Flowers and Words

Realizing that this likely seems contrary to my cowboy-hat-and-boots persona, I like flowers. I like wild flowers and cut flowers and dried arrangements. I enjoy the beauty of wild flowers on the road side or filling a pasture knowing they are here one month and gone the next. I enjoy arrangements of fresh cut flowers with their vivid colors – think yellow astromeria with irises and eucalyptus – and their immediacy. But they can make me a bit sad as they fade and wilt. I also like dried arrangements that provide a warm, lasting beauty. Each has its place and I appreciate each for what it is.

While reading the same Bible text in different translations, it occurred to me that the various presentations of stories and ideas of Christianity are a bit like the kinds of flowers I enjoy.

The formal language of the King James Version is not unlike a dried floral arrangements. The language is beautiful but as time has passed since the translation, the flowers are dried and they have lost some of their flexibility and the vivacity of their color – but they last. An arrangement made from dried flowers can last for years. Just so, the King James Version, in beautiful formal language, has lasted these many years. The language still appeals to the ear. Some passages have become so familiar – 23rd Psalm and John 3:16 come readily to mind – that they may never sound right in other translation. Likewise, I have always enjoyed the sound of the language of the Rite I (traditional) service and particularly of the Rite I collects (formal prayers) found in the Book of Common Prayer.

Nevertheless, I now find that I better take the meaning of the Rite II (modern) collects and that I better understand the meaning of the bible in some of the newer translations (especially NRSV). The language is still formal albeit less poetic – but it is easier and clearer and the meaning of the words is more in line with current usage.

Like the dried arrangements, the formal language of the bible and parts of the prayer book is precise if a bit stiff but it may lack color and life. On the other hand, there are newer and more specialized translations that offer more immediacy – and more controversy. I find these useful but I have concerns. I am concerned that like fresh cut flowers, some of these translations or versions may have a short shelf life. I remember my parents reading “Good News for Modern Man” when I was in Jr. High. It was the thing then but some of the language seems dated now.

I have been given a couple of “Cowboy Bibles” that seem overly folksy but the meaning is very plain. I’m not sure that these qualify as translations. Maybe they’re more paraphrases or simplifications. I doubt that the editors went straight from Greek and Hebrew to “y’all” and “howdy”. Nevertheless, reading these and other contemporary translations can add life to readings that can sometimes be a bit dry.

There’s something to be gained from all of these resources and we’re richer for having them. I’m glad that I don’t have to accept only one way of enjoying flowers …

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