An adequate grasp of the Scriptures requires two levels of understanding: First a preliminary unraveling of the meaning of the texts themselves… which is mainly a matter of knowledge acquired by study; then a deeper level, a living insight which grows out of personal involvement and relatedness… ” For Merton, the task of acquiring information is simply the ‘front porch’ of spiritual reading. (Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast, p. 21)
Came across a rather simple yet fantastic example of these two levels of Biblical understanding and how they can work together to enrich us more fully and deeply.
At a “Soul Rest” Conference a year and a half ago, Rev. Junius Dotson introduced those of us in attendance to the work of Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz. (Very sad, by the way, that we lost Junius to cancer a month ago–at the too young age of 55.) Klotz is a world-renowned scholar in religious studies, spirituality, and psychology. Living in Edinburgh, Scotland, he directs the Edinburgh Institute for Advanced Learning and for many years was co-chair of the Mysticism Group of the American Academy of Religion. An Aramaic scholar, he has become a foremost expert at uncovering the rich layers of meaning found in Jesus’s native wisdom sayings.
Case in point: deeper meanings of Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-29.
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (NIV)
Satisfying as this standard translation can be, note the richness that comes to the surface on the other side of Klotz’s unraveling the Aramaic underlying the Greek (of our New Testament):
Come to me,
All of you, all of yourself,
In your frenzied weariness,
Your movement without end,
Your action without purpose,
Not caring in your fatigue
Whether you live or die.
Come enmeshed by what you carry,
The cargo taken on by your soul,
The burdens you thought you desired,
Which have constantly swollen
And now exhaust you.
Come like lovers to your first tryst:
I will give you peace and
Renewal after constant stress:
Your pendulum can pause
Between here and there,
Between being and not-being
(Blessings of the Cosmos, p. 45 f.)
Yes, Klotz moves well beyond the confines of the initial Greek translation.
But, he does so with a regard for and an appreciation of the text itself.
He stands so sufficiently and solidly on the front porch
(with text and his understanding of linguistics in hand and heart),
that his ensuing dance—as he crosses the threshold—
is not only acceptable but totally engaging and refreshing!