Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! – Psalm 133:1

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Translations can vary so much that a reader of one version who is attempting to follow along as someone reads aloud from another translation may become confounded, even confused, and sometimes outright lost in the text. Yet each translation opens another facet of the text to our senses. Consider the opening of this Psalm: “How wonderful it is, how pleasant, when brothers live together in harmony!” (Living Bible); “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (New International); “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (New Revised Standard); “How good, how delightful it is to live as brothers all together!” (New Jerusalem); “It’s so good, the turn of a season / people living for a moment as equals / secure in the human family” (David Rosenberg, A Poet’s Bible).

“Good,” “pleasant,” “wonderful,” “delightful” – each opens another nuance to our understanding. Our personal images of the assembly resonate differently with various translations: “brethren,” for me, carries a sense of Old Order Mennonites, Dunkards, or Plain Quakers meeting together; the image of brothers living in harmony may be a pleasant thought for a mother faced with three warring young sons, to say nothing of the son who bears the brunt of his rambunctious siblings (leaving unanswered the question of whether daughters would even create such a problem – do we assume that they automatically live in harmony?); the idea of kindred living in unity not only removes the male exclusivity, but also points us toward consideration of a healthy, functioning family; Rosenberg, meanwhile, makes all of humanity the family! How any of these texts speaks to us depends first upon where we are as individuals. Consider, too, how the sentence itself differs in each version: what Rosenberg gains in vitality comes at the expense of “unity,” a concept that shapes the practice of our Quaker Meeting for Business. But see, too, what his translation adds to our understanding of that unity.

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And now once more I invite you all to turn in to the Principle of God, which daily visits you in your inward Parts, in order to bring you out of a State of Sin and Misery, and to make you Partakers of his Righteousness and Felicity: Come taste and see that the Lord is gracious, who long waiteth upon you, that he may be gracious unto you, because he delighteth in Mercy. (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)

 

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