Monday, October 21, 2013

Translating Presence

Someone asked me recently how I found time to write. I told them that it is how I pray. Most people spend their time of daily devotions in prayer and reading. They read scripture. They read devotional publications, like The Secret Place or The Upper Room. They read spiritual books. I write.

That doesn't mean I don’t also read. I am always in the middle of four or five books. It is not unusual for me sometimes to be reading ten books at the same time. I used to have piles of books piled around my reading chair in various stages of literary consumption. Nowadays my Kindle reader makes the space around my chair much less cluttered. My wife is grateful.

Over the years I have often returned to one of my favorite spiritual books: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. I have read this small volume dozens of times. Lawrence was a French monk who lived in the seventeenth century. He wrote a book which I consider to be one of the greatest spiritual classics of all time.

But he wrote it a long time ago. English translations of the book have not kept up with the changes in language. Most commonly his work is found in an anonymous translation of the nineteen century. It is not easy to understand.

Therefore for the last few months, during my time of morning devotions, I have been rendering this great work into modern English. I have now published it under the title The Practice of the Presence of God in Modern English.

I was not able to translate it from the French. Therefore it does not pretend to be a scholarly work. It is a devotional labor of love. I did my best to translate the nineteenth century British English into twenty-first American English. I took it slowly – usually a paragraph a day. Sometimes I took only a sentence or two a day, praying over the words and their meaning.

I have read Lawrence’s words many times over the last forty years. His thoughts have shaped my thoughts. His practice has become my practice. I prayed his words the way I have prayed the psalms. As I prayed, I wrote his words in my words.

This is more than a translation of words. For me, writing is a translation of the presence of God into words. It is like prayer. Prayer – when one is forced to use human language – is an incarnation of Spirit into human vocabulary. 

Brother Lawrence incarnated the Presence of God better than most followers of Christ. I hope this edition of his book will help his words to be understood more clearly, so they may be translated into human lives today.

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