Thoughts on Translation and Transformation

Post from Christina, January 23:

I arrived at the World Plenary late Wednesday night due to weather-related travel delays. I am so, so overjoyed and grateful to be here. The past few days have been an incredible opportunity to connect with Friends of so many different backgrounds. Since arriving, I have participated in plenary worship sessions, a Section of the Americas Meeting at which we received updates from various FWCC committees, meetings on consultation topics, smaller worship group meetings, Young Friends meetings, and many, many wonderful conversations. In many of these situations I hear this phrase:

“Bienvenido Amigos. Welcome Friends.”

It’s a greeting I’ve heard hundreds of times in my life; only this time I hear it twice, in both of my languages. Along with a diversity in cultures, age, and Quaker practices, the plenary has brought together a diversity of languages. There are at least five mother tongues present.

It has been a gift to be part of such a large multi-lingual gathering. As part of the minority that can speak both Spanish and English, the conference has it’s own particular flavor. In smaller groups I am often prepared to translate if there is no other bilingual person present. There are many things I am grateful for in terms of knowing both languages in this context; hearing ministry in its original language, being able to help when I can see there has been a misunderstanding, and if I miss one of the (many) announcements I get to hear it a second time. I have been able to make connections with many Peruvian and Bolivian Friends, laughing, sharing stories, and talking about the challenges we see facing our community. But perhaps most importantly for me, being a bridge between these languages has increased my attentiveness to Friends’ ministry.

Even in cases when I am not the translator responsible for the session, I find myself asking ‘What words would I use to help others understand this message?’ I’ve begun to practice this even when translation is not necessary.

At times it is necessary that I translate messages that I do not agree with, using language that I do not identify with. This too, helps me deepen my faith. In these cases, I am called not only to translate the language, but to look beyond the words to the meaning behind it, to find our common beliefs. Thinking about how to convey another friend’s message so that it carries the intended meaning has deepened my relationship to ministry. Faith translation, in quite a literal sense.

The other night, we had a Young Friends Meeting at which there were about 65 young friends in attendance. The energy was excited and enthusiastic! This was the first time I had been in such a large group of Young Friends, and it was hope-giving.

We played a game at this Meeting in which someone in the middle of the circle would call out a phrase that applied to them and all those in the circle to whom the phrase applied to would have to get up and find another seat. For example, “All those who have been to a Young Friends gathering in the past.” And anyone who that applied to would jump up and scramble to find another seat. There was always one seat less than the participants, so someone always got stuck in the circle. This was fun and chaotic.

During this simple game, it was necessary for us to translate what was being said by the person in the middle of the circle. However, those who had understood the message the first time often began to move before the translation had been finished. We stopped and reminded ourselves that it was important to pause until everyone understood the message before taking action.

This is a practice in patience and compassion. I find myself being asked to listen closer, to pause. Much in a similar way as when I listen for the Light while in silent worship, I find myself being challenged to open myself to truly listen to other Friends, especially when the initial message is not something that I feel I can fullyagree with.

This continual practice of listening is a process that generates transformation of my faith. When I translate a message, it continues to be the other friend’s ministry, but it is inescapable that part of myself joins their message. Though helping to share Friend’s messages, I not only become a witness to their ministry, I become part of it.

We are currently half way through the Plenary, and I can’t wait for the experiences and conversations that are to come in the rest of the week.

PS. The internet is too slow at the moment for me to upload any photos, will do this when the connection improves!!