Sunday, January 28, 2024

Thomas A Kempis - Imitation 1.1 in Modern English

Preface: Recently I have been looking for a modern translation of the Christian classic The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, originally written in Latin some 600ish years ago. Not being satisfied with the translations I've found so far, I peeked at a Latin version and discovered 1) My Latin (which is not as deep as I might like) is now also embarrassingly rusty, 2) Despite all that, the Latin original still reads better than the translations I've found. The original matches spiritual insight with a poetic quality. The Latin freely employs alliteration and rhyme to structure the text, pace the progression, and emphasize its points. And though it has been a long time since I've translated anything, I thought I might at least try the opening section. My hope is that this sketch captures more of the force and pace, recovering some aspects of the Latin text that tend to be lost in translation. I am also aiming for a more fully modern English, avoiding words that have fallen out of use (e.g. "vanity"), opting instead for words that an average person might use to make the same point. 

Book 1 Chapter 1, On the imitation of Christ and rejecting worldly trivialities

"He who follows me does not walk in darkness," says the Lord. These are the words of Christ, and they teach us how far we must imitate his life and character, if we seek true illumination, and to make our hearts fully free from blindness. So let us set our minds on the life of Jesus Christ as our meditation. 

His teaching surpasses all teaching of holy men, and those who have His Spirit find in it the hidden manna. But there are many who, though they frequently hear the Gospel, yet feel little desire for it, because they do not have the spirit of Christ. Whoever wants to understand the words of Christ fully and wisely, let him strive to conform his whole life to them. 

What does it gain you to enter into deep discussion about the Trinity, if you lack humility and so are displeasing to the Trinity? Truly, words that are lofty do not make a man holy and upright; it is a good life which makes a man dear to God. I would rather feel contrition than know its definition. If you knew the whole Bible and the sayings of all the philosophers, what does that gain you without love and grace? It's the most pointless of all pointless things. It is all pointless, except to love God, and to serve Him only. This is the highest wisdom, by contempt for worldliness, to tend to the heavenly kingdom. 

So it is pointless to seek after, and to trust in, riches that will vanish. It is pointless, too, to covet honors, and to self-promote. It is pointless to follow the flesh and be led by lust, doing things that ought to be punished. It is pointless to care so much for a long life and care so little if it is a good life. It is pointless to tend to the present life only, and not look ahead to the future. It is pointless to love that which quickly fades, and not hurry to where eternal joy remains. 

You know the saying, "The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing." So strive to detach your heart from the love of what you see, and attach it to what is not seen. Those who follow their own sensuality stain their conscience, and lose the grace of God. 

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Whatever is worthy of praise

I find myself overwhelmed lately by my workload, and drawing on St Paul's advice: "Whatever is worthy of praise, think on these things." You may already be familiar with Pentatonix. Their cover/remix of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is on the shortlist of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. To add a layer, here is a video of someone who had never heard of Pentatonix and didn't know he was in for a treat, hearing their rendition of Hallelujah for the first time. I enjoy watching his face change from respect for their competence (they start slow) to appreciation for their harmonies to sheer joy by the finale as they perform what may be the best rendition of the song that has been made. 

G.O.T Games first time hearing Pentatonix

These are some of those things that restore my soul. 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Thomas A Kempis and the walk with Christ

It has been years since I last read any Thomas A Kempis. Yesterday I found myself trying to remember or find a quote that (in my mind at least) was attributed to him. While trying to find the quote I was seeking (no luck there), I came across a good number of other of his edifying thoughts attributed to him. Here are the ten sayings I was readiest to hear: 

  1. "To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love."
  2. "Constantly choose rather to want less, than to have more."
  3. "Be thankful for the smallest blessing, and you will be worthy to receive greater."
  4. "When anger enters the mind, wisdom departs."
  5. "Do not anger yourself that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be."
  6. "If we live in peace ourselves, we in turn may bring peace to others. A peaceable man does more good than a learned one."
  7. "Confidence is the illusion born of accidental success."
  8. "He who loves with purity considers not the gift of the lover, but the love of the giver."
  9. "Judge yourself and beware of passing judgement on others. In judging others we expend our energy to no purpose; we are often mistaken and easily sin. But if we judge ourselves our labour is always to our profit."
  10. "He has great serenity of heart who cares neither for the praises nor the fault-finding of men. He will easily be satisfied and at peace, whose conscience is pure. You are not holier if you are praised, nor the more worthless if you are found fault with. What you are, that you are."

His best-known writing is Imitation of Christ, originally published in Latin in the early 1400's, and now celebrating (roughly) its 600th anniversary of publication. If he lived today, he might be a blogger. 

Sunday, January 07, 2024

A Prayer For Fellowship

It has been awhile since I posted a prayer. For a time, prayer was a semi-regular feature here. Before a group gathering, I found myself wanting to pray for fellowship. 

God our Father, you are a Lord who values love. You bless us with "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit". May your grace,  love, and fellowship fill us and bind us together. Thank you for gathering us together. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.