Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Course in Tongues

God does not understand words,
for they were made by separated minds
to keep them
in the illusion of separation.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in other tongues
as the Spirit enabled them.
(Bible/NIV:Acts 2:4)

On Pentecost Sunday, 2006, I found myself waking up early, and the whole house was still asleep. I snuck out at 7:00 and went to have coffee at Zaro's bakery on Hugh Grant Circle, next to the Parkchester subway station. After my coffee I took a walk, and passed St. Pauls Evangelical Lutheran Church, at 8:20, and noticed that the service started at 8:30. Because of my interest in Luther, and because I always liked the building, I decided to stop in. The fact that there was a bathroom was also part of the attraction, given the size of my cup of morning coffee.

When I sat down, I did not realize at first that this was Pentecost, but I did love the service. I enjoyed singing beloved spirituals, which always move me powerfully. And it put a smile on my face because my girlfriend that same morning was going to go downtown to St. Barts, where she always complains about the music - she wants gospel, not hymns, and thus we had white boy in black church grooving on spirituals, and black girl in white church, longing for gospel music...

And somehow the obligatory passage of Acts 2:4 about the apostles speaking in tongues on Pentecost reverberated powerfully in my mind, and connected to a long term contemplation about a new initiative to teach the Course in multiple languages, starting with a workshop in French in the Haitian community in Brooklyn, which I expect to start this year.

Likewise initiatives in Spanish and perhaps Portuguese are in the offing in collaboration with others. And in listening to the Pentecost service, a name was born for this new project:

The Course in Tongues,

It is a project focusing on multi-lingual teaching of the Course, and translation of related materials to or from English as the need arises. The initial focus will be on French in a Haitian community in Brooklyn, and Spanish.

The title of the project is also a reflection on the fact that in my work with translation of spiritual materials I am continuously learning that while both skill and inspiration play a part, in the end the very impossibility of translation is continuously a humbling experience which can be met only with a sense of humor and faith that the Holy Spirit is teaching through us, in spite of the words, and not because of them. Of course the same is essentially true of teaching in one's primary language.

Besides the issue of multi-lingual teaching, I also foresee maintaining a focus on the central theme of the Course's Judaeo-Christian framework, since Jesus evidently teaches by contrast to that tradition, by deliberately using familiar terms in unfamiliar ways. As I've argued elsewhere on this blog, Jesus uses cognitive dissonance as a teaching device throughout the Course. And from feedback from the Spanish community, where the Course seems to be growing faster than even in the English-speaking world, it is clear that all the typical confusions the Course terminology is prone to cause are even more relevant there because of the strong Catholic culture.

Having said that, the evident appeal of phenomena like The Passion of Christ, and The Da Vinci Code, highlight both the endurance of traditional Christian theology and the rebellion against it, and a hunger for alternatives. Further, the bridging of the Course's non-dualistic teaching to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel according to Thomas, which has been brought out by the appearance of "The Disappearance of the Universe," lead us to completing a picture of the revisionist Jesus we met in the Christian orthodoxy, and which was the creation of Paul and those who followed in his footsteps. We end up coming full circle with the non-dualistic teachings of the pre-Pauline Jesus who we meet in the sayings of the Thomas Gospel, as well as in other "apocryphal" fragments, which are now increasingly entering the main stream, after a 1600 year absence.

The project is about to become operational by being hatched in an incubator through Citiworks of New York, which is a 501C3 umbrella organization, to meet the challenges of combining sound financial management with spiritual work on a needs basis for projects which meet our purpose, very much in the spirit of that organization.

Supporting my own translation work of J.W. Kaiser as well as my new translation of the Gospel according to Mark will be one of the principal projects. As we set out I have hopes for helping to bring about Spanish classes in the Course in New York, with assistance from Lucia Constain, at a Spanish church where I've known for years that the assistant pastor is a Course student. I also hope to find the ways and means for going to Angola at the invitatation of my adopted son, Didi Roberto Dilo, and starting some activity there, addressing the healing from 30 years of civil war. One of the biggest hits on Angolan television in recent years is a show about families re-uniting, who have found themselves separated by the conflict.

And, as I'm finishing up this article, I'm reflecting on the experience at my recent seminar at Riverside Church, which was a wonderful experience that extended into lengthy coffee conversations afterwards. I noticed myself accepting thanks for the clarity of my teaching, and realizing clearly that it was not my doing but the spirit teaching through me, and truly no thanks was due me in that sense, and I found myself more or less having to look over my shoulder to see who people were thanking. That is the spirit of this venture in multi-lingual, and, one might add, multi-cultural teaching of the Course.

Copyright, © 2006 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.
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