Thursday, August 25, 2011

Gained in Translation?

First night. New season.

You'd like things to go smoothly.

Yesterday evening, I went to church for the start of my sixth season singing in our Chancel Choir. We'd been on a break since June, and although I enjoyed my unhurried Sundays these past couple of months off, it was time to dive into a new year.

Not only was the Chancel Choir back in session, but our principle director, J. Marty Cope, had returned from a year-long educational stint in England, earning his second Masters degree, this one from none other than Cambridge University.

You know; "pip-pip, cheerio, and all that rot."

That Cambridge.

So all things considered, it was a big night. For a bunch of Presbyterian choristers, anyway.

As I approached an open doorway, a number of my fellow choir members were milling about the steps in Texas' relentless August heat. After a couple of hugs and "welcome back's", I walked through the open doors into a dark hallway, with dozens more people just milling about in... the heat? It was only marginally cooler inside than outside.

And dark!

"Yes, the power's out!" one lady informed me. "Didn't you notice the streetlights aren't working?"

Actually, the street by which I'd come had functioning stoplights, so I hadn't noticed anything amiss.

About that time, J. Marty, our resident anglophile, appeared, just a little agitated that the power had gone out on our first rehearsal of the new season. Not only was the church dark and hot, but its fully-automated key and security system had shut and locked all of the exterior doors and interior fire doors, meaning nobody could get upstairs to our rehearsal hall. Or our music.

Several of our church's sextons appeared, but none of them had anything to override the non-functioning electric locks. One of the church's security guards had inadvertently closed the only remaining unlocked door on the other side of a fire grate which had rolled down automatically, so all we had to ourselves was a long hallway in front of Fellowship Hall.

Thinking quickly, J. Marty recruited a couple of other people and myself to go with him to one of the old sanctuary doors that still had a manual lock. If we could get in that way, we might be able to figure out how to get back around and open up some more doors. Yet alas, although a key he possessed fit into the lock, a non-functioning electronic override still refused to let the door open.

Foiled again!

By this time, about 75 people had gathered, everyone joking about how inauspicious a circumstance it was for our first rehearsal back from summer break, and for J. Marty back from England (where, he told us later, they suffered a heat wave in the low-80's before he left... poor guy!).

Just when it looked like we'd run out of options, a joyous holler erupted from inside the hallway, as the lights came back on! Doors unlocked themselves, the air conditioning came back on, and we were back in business.

"Praise the Lord," I exclaimed to J. Marty, who looked at me with a wry, stressed grin.

"You know, that always sounds so trite," he chided, nevertheless aware that I probably didn't intend it to be.

"Hey, after the month I've had, I've said it a lot," I replied, referring to the struggle my family has endured dealing with my aunt's health problems. "And meant it every time!"

Yet his point remains a valid one that I've thought about a couple of times since last night. It's true that a lot of people - some who aren't even saved - use the phrase as a perfunctory response to good news of all types. Whether it's learning the price of a gallon of gas just dropped four cents or somebody's cancer has gone into remission, we use the same three words so often that many of us have blunted their meaning.

Maybe having the electricity come back on just at the last minute isn't earth-shaking enough in some peoples' estimation to say "praise the Lord!" But we were all grateful, and rehearsal was only delayed for about 10 minutes. So even though our situation ranked somewhere between the price of gas going down and somebody getting a great medical diagnosis, I'd say it was appropriate.

But, still...

We're supposed to praise the Lord, obviously. We're commanded to in Scripture, and through basic social etiquette, we're to affirm our appreciation appropriately.

But how do you avoid stripping "praise the Lord!" of legitimacy? Not the most burning question facing evangelical Christendom at this moment in history, perhaps, but considering how often we risk invoking our Lord's name tritely, isn't it something nonetheless worthy of contemplation?

Technically, Biblically, we should be thankful for everything God gives us, but just as we didn't go around thanking our parents for every blade of grass they cut or sock they laundered when we were kids, God doesn't expect us to use our time that inefficiently, or treat our relationship with Him as if it depends on our cataloging His blessings.

So how about if we feel the urge to say something like "praise the Lord," we say it in a way that denotes a particular declaration on our part; not something that sounds like it rolls off the tongue without our even thinking about it.

Which brings me to Latin. Don't words in Latin have a certain prestige or officiousness to them? Medical terms and scientific names always sound more convincingly important when we hear them in Latin.

For example, doesn't "perussi duos aspirin quod contactus mihi cras" sound a lot more impressive than "take two aspirin and call me in the morning"?

Or maybe that's just me.

In any case, I looked up some suitable Latin phrases to replace the English "praise the Lord" wording, and came up with the following list. One of them might sound familiar to even the least-fluent Latin speaker:

Laus Deo = Praise to God

Gloria in excelsis = Glory to God in the highest

Deus est regit qui omnia = There is a God who rules all things

Deo gratias (D.G.) - Thanks be to God

So, what do you think? Can you see yourself substituting any of these Latin phrases for "praise the Lord" during the course of your day?

Maybe I'm making entirely too much of this idea, but I think I'm going to try for the "Deo gratias" version (which is pronounced "DAY-o GRAHT-see-us"). For one thing, our Chancel Choir has an anthem in our repertoire by that name, with the phrase repeated throughout it.

It may not be the king's English, as they'd see it at Cambridge.

But I'm sure Christ, my King, will understand.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds kind of Rome-ish to me. Should the leaders in the church all start wearing funny looking hats now too?


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