Monday, February 23, 2015

Preparing for Easter

Living in a catholic country means that the year is marked by religious holidays. This does not necessarily mean that the meaning behind these holidays is celebrated, but it does mean that traditions are carried on, stores are closed and the year becomes cyclical. This last week, the holiday we know in the US as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday (the day before Lent begins) was celebrated. Here, "Fasching" generally involves dressing up in costumes, having parties and celebrations, and eating candy. There are also carnivals and parades in some cities.

The benefit to living in Austria, where days like Fasching are hard to miss, is that it reminds me of the church calendar and seasons of preparation. In the States, I would often allow Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent to go by without noticing, but here I cannot forget. So this year, this reminder led me to finally download a lenten devotional I had been wanting to read for years and to start daily readings.

I am a big fan of Walter Wangerin's Christmas devotional book "Preparing for Jesus", so I was excited to start reading his lenten book "Reliving the Passion: Meditations on the Suffering, Death, and the Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark". Walt has a way of communicating creatively and whimsically about the story of the bible and when I read his thoughts, I am often transported into the world of the characters themselves. He helps me understand how the disciples were really feeling at the time of Jesus death and resurrection. So far, his devotions have been a blessing to me.

I'd like to share a quote from Saturday's reading that really struck me:

The disciples approached the Resurrection from their bereavement. For them the death was first, and the death was all. Easter, then, was an explosion of Newness, a marvelous splitting of heaven indeed. But for us, who return backward into the past, the Resurrection comes first, and through it we view death which is, therefore, less consuming, less horrible, even less real. We miss the disciples' terrible, wonderful preparation.

This was a new perspective for me, to really think about what it would have been like to see the man the disciples followed and served as a disciple for three years be brutally murdered on the cross. And did they really know or understand what was to come? They may have hoped for resurrection, but didn't expect it. They were down in the depths of anguish when Jesus returned and their world was turned upside down.

May we, too, allow ourselves during this season of Lent to truly ponder Christ's death. He suffered and died for us and it was terrible. He went to hell for us. As we also celebrate his return, may we also not forget what came before.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

New Language, New Eyes

I have started trying to do more and more of my bible reading in German. Not all of it, mind you...English is still very much my heart language. But as I have gotten more and more comfortable in German, I have tried to do more reading in the language, as well.

One of the reasons for this comes from someone we know in Minnesota that taught ESL (English as a second language) to immigrant students in a local school system. She would see children in her class year after year that were newer in the community and language and watched them learn English throughout the course of the year*. One observation she gave was that the students that read at home were the ones that progressed much quicker than the ones that didn't.

Based on these experience,s I want to offer the following observations:

1. The bible uses specialized language to communicate key points. This is in no way a critical point, but more a point of fascination. Growing up the in church, I am used to the way the bible talks about things or biblical language. Because I have also had the privilege of studying one of the original languages as well (Greek), I recognize both the difficulty of rendering texts in ways that are true to the original and understandable to the reader. But often there is a collective translation history that we draw on and certain words are traditionally translated this way, even though they aren't in common usage.

I once heard a story that illustrates this point. A number of years ago, a missionary came to Austria and started learning German, while at the same time spent a good amount of time studying his bible to explore his newly acquired skills. He ran into issues, because he would learn all this vocabulary used in biblical texts, but they were old words that no one really used in every day speech.  He realized after a few funny looks and friendly comments that it would be best to separate out those old vocab words.

2. This can be a sign post to stop and take a closer look. As I am adventuring though the scriptures again, it is really fun to see how these new translations of such old words display the truths of scripture. I could get into long explanations of how this works, but that might get a bit boring. The central point of it all is, there are many times when I am forced to take a closer look at a text. Some texts that I would just gloss over, jump out at me with new passion and fervor as I read them in German.

Because reading in a second language requires more mental energy, I am forced to think deeply about what I am reading and put effort into understanding what I am reading. This is very helpful and rewarding.

3. Thought organization is key. Something that has been very apparent to me as I have learned German is that languages are not just different works pasted onto the same ideas. Languages organize thoughts in different ways. You can express things in one language that there just aren't words for in another. Or in order to express that single idea, other languages would need a paragraph that would just end up being an explanation of that usage.

This is a deeper level of language learning, but it is wonderful to see through new eyes, and learn to express ideas in new ways. Coming back to the scriptures, it is great to see how biblical ideas such as grace and justice are expressed in a different language.

Often I feel like I am just scratching the surface even after over two years in the language. There is so much to learn, but God has been gracious in allowing us to learn so much already.

*I must say here, anyone that has studied or taken classes in a language other than their native language has my undying respect! I can't imagine how challenging that must be, especially with out any real time to adjust to the language.