Our Souls, Ourselves: We Pregnant Men

The feminist classic Our Bodies, Ourselves was already out when my father paid me, one of his sons, to memorize parts of the Bible.

My soul earned a dollar for reciting this stanza, yes she did:

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together.

However, my dad didn’t give me, or my soul, the option to make anything from this stanza from the same Bible:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

Of course, why would a man like my father want a young man like his son to take deep into his own soul the words of a woman? And besides, this virgin woman pregnant rejoicing is Mary of the Mariologists, not the ones a Southern Baptist Protestant Christian really ought to be learning from. After all, she’s admitting she’s a “servant,” a “bondslave” as the New American Standard Version has it.

Stick with David, who slayed the giant with his stones, my father implied. And besides, this biblical manly man was kingly and wise in his magnificat, “when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.” After all, he’s clearly no slave of any man and is more of the model of missionary and first Southern Baptist, James Reeves.

How, really, can one compare King David’s Psalm 34:1-3 and this bit of Mother Mary’s Magnificat found in Luke 1:47-49?

Well, let’s assume we really want to do that first. Okay, well then, we go to Luke’s Greek. He has her starting in like this:

Μεγαλύνει
ἡ ψυχή μου
τὸν Κύριον

Yes, her words have gender, and her words for herself and to herself and about herself are female.

My dear feminine motherly soul
Magnifies
the LORD

And yes, yes, the Roman Clementine Vulgate only makes this femininity abundantly clear, which is important, since, as we all know, Latin, like Greek, has other gender options, not only the feminine. So we hear Mary begin this way:

Magnificat
anima mea
Dominum

Mary the wo-man, of course, is not a man. S-he’s not a he. S-he, this wo-man is a fe-male, not a male.

David, of course, is a man. So let’s hear his language. In Hebrew, he starts in this way:

ביהוה
תתהלל
נפשי

The Alexandrian Jewish translator for his Septuagint renders him starting in in Greek this way:

ἐν τῷ κυρίῳ
ἐπαινεσθήσεται
ἡ ψυχή μου

Well, hmm. Well, sure. David’s word for himself, the nephesh, is a feminine noun. This is not his sex. It’s the gender of his grammar. Let’s not get carried away here. Everybody knows he has something, some body part, that Mary lacks. Maybe Luke is making his singing Mary mimic the Septuagint translator’s psalmist David. Well, hmm. They’re both feminine, the nouns that is. Psyche just does what nephesh does. It doesn’t mean, necessarily, that David’s soul, like Mary’s must be, is fe-male.

Never mind that the Roman Clementine Vulgate with its Versio Gallicana makes him saying:

In Domino
laudabitur
anima mea

Jerome is just trying to follow that Alexandrian Jewish fellow with his fancy Hellene. Yes, that’s true. They both have David continuing by saying:

Magnificate Dominum mecum

μεγαλύνατε τὸν κύριον σὺν ἐμοί

See how unclear this is? And, besides, Jerome makes David compel his fellow singers, real men of biblical manhood, to taste and see that the LORD “sweet“:

Gustate et videte quoniam suavis est Dominus

This clearly confused Julian of Norwich who wrote of God’s sweetness and of tasting it. And it influenced the whole Monastic West. Even the Septuagint’s Hellenistic Jewish translator in Alexandria wouldn’t go that far.

So back to the Septuagint, then. It does, we must figure, account for the feminine Greek psyche attributed to David by a would-be Greek-speaking David.

He’s sounding a little too much like Plato’s Socrates’s “wise Diotima.” And she says in this bit excerpted from her rather long speech in the Symposium:

Those who are pregnant in the body only, betake themselves to women
and beget children-this is the character of their love; their offspring,
as they hope, will preserve their memory and giving them the blessedness
and immortality which they desire in the future. But souls which are
pregnant-for there certainly are men who are more creative in their
souls than in their bodies conceive that which is proper for the soul
to conceive or contain. And what are these conceptions?-wisdom and
virtue in general. And such creators are poets and all artists who
are deserving of the name inventor. But the greatest and fairest sort
of wisdom by far is that which is concerned with the ordering of states
and families, and which is called temperance and justice. And he who
in youth has the seed of these implanted in him and is himself inspired,
when he comes to maturity desires to beget and generate. He wanders
about seeking beauty that he may beget offspring-for in deformity
he will beget nothing-and naturally embraces the beautiful rather
than the deformed body; above all when he finds fair and noble and
well-nurtured soul, he embraces the two in one person, and to such
an one he is full of speech about virtue and the nature and pursuits
of a good man; and he tries to educate him; and at the touch of the
beautiful which is ever present to his memory, even when absent, he
brings forth that which he had conceived long before, and in company
with him tends that which he brings forth; and they are married by
a far nearer tie and have a closer friendship than those who beget
mortal children, for the children who are their common offspring are
fairer and more immortal. Who, when he thinks of Homer and Hesiod
and other great poets, would not rather have their children than ordinary
human ones? Who would not emulate them in the creation of children
such as theirs, which have preserved their memory and given them everlasting
glory? Or who would not have such children as Lycurgus left behind
him to be the saviours, not only of Lacedaemon, but of Hellas, as
one may say? There is Solon, too, who is the revered father of Athenian
laws; and many others there are in many other places, both among hellenes
and barbarians, who have given to the world many noble works, and
have been the parents of virtue of every kind; and many temples have
been raised in their honour for the sake of children such as theirs;
which were never raised in honour of any one, for the sake of his
mortal children.

The critical phrase is

οἳ ἐν ταῖς ψυχαῖς κυοῦσιν

Another English translator renders some of that this way:

when someone has been pregnant with these [seeds of wisdom] in his soul from early youth, while he is still a virgin, and, having arrived at the proper age, desires to beget and give birth, he too will certainly go about seeking the beauty in which he would beget; for he will never beget in anything ugly.

What does this mean for men, for us men?

We can put it away as, chalk it up to the fact that, one Greek man’s Greek woman trying to conceive of Greek male poets as having female souls. I mean, didn’t Aristotle straighten out all of this crooked teaching of Plato’s when he much more clearly parsed out the differences between males and fe-males, bodies and souls?

We can let Henry Wadsworth Longfellow have these lines:

O let the soul her slumbers break,
Let thought be quickened, and awake;

For we know that the American English poet is rendering another’s Spanish verse.

But what do we do with William Wordsworth, the man, whose soul sounds all too much like the man David’s and the woman Mary’s both, all persons, male and female, with female souls pregnant:

But as a face we love is sweetest then
When sorrow damps it, or, whatever look
It chance to wear, is sweetest if the heart
Have fulness in herself; even so with me
It fared that evening. Gently did my soul
Put off her veil, and, self-transmuted, stood
Naked, as in the presence of her God.
While on I walked, a comfort seemed to touch
A heart that had not been disconsolate:
Strength came where weakness was not known to be,
At least not felt; and restoration came
Like an intruder knocking at the door
Of unacknowledged weariness. I took
The balance, and with firm hand weighed myself.
—Of that external scene which round me lay,
Little, in this abstraction, did I see;
Remembered less; but I had inward hopes
And swellings of the spirit, was rapt and soothed,
Conversed with promises, had glimmering views
How life pervades the undecaying mind;
How the immortal soul with God-like power
Informs, creates, and thaws the deepest sleep
That time can lay upon her; how on earth,
Man, if he do but live within the light
Of high endeavours, daily spreads abroad
His being armed with strength that cannot fail.

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Real Peace: A Poem

Real Peace (a couple of lines of prose by Evelyn Underhill that I read this morning and made into these lines of poetry)

It does not mean basking
in the divine sunshine like
comfortable pussycats.

It is a peace
that needs
and indeed
produces
a courageous
and yet
humble kind
of
love.

Man Grammar: A Poem

The following poem is inspired by a blog conversation with Abram K-J, blogger, who makes a grammatical observation. He says,

I know it’s becoming more accepted to speak of “women authors,” “women this,” and “women that,” but what we really want to say is “female scholars.” Just like we wouldn’t say “man scholar” but would say “male scholar.”

Since William Safire is dead, I thought I would let his words speak nonetheless. And they are (from an article he wrote for the New York Times, “Language: Woman vs. female“), now, this Man Grammar poem:

Neck and Neck, and Ear, and Nose:
A Man-Grammar Poem Consisting of A William Safire Head and His Grammatical Words Verbatim / (And Most of A John Dryden Foot-Note)

There’s nothing new
about this: The use
of

woman

as a modifier

dates to 1300,
with the poet John Dryden,
translating Juvenal in 1697, noticing “a

woman

grammarian who corrects her
husband for speaking
false Latin.”* Today, usage is

neck and neck,
with

woman

as a modifier appearing
to

my ear

as pulling ahead
of

female

by
a nose.

—–
(*The rest of the
John Dryden foot-
note

is not noted
in

the William Safire man-grammar note
of
The New
York Times,

which could be instructive
or obstructive
as it is not destructive
or at least not deconstructive,

this Juvenal not false Latin
man woman-poem; man readers
must not imagine the rest of
this note
as

écriture féminine,

for it reads
as

follows, “which is called
breaking Priscian’s

head.”)

Man. of sorrows

Son, You’re crying like a little girl. Wipe those tears off your face.
– my father, to me

This type of masculinity also denies men natural outlets for emotional turmoil like loss, anger, pain, envy and hatred…. this is one of the reasons why the impulsive response to these types of emotions are physical violence. Men hit when they get angry, hurt, confused, frustrated, they lash out. Society has taught men that lashing out is a perfectly acceptable response to emotion. In fact for a man to cry would men he is prey for other men or has lost his RIGHT to manhood. Any expression of emotion that is not sexual or violent (emotionally or physically) is seen as unmanly. This steals the humanity from men and boys.
Nicci, on the patriarchy and its effect on men and boys

I’m going to use the occasion of my father’s birthday to talk about patriarchy and emotions. (He would have turned 78.) There’s some irony in the fact that he could and would sing in his big loud voice the Christian hymn based on Isaiah 53:3 – “Man of sorrows,” What a name, for the Son of God who came!

This whole notion of a feeling man, an expressive and emotional male, runs counter to my father’s experience and his instruction, his discipline, of me and his other sons.

We see this as far back as Homer’s Iliad. In one of my very favorite passages (Book 16, lines 1-11, 20) –

ὣς οἳ μὲν περὶ νηὸς ἐϋσσέλμοιο μάχοντο:

Πάτροκλος δ᾽ Ἀχιλῆϊ παρίστατο ποιμένι λαῶν
δάκρυα θερμὰ χέων ὥς τε κρήνη μελάνυδρος,
ἥ τε κατ᾽ αἰγίλιπος πέτρης δνοφερὸν χέει ὕδωρ.
5τὸν δὲ ἰδὼν ᾤκτιρε ποδάρκης δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς,
καί μιν φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα:
‘τίπτε δεδάκρυσαι Πατρόκλεες, ἠΰτε κούρη
νηπίη, ἥ θ᾽ ἅμα μητρὶ θέουσ᾽ ἀνελέσθαι ἀνώγει
εἱανοῦ ἁπτομένη, καί τ᾽ ἐσσυμένην κατερύκει,
10δακρυόεσσα δέ μιν ποτιδέρκεται, ὄφρ᾽ ἀνέληται:
τῇ ἴκελος Πάτροκλε τέρεν κατὰ δάκρυον εἴβεις.

τὸν δὲ βαρὺ στενάχων προσέφης Πατρόκλεες ἱππεῦ:

Richmond Lattimore’s translation gets that like this –

So they fought on both sides for the sake of the strong-benched vessel.

Meanwhile Patroklos came to the shepherd of the people, Achilleus,
and stood by him and wept warm tears, like a spring dark-running
that down the face of a rock impassable drips its dim water;
and swift-footed brilliant Achilleus looked on him in pity,
and spoke to him aloud and addressed him in winged words: ‘Why then
are you crying like some poor little girl, Patroklos,
who runs after her mother and begs to be picked up and carried,
and clings to her dress, and holds her back when she tries to hurry,
and gazes tearfully into her face, until she is picked up?
You are like such a one, Patroklos, dropping these soft tears.’

Then groaning heavily, Patroklos the rider, you answered:

Scholars who study this text today debate whether Achilles is really showing Patroclos “pity” as in sympathy or is scoffing at and shunning his pathetic behavior. The narrator, regardless, goes on to portray the latter, the mortal man, as full of profound feeling.

The gospel of John has what I call “odd gospel greek” in light of the cliche about real men not showing emotions. (John uses a verb found nowhere else in the gospel and only once also in the gospel of Mark. It’s the verb Homer uses for this man’s tears flowing riverlike, flowing as if from a helpless little run-to-mommy girl.) Very succinctly, as the odd gospel greek has Jesus groaning heavily, the sentence goes like this –

ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς.

Lattimore translates that as follows –

Jesus wept.

Some lessons never get believed, or lived, or taught. Too much is at stake for many men, I’m quite sure. In my father’s last days, especially his two years of battling incurable cancer, he learned and believed for himself the power of tears, laughter, and the sharing of emotions. His last two birthdays on this earth were pretty joyous and emotional happy birthdays. I’m learning to spend my days more fully sharing emotions, whether that’s like a little girl or like a man of sorrows or like a tearful Jesus. I’m grateful that learning does not have to stop. Learning about the Patriarchy and its effects and how to reverse these and to recover from them is so very very very important to me and to mine. I’m happy on this birthday of my father, and I do miss much about him.

Let Trayvon Come Into My Neighborhood, for Such is the Kingdom of God

Only days ago, I heard Christy Coleman Reisner preaching from the gospels that Jesus was indignant. This was not long before I heard that six adults on a jury determined that the adult named George Zimmerman was not guilty of killing the child named Trayvon Martin.

Let me come back to Jesus in this post in a bit.

Last night, I heard Tracy Martin ask, “What is it I can tell my child now?” And Sybrina Fulton, speaking of her other son, added, “I’m very afraid right now, because I have no clue what to tell him. I have no clue if I should tell him to run or walk, if I should tell him to defend himself or just lay there. I have no clue what to tell him.” That was on CNN, an interview with Anderson Cooper. All of this can be (and is being) looked at in terms of law, in terms of rights to stand one’s ground, in terms of race privilege and of racism, in terms of the awful histories and patterns of (young) black men (and women) in America not getting equal justice. It’s important to see Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till and Stephon Watts and Yusef Hawkins and Aiyana Jones. What they all share in common is that they are not here, not in anybody’s neighbor anymore. They are children.

Not many days ago, one of my own children enrolled in a “RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) class” on the college campus where I work. The campus is in our neighborhood. We moved here to be nearer the university, but our next-door-neighbors in our neighborhood we moved from told us, “Your new neighborbood was once zoned against us blacks.” So here we live.

Here we live, in a neighborhood whose people, past and present, have been and are still plagued with questions of law, and of “one’s ground,” and of male sex privilege and of white race privilege. (It’s another story that I’ll have to tell another time about a black guy and a white guy at 2am trying to break in the front door and the backdoor at the same time; when the cops finally showed up, and arrested the two, they told me and these two guys, “Don’t you know this is Texas? Don’t you realize that sometimes the police don’t have to get there soon enough? Don’t you know that happened down the street not long ago here? Don’t yall know the rights of property owners with guns?” It was a word of warning to the two trying to break in our home. It was a word of chiding to me, I felt, for I’d not protected my family and had waited for the police while staying on the phone with the 911 dispatcher.)

As my friends and my neighbors and my co-workers and my family members talk, I think about the theology my family has had and has held on to.

I think more about Christy’s sermon. About the words of the gospels.

About the indignance of Jesus Christ.

My father was a preacher, an evangelical Christian who found himself all-too-often full of indignance. And, in due course, because of how he’d fly off the handle with flashes of anger, abusive rage, I became – when a child – an atheist. I stayed in the closet as an atheist, because of the dangers I knew. (Daddy once spanked me in our neighborhood, in front of all of the neighbors, who had gathered round to see how this white American man would deal with his child who had broken a rule. This was in South Viet Nam, during the war, in a little fishing village, where we lived, where he was bringing, and now ostensibly demonstrating, the gospels.) “I don’t want gods like my daddy’s God in my world,” I said to myself. And I don’t want ever to be a man of indignance. For years, to spite my father (and his God), I tried to be as meek as I as could be. Passivity and pacifism in the extreme seemed much better qualities than my father’s expressed fury, agitation, irritation, displeasure, vexations, and indignance.

Christy’s preaching got me rethinking everything.

There are two words in the the gospels that are key as I mind my language. Two words as I find I’m also “angry tired” with certain theologies. Both words happen to be in the account of the gospel of Mark.

The Greek verb for indignance in the gospel of Mark is ἠγανάκτησεν. Classicist Richmond Lattimore translates this as “vexed” in his English rendering of the New Testament, and other groups of translators turn the phrase into English as, “angry with” and “furious” and “irritated” and “much displeased” and “moved to/ moved with indignation.” That’s one word I’m minding.

The other is a Greek noun: παιδία. This phrase does refer to pre-adults through the teen-age years. Lattimore in his translation of Homer’s works, for example, has “son” or “daughter” for each παιδὶ, when these individuals in the Greek epics are not always “little children.” And even to this very day, Modern Greek speakers use Παιδιά for teens, as for this “Teenagers Club” at a resort.

So here’s how the good news seems to go:

So they brought the kids in this neighborhood to him so he could give them a touch of himself. But his apprentices stood their ground, defending him from them.

When Jesus saw that, he was indignant.

“Let the kids in,” he said. “Don’t keep them out.”

“God’s kingdom belongs to them, and they belong in the Kingdom of God.”

Now that kind of “angry tired” feels more familiar. The categories and words of law and race and sex and class and violence and “stand your ground” are not out of the neighborhood of this gospel.

Christy’s points about children were, she said, the point of Jesus’s indignance.

When children are not allowed in the neighborhood, then neither are the following (which are characteristics of children), she said:

Faith
Unpretentious (not self promoting)
Time
Abandon in obedience, worship

Trayvon was a παιδὶ, only 17 years old, when he was found and followed in a neighborhood in Florida and was killed.

The Kingdom of God was lost that day.

This calls for human indignance (especially when our humanity is clothed in real flesh, whether female or male or black or white or straight or gay or poor or privileged). I think I must allow myself this. Something, someone else, other than who I am calls for it.

When you remember: Psalm 8

I am wanting to commit to memory Psalm 8. The Hebrew is too ambiguous, and it’s, well, ancient and not well remembered Hebrew. The Hellene translation, likewise, is slippery if for other reasons. (I wrote about that some here.)

The English translation I like the most is the old New English Bible.  It looks like this:

Psalm.8.NEB

Robert Alter, when rendering this Psalm on his own, seems to have used the NEB as a reference.  And I really like how he chose, instead, to make plural “the gods.”

Ann Nyland’s translation considers the Greek more, and yet she transliterates the Hebrew, “the elohim.”

So I decided just to translate the Greek, to forget how Homeric it sounds, and just to flaunt the sounds, in English anyway.  I did retain, as much as possible, the Greek notions of the separations of ground and sky, of horizon, of the earth as below and the heavens as the place above where the gods and goddesses live and send down their angel messengers from time to time in all their glory.

Here then is my rendering of another’s rendering, and it’s how I’m going to try to remember, to recite, Psalm 8.

psalm.8.translatingtranslating

Troubles with Jesi

If I’d said Jesi, my father would have said, Mind your language son.

Let me explain. Jesi is an ostensible plural for Jesus. Saying Jesus unless praying to him or praying about him to God the Father or talking about him with a potential convert amounted to saying the Lord’s name in vain. Doing this repeatedly (in pluralis) would be tantamount to the Unpardonable. I would have been in trouble, trouble that I don’t even like to talk about today.

Today I have other troubles with Jesi. It’s not at all that I have trouble with the troublesome fact that Jesus is white to some many while some other color to some other Othered few. Way back in March 2013, a blogger named Joel was asking this parenthetically,

Although I have to agree, that maybe we are done with white Jesuses (or is it Jesi?)

This one Joel was confessing that he was having to agree with a blogger named Rod, and I am reading along as if I’m the only me reading this and this is the only Rod and that is the only Joel in the world asking the question, or is it Jesi?, as if there is more than one to talk about.

Today I have other troubles with Jesi. It’s not at all that I have trouble with the troublesome historical Jesus quest. A little later, in later April 2013, there was this blogpost:

Jesus’ Remains: Teaching Multiple Jesi
Posted on April 19, 2013 by mattsheedy by Kate Daley-Bailey

And then there was this trouble in the bible blogosphere:

Within that religion of authenticity, there certainly exists a wide diversity of Jesuses. Having just posted on the futility of traditional historical Jesus research, I find this point well worth underlining. Thanks, Kate!

and this one:

The diverse conclusions drawn by researchers investigating the historical figure of Jesus is, at worst, an indication that historical methods do not successfully counter our penchant for making Jesus as we desire him to be. Diverse Jesuses (or Jesi, as Kate Dailey-Bailey prefers) are to be found as far back as we have literature about Jesus. And we could say the same about Socrates.

and that one:

Then McCullough mentions in “Jesus: All Things to All People” a recent blog post by Kate Daley-Bailey titled “Jesus’ Remains: Teaching Multiple Jesi” where it is observed that “…our job…is not to magically distill the ‘real’ Jesus from the swill of theology and political packaging, but rather to highlight the nuanced processes of constructing ‘Jesi’ and query the discursive strategies deployed to flesh out the impoverished Jesus.” In other words, most historical Jesus scholars do not find the “real Jesus” they seek, but rather create another Jesus for all to consider, so a more fruitful approach is the embrace the reality we won’t find the ‘real’ Jesus by becomign aquainted with the multiple depictions of Jesus (she calls them “Jesi”) available to us.

James McGrath challenges this pessimism in “Is Historical Jesus Studies Futile?”

Do I get that? One mattsheedy and one Kate Daley-Bailey and one [Pat] McCullough and one James McGrath and one Brian LePort talking about the same thing. Or is it the same things? Is it one Jesuses or two? Is it one plural? Two too? Is it Jesi?

Once elsewhere at an Other blog I posted this one post. I entitled it The Prostitute. And I talked about Rahab in it. And I talked in it about the one name Joshua. And I talked about it in Hebrew (יְהוֹשׁוּעַ).

But I don’t think I talked about it in Greek (Ἰησοῦς). There are many of them, I might have said. The plural of course is Ιησουοι? But is this Joshuas or Joshi? Jesuses? Jesi? Greek or Latin? You see my troubles? (Not a white man sang, once upon a time in some historical moment, Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen Nobody knows but Jesus.)