie and translated it. Apparently those Christians who first brought the Gospel to Pakistan did not feel the need to have Pakistani's reinvent Christianity with a Pakistani interpretation of Gospel and worship. Apparently it was enough to translate the Church into Pakistan, not re-create the church in Pakistan.

This may seem to be a splitting hairs distinction but in our American context of concern for relevance and the constantly assertion that "the Gospel must be incarnated in every culture" it seems to me to be a significant difference. Translation assumes two things one that there is a source that cannot be reinvented and two that this source can find a home in contexts foreign to the source. Re-invention believes that there is no source only the event that must be repeated in every place and time. It seems to me translation is the logic of Christianity- the incarnation and the birth and founding of the church happened once. The salvific event has happened once and there is no need for the repetition of the founding salvific event. Rather what is required by this logic is that this event being universal in scope must be translated from its origin to other contexts. The Gospel and the Church are in a sense transplanted or to use more biblical imagery, those who were not part of the source must be grafted in.

The beauty of translation was exemplified as portions of the service were in both English and Arabic and when a Taize piece was used and we were invited to sing in one of three languages of the song. The Gospel was read in Arabic and English, and the blessing was given in Arabic and English, all of this in Translation, of the Greek, which in terms of the actual words of Jesus was already in Translation. One of the songs after communion was a Taize piece in three languages, a song already in translation. I sung the French as those around me mostly sung in English. I have not sung a hymn in French for about 28 years. The last time I sung a hymn in French was just before My family left France after we had lived there for two years just before I was 10. Singing the song in French was at points difficult because although the meaning of the song is the same in all three translations and of course singing the same tune French was saying the same thing but differently. To sing the same thing but differently took concentration and discipline but also awareness of the differences. To sing the French I had to be aware of the difference in English, I had also to keep in mind that it was the same song the same words in a sense, the same meaning. I couldn't slip back into the monolingual memory of my second language and second culture, but lived in that twighlight existence of a diverse singularity.

Diverse singularity is the mystery of the Trinity and thus of the Church. It is what we are in fact seeking at Reconciler it is the gift that Immanuel and St Elias gave us in graciously welcoming us into this Ash Wednesday service. Diverse singularity is what all forms of multiculturalism, and theologies and ideologies of relevance wish to assert but fail because they have failed to recognize there is for the Church one source one origin and we always find it in translation and this diverse singularity.

Diverse singularity also demands that as I speak in a particular idiom I speak it dependent on what I received from an other idiom that was itself the translation of the Church and the Gospel. If we are in fact members of the church, the Body of Christ, it is only in continuity with the source: the incarnation of the Logos of God, and the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost in Jerusalem, 50 days after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Neither of those events can be repeated but they are always and necessarily translated reflecting that diverse singularity of our triune God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.