Thursday, July 25, 2013

Outermost Community Radio

It was a Saturday evening in the winter of 2006, and I was taking my niece Marie to dinner for a belated celebration of her January birthday. It had been lightly snowing through most of the day, and the outline of street lamps against a white Boston Common made a lyrical view from the upstairs windows of the French restaurant.

At times during the evening with Marie, it was too easy for me to recall the spirited high school student or the pre-med junior I had visited in her college dorm room. I would briefly forget that I was facing a professional woman in her mid-thirties, a successful OB/GYN with a practice in central Massachusetts.

Though unmarried, Marie had determined a number of years earlier not to delay the purchase of property. She had built a two-storey house in a neighborhood ten minutes from the clinic where she had her practice. She was eager for her home to become one of the venues the rest of us considered for holiday meals.

Then Marie got to buy a small summer house on Cape Cod. After that purchase she made sure that her parents began to count on this home away from home for their use. Eager to acknowledge the role Marie was beginning to play in the family, I told her pointedly during our birthday evening that it was lovely to imagine Augusts in the future when yet unborn generations of the family would think of Marie as the magnet for fun gatherings.

Since then the first of those unborn generations has been born. There are toys collected in bright plastic tubs in the main living room of the Cape house. Stacks of children’s books show up in different rooms. There is a swing set in the back yard.

Next week I go to that house for a few days. It is a time of year I have gotten to count on having that home away from home to myself. I will set the kitchen radio to play the eclectic music of a Provincetown radio station – WOMR – OuterMost Community Radio. The call letters recall the title of Henry Beston’s 1928 masterpiece of naturalist writing, The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod.

At one point during our dinner in 2006, Marie recounted her recent unearthing of a composition she had penned at the end of second grade. In it she had written of her excitement long ago at the prospect of her Uncle John’s moving in with her and her family. My older brother had generously arranged for me to live with his family for the year after I left the seminary.

When I go to Marie's house on the Cape next week, I live my own life but I live with my family again.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Kind Reader

There is no practical reason for me to own a copy of the Bible in Latin. When I discovered mine in a box in the basement this weekend, I was actually hunting for my copy of the novel Look Homeward, Angel. Biblia Sacra Vulgata was a purchase I had made almost two decades ago out of curiosity and what I will call a sort of devotional playfulness. What would the psalms have sounded like to Francis of Assisi in the 12th century? How would religious communities have heard the gospel stories read at Mass in the 18th century?

The book I purchased has remained packed and largely unmissed over the past five years. If I took it out of its moving box and carried it up the backstairs this weekend, I was falling victim once again to a pleasure in the feel and heft of the volume and its tight compactness.

Ready for a little sleuthing?

This page of Latin text from the beginning of the book shows three indentations. Can you find the beginnings of three paragraphs? The first paragraph begins “Verba Vulgatae…” The second paragraph begins “Habes ergo…” The third begins “Ordinem librorum…”

My interest is in the second paragraph. This is not a page of ancient Latin, by the way. You are looking at the first page of the Praefatio composed by Dom Robert Weber OSB as chief editor. First published in 1969 by the German Bible Society in Stuttgart, the volume also contains Dom Robert’s preface translated into German, French, and English.

Why would I be interested in the preface in Latin if it is available in three other languages? Precisely because it had not needed to be written in Latin at all. But Dom Robert Weber was addressing a community of scholars who would probably all know some Latin if they were going to use the biblical texts he had edited.

And now the line that stopped me. The start of that second paragraph: “Habes ergo…” Here is the simplest of Latin verbs in the present tense, second person singular. “Therefore you have…” Dom Robert is addressing some ONE person at this point. But who? For the answer, look at the phrase that follows, set off by commas: “benevole lector.” Kind reader.

Something prompted me to look at each of the three translations that followed. Not one begins that same paragraph in just that way. Not one addresses a “kind reader.” The English version reads: “The present edition contains all the Biblical books that are found in the Roman edition.” The German and French translations follow suit.

Only in the Latin version, when Dom Robert is clear he has the attention of some rank of fellow Latinist, does he invoke a relationship between himself and his reader. It is a relationship that will otherwise go unnoticed and unacknowledged.

Until this weekend I did not know Dom Robert Weber OSB. I certainly did not know that I owned a volume that he had edited. The pleasure of handling the book now feels like a gift. I like to think I am that booklover, that kind reader about whom Dom Robert thought.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Connecticut River Valley

I drove west for ninety minutes last Saturday morning.

When you drive for ninety minutes west from Boston on the interstate highway, you come to the Connecticut River Valley. If you know your Emily Dickinson, you have come to her hills, her grasses, her skies, her summer.

My Mapquest directions had simplified my search to looking for a sign marked Exit 4. That’s one way of explaining how I began driving north along the Connecticut River. Less than two hours later the friend I had arranged to meet in Northampton was walking with me through the quiet of the Bridge Street Cemetery.

Might the poet of Amherst have attended funerals in this cemetery the next town over from her home? If so, her attention may have settled at one point on this hoary stone.

Something would have stirred in her at this sight, I have to think.