Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Bible, The Bard and Beyond

The Bible and the Bard:  probably the most published works in the English language. No other writing has been published as long as these. I’ve been thinking about why they have such durability.

The Bible, certainly the King James version, and the works of the Bard (his plays and his sonnets) speak to us over the centuries, touching that unfathomable part of our consciousness that combines knowledge with beauty, expectation with insight. The meaning of the words, and the very words themselves, might challenge us today, but in their own time they were the language of the people who heard them. And of course, more people heard them than read them because illiteracy was far more common than literacy, sometimes even among kings and queens. That helps explain the original acclaim. But what about today?

We are caught up in a world that emphasizes speed, minimalist communication, cliches rather than thoughtful constructs. ‘Else why would irony be so much of what we trade with others in seeking to share knowledge or ideas or opinions? Why, if one can reduce a response or even a philosophy to a word or two (“duh,” for instance, or “yeah, right”) do we even consider using all of those big words for big ideas? I think that is not a difficult question to answer.

Granted, when King James underwrote the translation of the Bible in 1611, and Shakespeare (1564-1616) penned those still-gripping entertainments, the language used was the language of the people. The whole point of the biblical translation and the plays of Shakespeare was to share with as many people as possible the knowledge, the history, the philosophy of the people who wrote the words. But instead of rewriting Shakespeare for example, the words have been left to be themselves; published today as they were when the author wrote them. And although there have been attempts to modernize the Bard and the Bible, I don’t think they serve.

Serve what, you ask? Serve the purpose of lifting the reader or the hearer to a higher level.

Compare these:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.(Genesis - King James Bible)

First this: God created the Heaven and the Earth - all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. (Genesis - The Message Bible)

We all benefit from rising above the mundane, reaching beyond ourselves.

Beautiful words form the ladder that lifts us.

Monday, December 8, 2014


The longer I live, the more memories I accumulate. If you live long enough these days it seems you run the risk of losing memories. When you lose memories, I think, you lose life, or at least the life you have lived. If you lose your memories, what do you have left? Well, you have tomorrow. Just not for long.

There is a way to protect the life you have already lived. Keep a diary and write a journal. They are two separate records. A diary accounts for your time on a daily basis; records the things you have done. A journal, on the other hand, is a record of what affected you, how you responded, what life has given (or taken away).

I have never been much of a diarist or a journal keeper. It has only been in the last twenty or so years that I have been regular in putting on paper or in a computer file, the events of my days and the revelations that have come to me. I have always had a good working memory, combining images and narrative that complement one another. I can see a few frames from a film and know that I have seen it before. A photograph or art from a book cover will tell me if I have read the book itself. Still, I know that I do not remember everything. Writing it down, making a note, is one way of augmenting (complementing) remembered life.

Sunday I noted in the corner of my computer screen, was the 7th of December. I immediately saw a mental image of another Sunday, another December 7th, and paused to reflect a bit on that day. In those years our family life followed a rather rigid pattern. My father was a traveling salesman, gone on Monday, back on Friday. On Sunday afternoons, as with so many people, the family went for a “Sunday Drive.” The term Sunday Driver even then had come to mean one who meandered, usually slowly, with no preset destination, other than to return home at a reasonable time, and after seeing other neighborhoods or even villages that could be driven to and back in about two hours. Often there would be a stop for ice cream cones or soft drinks while the car was refueled and given a cursory check by the attendant. Then home in time to prepare dinner. At our house most Sundays there would be young men and women, college students from out of town, who gathered for an afternoon of conversation, games, music and home cooking. A few were always there when we left for the drive, more when we returned.

The Sunday that I recalled when I saw the date was a warm (for December), sunny day. I can still see it, see the house that sat up on a high piece of ground, a suburban brick bungalow with close neighbors all around. And young people standing outside in small groups, waiting (I now realize) for the family to return. I don’t remember what was said, because so much was said over the next few hours, but I know that is when I learned about Pearl Harbor. I was old enough to understand bombs and attacks and war, though only as abstract concepts. I didn’t know what the words meant beyond that. Few did, I think. The events of the next four years would teach us all, young and old, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, new words, new geography, and change us and the world forever. I could read and write by then, but it never occurred to me to write about my reactions or understanding or even my fears. I wish I had.

There are some things we should never forget.