- Kathleen Henderson Staudt
- I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Hearing the Words of the Greek New Testament
Also on episcopal cafe
Call me a nerd if you like, but this past August, my end-of-summer treat to myself was to sit in on the three week intensive course in New Testament Greek that the seminary offers to incoming students. Students required to take a Biblical language expressed some surprise that someone would choose this, but people who know me and my love of language and languages predicted: “You’ll get hooked.” And they were right.
Even now, with my time more limited by the regular semester, I am trying to show up once a week for the continuation of the introductory course. It’s an exercise in humility; my brain is getting pretty full-up with verb forms and noun endings and vocabulary, and I’ve got a generous colleague and student TA reading my often muddled papers and quizzes. But I’m also finding that it’s a return to “vacation mode” for me when I can spend a couple of hours drilling on my flashcards, and solving the intriguing word-puzzles posed by the Greek-English translation exercises, and the “aha” moments that come with translating passages from the Septuagint and the Greek New Testament.
The reward, for me, comes in moments of exquisite clarity, when a passage from Scripture, familiar in English, suddenly makes sense to me in its own language. It began with learning to read and pronounce the alphabet. Words which previously looked like hen scratches on the page began to sound, and sing. Our teacher wisely provided us with the Greek of the first chapter of John, mixed in with the course materials, not assigned, but just there for our perusal.. Within the first week, I found I could transcribe and read: “En arche eyn ho logos” I puzzled it out: ”En Arche” “En" for “In” “arche” like “archeologist. In the beginning. Then a little word – likely to be a form of “to be” and a word I recognized: “Logos” - Word – and there it was – with the sudden immediacy of poetry: “In the beginning was the Word”.
Naturally, I looked further down the page, wondering what John 1:14 would look like in Greek. I could just sound out: : “Kai ho logos sarx egeneto” (And the word was made flesh) “Sarx” – like sarcophagus. Flesh, mortality. I remembered Bible studies where someone told us that there are 2 words for “body” in Greek – “sarx” and “soma” – and this is the one that is the gritty, fleshly, mortal one: even the sound conveys it: “sarx” – the sound sharp and guttural next to the smoothness of “logos”. There it was: the poetry emerging from what was once looked to me like secret code: now the words were singing.
“It’s like being there,” a friend remarked to me, telling of her experience gaining fluency in Biblical languages and reading the texts. I doubt I’ll ever reach her level of fluency but I’m learning enough now to receive in a new way the poetry of the New Testament – in the language it was written in – and so in the word themselves, now new gifts to me.
All this has me reflecting further – in ways for which I there are no words – about a reality that we meet, by God’s grace, within our humanity. Reading Scripture, I am receiving in words the revelation of a God who has chosen to come to us in ways that meet our humanity--our language--our bodies. En arche eyn ho logos. . . Kai ho logos sarx egeneto. It gives me the shivers. It’s like being there