Anthropos etc.

Prelude in C (BWV 547)        J.S.Bach (1685-1750) [ORGAN]

"There's a Wideness To God's Mercy"

Fugue in C (BWV 547) J.S.Bach (1685-1750)

More observations on the first chapter of John’s Gospel begun last week…

The Middle East, including first century Palestine, was (and still is) very patriarchal. Yet sometimes translations make the New Testament appear more patriarchal than it is. Verse 4 is an example. Even a translation as recent as the New American Standard Bible (1995) has “In him [the LOGOS} was life, and the life was the light of men.” Except that the word here for ‘men’ is ANTHRŌPOS – more like ‘humanity’ or ‘human beings’ because the word is gender neutral – Greek has a separate word for men gender specifically. Another example of ANTHRŌPOS is “Humanity does not live by bread alone…” ANTHRŌPOS occurs 673 times in the New Testament and it’s interesting to revisit them all with gender neutrality in mind.

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Verse 5 has some interesting aspects as well: “and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The verb translated “overcome” (KATALAMBANŌ) has multiple meanings that are lost in English translation. Just to pick two of the main ones: it can mean ‘overcome’ as in overcoming an opponent, and also ‘understand’. So I think about how to apply this verse to my own life: “The light shines in the darkness” – yup, plenty of darkness to be found in my heart! And it’s tempting to equate this darkness with ‘sin’, which is fine, but the English word ‘sin’ to me suggests something like not conforming to the Ten Commandments, where to me phrases like ‘the darkness’, ‘the shadow’ feel like much more. But what if I think about darkness/shadow more imaginatively and expansively – Jung’s concept of the Shadow comes immediately to mind. (Carl Jung (1875-1961, ‘Jung’ is pronounced like ‘yoong’) was one of the great psychiatrists of the 20th century; began as a student of Freud, eventually had to part company with him, and founded an approach to psychiatry that whole-heartedly embraces mythology as stories about our inner lives, and the necessity of spirituality, and concerned himself with what makes humanity great and not just broken.) To Jung, the Shadow was the dark, negative side of myself, and importantly when I don’t acknowledge it and own it, it will manifest itself in my life in particularly destructive ways. (Something I can confirm from personal experience!) Hence the importance of confession – at least to myself. It’s not as if God doesn’t already know all about my Shadow, I’m the one in the dark! So when the Light shines on my Shadow, both senses of KATALAMBANŌ are true: my Shadow can’t overcome it (Shadow isn’t capable of that) but it doesn’t understand or embrace it either. So “Light” is also about facing reality – let the Light really illumine my dark places, helping me see and face my Shadow. Letting the Light of Truth shine is all about coming to a more accurate appraisal of myself – strengths and weaknesses both. That’s a lifetime of work.

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On that note, time to ring in the New Year with some Big BachTM! The main part of Bach’s career as an organist was when he was in his 20’s and 30’s. And that’s when he composed the vast majority of his organ music – because he needed music for Sunday mornings! But then he became the Music Director for Leipzig (managing, composing and rehearsing the music for two large churches and two small ones) and playing and composing for the organ was no longer part of his job description. Scholars tentatively date this morning’s prelude to Bach’s mid-40’s, when he wasn’t officially organist anywhere. So without apparent necessity for writing it, this piece may simply be a labor of love.