In a sense Daniel’s books are something of a bridge from what we might term western evangelicalism to the Eastern and Orthodox traditions, though they are really much more: they form a corpus in themselves of meditation immersed in the eastern church literature. However, there are plenty of elements in the eastern tradition which aren’t immediately very approachable to us ‘westerners,’ and, since those particular elements tend not to appear in Daniel, the bridge idea helps. I, personally, already had some exposure to non-western views; for example, I studied Russian at school, and this had led to some exposure to Russian Orthodox thought, and I was by no means shut in to my own (English) background, being prepared to ‘tolerate’ men dressed in black cassocks and wearing long beards. That openness is not needed, I think, in first reading Daniel, but might help. What I am going to describe here, in the hope that it may prove helpful, is why I was drawn to Daniel’s books and the consequences; I think that he has much to say to the church at large, certainly if the problems I have encountered with evangelicalism in general and charismatic churches in particular are not confined to a few – and there is plenty of cause to think that is the case.
I grew up mostly in the country, in England. My father, like myself, was able academically and had been converted at Cambridge, where he studied Natural Sciences, and had made the fairly radical decision for such a man that the Bible was the Word of God. My mother had also been saved about the same time; her faith was perhaps more experiential – less a matter of believing what you didn’t necessarily feel. It wasn’t exactly a godly home – we didn’t have family prayer or the like; years later I heard a friend say that he grew up ‘in a typical dysfunctional Christian home’, and I knew something of what he meant. We went to church, my parents were moral, and the Bible was there somewhere; I learnt some habits of reverence. However, faith became personal at the age of 11 at a summer camp led by a children’s evangelist named John Inchley; I was most decidedly born again after hearing for the first time really of the cross – he died for me – and the resurrection – the source of joy – and experienced this great joy of God in a way strong enough to maintain me through the many vicissitudes ahead. Vicissitudes, because after going home from camp and starting to devour the Bible, particularly the gospels, I had zero instruction on how to practice the faith; I read all the wonderful stuff in the Bible, but saw nothing like it at home or in the churches we went to; perhaps it was there, but I didn’t see it. The result was that by the time I was 15, I wanted nothing further to do with church or the Bible; there was a God inspired hunger for love, which I went searching for elsewhere, all of which was intensely confusing, a bit like being a bird who was born to fly trying to swim. The result was a complete nervous breakdown helped dramatically along the way by 3 years at Cambridge nominally studying English Literature, but in fact imbibing substances and bad ideas.
It is not at all pleasant to think how awfully I suffered with depression. When I had really hit bottom, God intervened and I found my way into a charismatic Baptist church where there was a wonderful pastor, Rev David Goodyear. I was baptized in water, and then ‘in the Spirit’, meaning that I could speak in tongues, which became the mainstay of my prayer life as I struggled to renew my mind to the word of God. The pastor taught me in essence that we ‘walk by faith and not by sight’, and that I was not to consider my feelings as the boss. This started a pattern – faith! Believing what you don’t see or feel! I still felt very depressed and unfortunately there was no one I could really talk to; there was no one around really like myself, and for a couple of reasons had learnt to be very distrustful of others. The first reason had to do with experience at school – I could always do any intellectual task faster than most others and this led to having a higher opinion of my own ability to work things out than was good – so no seeking of help; ‘I can manage’; and secondly, my main lesson in understanding people had been that no adult could be trusted, a lesson that had been sealed by experience with the incredible follies I saw among academics at university. There was therefore no confiding of doubts, no discussion of real needs – and there is a lot of hiding that goes on in churches! I became really shut in to this one idea and method – faith! As I followed through on this, I naturally found my way into the very best faith teaching – Kenneth Hagin; wonderful teaching on healing, on the gifts of the Spirit . . . but not giving me the answers I needed. I experienced healings, for myself and for others – but not of the depression, because the teaching was not of the sort that would help my heart to unbend; I knew there was joy, and experienced the ministry of Jesus through me to a hurting world (TL Osborn’s phrase) in terms of healing but I couldn’t find full healing for myself. I read and I read and I read – all the Christian books within the popular evangelical/Pentecostal field. Learned a lot, but suffered continually.
I moved to Australia where I continued to batter away at this faith thing – faith and confession, faith and confession. I think this is a familiar story to many! I even taught faith in a Bible school, and went home in the afternoon and wept with depression; eventually I gave up and for short time toyed with the idea of getting really good at chess. However, two things now happened. Firstly, I met some people who were like me, people with similar intellectual backgrounds – high up engineers, geologists, and a man who had been the youngest ever professor at Harvard, who had met Einstein, had been wonderfully saved at the age of 50 out of drugs, a man of learning in his field of psychology – finally I had people I could relate to in a much fuller way. And secondly, as mentioned elsewhere, I came across a book –Reading the Bible with the Damned by Bob Ekblad
How I came to translate Daniel Bourguet
Bob Ekblad’s first two books, Reading the Bible with the Damned, and A Christian Manifesto, which, taken together since the content is similar, had been among those handful of books that have proved really life-changing. There were two specific elements of commonality with Bob: firstly, he had spent time in Central America, and I have had connections with El Salvador; secondly, he seemed to have struggled with some of the same issues I had too. But above all, his ministry was happily drawing together really solid thinking about the Word of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and action, especially among marginalized people; and all in a way well outside my church experience. The books were so strong that I did something I had not done before — follow up all the notes with their references. Amongst these was Daniel Bourguet, and I was particularly intrigued by the title of one of Daniel’s books, La tendresse de Dieu, The Tenderness of God. The very title suggested something well outside my normal fare; I was not disappointed when I started to read the copy I received from Editions Olivetan, Daniel’s publishers in France, but there was a problem! And the problem was my French! In fact, my Spanish is much stronger and the only schooling I had ever had in French was from age 9-12, enough to have a basic grasp of the grammar and some vocabulary, but not enough to read fluently, although I had invested a little time in reading Jules Verne and Maupassant. I quickly realized that if I was to really take in what Daniel was saying, I needed to go very slowly, which is not easy for a voracious reader like myself. I concluded that I should start translating; and when I did, I found it very rewarding, for reasons to be outlined below. Having completed one book, I moved on! And on! I don’t remember how long translating the first books took, but I’m guessing between 2 and 3 years, probably sitting at a laptop computer for a couple of hours a day. After the first few books, it began to dawn on me that perhaps I could think about publishing; I had no idea how to do so until a great thought struck me — to contact Bob Ekblad. He warmly welcomed the idea of helping me, and so began the publishing journey.
Why the attraction to Daniel’s books?
It won’t be too difficult to understand from the facts of my being depressed that I haven’t found modern life very congenial; in fact it’s been a real struggle, exacerbated by my efforts to conform to a church life which, in the charismatic type institutions to which I have always belonged, tend towards being almost actively anti-intellectual, have musical expressions that I find increasingly difficult to deal with, tend not to be clear in their pastoral approaches to life, and on the whole don’t provide much of a haven from the rigours of the social milieu. In a sense, the modern church has become disconnected from the past, sometimes no doubt for good reason, but often to our great loss; I think Paul’s injunction to ‘quiet and godly’ living has rather gone by the board in our fast-paced, demanding world, and it’s just here that the older, orthodox, eastern traditions can seem so valuable, and, as mentioned above, Daniel’s books provide a wonderful transition into that quieter more peaceful world.
What a relief! What an oasis in which to sit down and bask in reflections on God’s love and kindness. Here was no judgment and no demands being made. One of the points I appreciated early in my reading was Daniel’s statement that under Latin influence the western church had become excessively juridical, legal in its approach, where the eastern churches had retained a much more therapeutic way of seeing the gospel, and in this way they prove much gentler. One aspect of teaching I had always really struggled with was the language of penal substitution, a focus I had tried really hard to understand but tended to leave me with a big headache. I had been much helped by God’s Strategy in Human History by Roger Forster and Paul Marston, a book which cut a lot of the ground out from under Calvinism, but I hadn’t realized how embedded the legalistic thinking was, and it doesn’t have much part in the eastern tradition on which Daniel was drawing and is therefore a comfort. It should be noted that my reaction to penal substitution was a reaction against elements I have subsequently found to be simply mistaught; there is a healthy approach to this issue!
The second book of Daniel’s I turned to was Spiritual Maladies, or more literally Maladies of the spiritual life. This was an introduction to the ancient pastoral approach to growth in faith, and Daniel was drawing the distinction between a psychological view of human problems, which we tend to have much exposure to both in the world and in the church, and a view focusing on the therapy of sin. I found this too a great relief because, to put it mildly, so much psychology is confusing when we attempt to look at life with a biblical perspective. (I speak here as one with qualifications in the field of counselling.)Pastorally, this way seems so much sounder, and, again so much gentler. The key virtue is humility; when did you last hear a sermon on humility?
And so it went on. The next book was about God’s silence, a constant theme with Daniel. How wonderful; how this silence speaks. I read about ‘asceticism’ and about the monastic life, helping me to link up with ancient practices, and for the first time I came across teaching that was consciously ‘Trinitarian.’ All very gentle and solid.
And then another point worthy of comment and of help to me was this: Daniel almost complains that whereas the ‘Church Fathers’ often wrote by inspiration, he has perforce to perform the ‘exegetical task’; but this too was a comfort to me because I like the solidity of accumulated learning in its best modern form.
We could continue with examples, but I think this conveys something of the attraction of the books, and then too I found an outlet for my academic type abilities in language, a congenial occupation with no pressure to perform, just a constant pleasure that was very good for me over the period I was busy translating. Mainly though, the benefit was the gentle ‘washing with the water of the word’ from a very devoted man speaking not about ‘having faith’ but about humility. The fruit of all this, let it also be said, is bound to be, and has been, a recrudescence of faith and renewed understanding of the best of the more Pentecostal tradition.
It’s pretty clear that translating prose is less challenging that translating poetry (I originally included a short excursus on translating poetry at this point.)But why exactly? If we start with the premise that communication aims to convey meaning, well, meaning is conveyed in a much less directly perceptible, more allusive way in poetry, in prose, more, we might say, by reason and logic ; so without going into this too deeply, we could say that reason and logic are universal and so more easily transmissible across languages. So, basically in translating prose, to varying degrees, we are following logical structure. In Daniel’s case, he is very careful and logical. I have also spent time translating two great books by Pastor Gilles Boucomont; in contrast to Daniel, he is very witty and lively; generally these are not values Daniel cares about greatly — he has one abiding concern, truth; we could say that he is very serious! This makes his language most straightforward, which means that the only major challenge is to accurately get hold of his thoughts, to grasp what he is saying, so the main qualification for a translator would be theological understanding ; there generally aren’t major linguistic problems. (Another contrast would be my translation of Simone Pacot, which was much more demanding and needed very considerable outside input.)
That doesn’t mean there are no problems of language, and indeed my translations have improved with time; in fact each book has gone through many reviews, occasionally correcting for meaning, but mostly simply making it read better, flow.
A first potential problem is with what is termed ‘register’ — basically the degree of formality. Do we write it is or it’s. To a great extent, Daniel solves this problem himself: most of the books are from material which was originally used at retreats, which is to say, orally; and in keeping with this, Daniel informs us that he has endeavoured to keep the elements of an oral style, and addresses the reader directly as a ‘reader friend.’ I think this term reader friend nicely captures the tone: it is undoubtedly friendly but retains some reserve, some formality. This means that with the example of abbreviations, I have felt comfortable moving between it is and it’s fairly freely, and have at times followed Daniel in being direct with the reader and at others being impersonal. A small problem that arose connected to this issue of register was ‘gender neutrality.’ In modern American language, it seems there is a heightened sensitivity about using the term ‘man’ generically for people; American women apparently may feel left out. I have some sympathy with this because I have read and profited from Daisy Osborn’s great books which are addressed to women and address the reader as she, and I could tend to feel a little excluded; however, this sensitivity is not generally part of my background, and it certainly isn’t part of the way of the French, who despite their vaunted progressiveness in sexual matters can actually be very conservative, certainly in language. However, I was asked to aim for gender neutrality on the basis that the audience would likely be and the publishers certainly are American. There were some difficulties with this: we can’t use he or she too often, and I find it clumsy to suddenly start talking about she for no apparent reason; however, I am fairly comfortable with they, their etc., though it was not always particularly intuitive, so there are failings.
My main concern throughout was that the translation not get in the way of reading – that the reader not notice the language but simply absorb the message. On the whole, when reading the French, only rarely does one remark that some word was well chosen or that a passage was well constructed, so it has fitted well to keep the English straightforward, to keep the language well in the background. However, there are places where the French doesn’t have any simple one to one correspondence with English; this was particularly important, for example, in the first book I translated, The tenderness of God, and then in a subsequent volume, The Modesty of God, the title of which in French is La pudeur de Dieu, where this word pudeur is difficult to convey; the solution adopted was to add a footnote about the word and then use a range of approximate synonyms but with the default use of ‘modesty.’ There were also decisions to make about particular words. For example, my Encounters with Jesus translates the French Rencontres avec Jesus; I thought Encounters was best for rencontres, but the alternative, less formal Meetings was favoured by a gentleman from a monastery in the US, Br Cassian, who sent me his excellent version of one chapter. The grass is always greener on the other side, and I thought his translation rather better than mine, so was reluctant not to follow his suggestion, which we discussed. I may not have adopted that suggestion, but he helped me get away from staying too close to the French; initially I had thought I should stay with as many original sentence structures as possible, but was helped realize that this didn’t work well.
The one problem often needing to be solved which meant altering sentence or paragraph structure has been achieving a balanced flow, that is, a balance between short and long sentences. If the logical structure of a passage in French lends itself to short sentences, if reproduced this can lead to choppy, unnatural English; but if you don’t follow the logic of the French, then meaning is lost. What to do? Well, as long as the meaning is not altered, that is, if you manage to grasp hold of what is being said, it can be conveyed according to the logic of English. I have a sort of predilection for using semi-colons; they have the advantage of bringing great flexibility, so, used judiciously, I hope, the translations have both flowed and not distorted meaning. Very, very rarely have I come across anything that prompted me to think that Daniel could have expressed himself better at that point, maybe three times in over twenty volumes; his meaning always made itself clearly felt, and if I failed to grasp something, it always stood out as suspect when a book was reviewed.
The most common failing in my English was to unconsciously follow French structures, some of which, compared to English, seem very round about ways of speaking. A simple example would be a phrase like Est-ce que vous avez . . . ?, which means Have you . . .? but translates literally as Is it that you have . . .? Structures with what we think of circumlocutions abound. A random example would translate directly as We need to find new strength, that of Christ; these sentences with phrases like ‘that of’ are OK in English occasionally, but can become unnatural. Generally, in correcting, this has been changed to either something like We need to find new strength, the strength of Christ or We need to find new strength, Christ’s.
In closing on translation, a brief comment about Daniel’s prayers which he often puts at the close of chapters. These have a distinctly poetic element, and are presented as verse, free verse of sorts, with elements of rhythm and non-prose rhetorical structure, and I have particularly enjoyed trying to get something of their flavour across.
After the first extended period of translation, which is at this writing several years ago, life has moved on, but Daniel has published several more books, at least one a year, so translating these has continued at a slower pace and Bob Ekblad has been regularly publishing some of these and some of the older works. I have delved somewhat more deeply into the eastern tradition, but always come back to the more pentecostal ways, but, I would say, enriched. I have begun to realize the benefit of Daniel’s books not just to me personally, a benefit which has been great, but also in terms of ministry to others, and this is something to pursue.