Traditions in Translation

Vol. 11, No. 2

Co-editors, Becca J.R. Lachman and Anita Hooley Yoder

In this issue:

  • 0 read more Introduction


    by Becca J.R. Lachman and Anita Hooley Yoder

    In the history of the church, translation has always played a starring role in who gets to talk with God, name God, and tell the story of God. Translations are not neutral, and the act of translation is a creative process. The idea for this "Traditions in Translation" issue began at a playful workshop led by poet-translator Matthew Landrum at the 2018 Festival of Faith and Writing.

    The idea grew substantially while we were both helping to lead a poetry retreat focused on the poetics of place later that year in Laurelville. Many of the pieces in this issue were …

  • 0 read more Know Your Place: Writing as Identity

    Know Your Place: Writing as Identity

    by Anita Hooley Yoder

    The following is an adapted version of the closing sermon from the "Poetics of Place" Mennonite Poets Retreat, held in June 2018.

    "I want Jesus to walk with me; I want Jesus to walk with me;
    all along my pilgrim journey, Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me." —African American spiritual

    Now, we've arrived. Over this weekend we have talked about place in terms of location, place in terms of life stage and situation, and now we are thinking about our place in relation to the task of writing and creativity in general.

    I think it's true that none …

  • 0 read more Three Poems

    Three Poems

    by Britt Kaufmann

    The Heavens Are Falling, The Heavens Are Falling

    "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge…"
    Psalm 91:4

    Take comfort,
       the pastor said, quoting scripture,
    He will gather you under His wing.

    I didn't argue aloud,
    but I own chickens, hens
    who keep their chicks safely under them
    in brave deviance of any ominous rooster.
    She separates herself from the flock:
    chuck chuck, she soothes: Follow me.
    peep peep, they persist: Help us.

    Be amazed,
       the NPR reporter said, citing studies.
    Virgin birth is common among cottonmouth snakes,
    and mentions, casually, chickens, too, …

  • 0 read more Two Poems

    Two Poems

    by Joseph Gascho

    Intro from the author: I sometimes wonder if there was more to the Christ-story than was recorded. Maybe stories were told that were left out because they were considered inappropriate. Or maybe some right-brained artisty-type author just never got around to writing them down! And I imagine how much wider open the door would be if we knew all that really happened. John 21:25: "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which, if they should be written every one…"

    A Fifth Gospel

    What if Joseph
    sat down with Jesus
    when he was 15 and told him
    you're …

  • 0 read more Psalm of Roses, Wrecks, and Coming Up for Air

    Psalm of Roses, Wrecks, and Coming Up for Air

    by Barbara Esch Shisler

    For this one cold slip of sun
    skimming the anniversary roses and
    the yellow dog rumpled in the best chair
    that lands in a triangle on the brown rug;

    for sisters in gray braids and print dresses,
    plump and adorable in church,
    whose trust in Jesus never fails;
    for a repetition of prayers for mercy
    when there is none, or good in the vale of evil,
    the ride over trembling bridges
    and tight turnpikes, the stalls and blown tires,
    the moving again through tears after wrecks,
    the year left behind like sneakers in the garage;

    for stuff I'm throwing out, …

  • 0 read more Mamma


    by Greta Holt

    "Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you."
    Deuteronomy 5:16

    Mamma ate: chicken salad, sweet potatoes, licorice twists, cake. Put anything near that woman and it was sucked into the vortex of her desire to stay alive for one more year.

    Not that Mamma was sick; she just wanted to keep influencing things, such as impressing her friends and making her daughter come every week.

    Mamma smacked her …

  • 0 read more Reimagined Scripture

    Reimagined Scripture

    by Becca J.R. Lachman

    *A version of these re-imagined Scriptures was shared in a March 3, 2019 Women Doing Theology service at Columbus Mennonite Church.

    Intro from the author: There are over 20 verses in the Bible that mention childfree women, and most of them—especially those we hear most often from a pulpit— resolve in some sort of miraculous pregnancy. I wonder if we re-imagined some of these verses, could we also nudge the boundaries of what it means to be valued in a body that identifies as female, or to widen our definitions of family?

    Here are a few possible examples of these …

  • 0 read more Reimagined Scripture: Wives Like Us

    Reimagined Scripture: Wives Like Us

    by Kirsten Beachy

    Intro from the author: This poem arrived in response to an invitation from Becca at the Poetics of Place writing retreat last summer to write an inversion of a Psalm. I inverted the celebrated "Good Wife" passage from Proverbs. I must have thought she sounded lonely, because in my (in)version, she has friends. They were named for our retreat leaders in celebration of sisterhoods of writers--and also for laughs.

    Wives Like Us

    Proverbs 31

    10Wives like us, we're a dime a dozen.
    11Our men get nervous about our nights out, but don't ask.
    12We mostly talk about …

  • 0 read more Two Songs

    Two Songs

    by Addie Liechty

    Jesus, Teach me to Grieve (song lyrics*)

    There once was a man.
    Story goes that he died and he rose again.
    His followers would be
    me and the ones who forgot the minor key.

    He has risen indeed!
    But three days was too short,
    I never learned how to grieve.

    Teach me to grieve.
    Jesus, teach me to grieve.

    I am one of the people
    who has choked back their tears
    underneath the church steeple.

    But now I'm shooting mother's sons
    forgetting that they all
    are chosen ones.

    And when my daughters weep
    I cover their mouths, I give them …

  • 0 read more Translating Musical Traditions

    Translating Musical Traditions

    by Katie Graber

    Translating musical traditions is a dangerous business, complex on so many levels. Musicians know that scores—written music—are incomplete translations of sound to sight. Performers must learn how to bring life to the marks on a page, recognizing that not all the breaths, swells, and emotions can be notated. Crossing cultural boundaries with musical transcription is even more fraught; ethnomusicologists from Western traditions have long agonized over how to visually represent non-Western music for performance and study. How can we write down notes that fall between the lines and spaces of a grand staff? How can we represent timbres, ornaments, and …

  • 0 read more And Zion Was Our Mournful Theme

    And Zion Was Our Mournful Theme

    by Julie Swarstad Johnson

    Intro from the author: This poem takes its title from one of my favorite songs in The Sacred Harp, the primary tunebook used by shape note singers. Sacred Harp or shape note singing is itself a "tradition in translation": across the United States and now around the world, singers regularly gather to share in this traditional style of unaccompanied hymn singing dating back to colonial-era singing schools, which is never undertaken as a performance or reenactment, but always thought of as a living, changing, participatory art form. 504 Wood Street, the song referenced in this poem, embodies this …

  • 0 read more Paradise


    by Eileen R. Kinch

    Author's note:

    The lyric essay, a developing hybrid form of writing, incorporates aspects of poetry and prose. Since this essay-poem focuses on language rather than on a storyline and dwells in theological mystery, the form seems to lend itself well to the content.

    1. Hebrew: pardes, orchard.
      Hebrew: gan, garden.
      Old Iranian: paridayda, walled enclosure.
      Greek: parideisos, park for animals.
      Arabic: firdaws, paradise, referring to the Garden of Eden.

    At dusk, I sit on my friend's villa porch in Alexandria, Egypt. In front of me, two small pools glimmer in the porch light. Behind them, two …

  • 0 read more Translating Rumi in Iran

    Translating Rumi in Iran

    by Wally Shellenberger

    We were sipping hot tea on our friends' Persian carpets when a friend from Tehran came through the door. He joined us, drinking his tea with a chunk of sugar, and began to joke and laugh. Between sips, Professor Pazouki, a scholar of the poet Rumi, reached into his satchel, withdrew two huge books, and gave them to us. These two volumes contained the six books of the Masnaviof Rumi in Persian script and an accompanying English translation by R.A. Nicholson.

    We had been in Iran for about a year, struggling to learn the Persian language with Mr. Nateq, …

  • 0 read more Three Poems

    Three Poems

    by Julia Baker

    Intro from author: I wrote the poem "Sighted-Dark" during a restless night. A train whistle called me to put words to the tossing and turning. My night fretting was coming from parts of myself blind to the reality of how Beloved I am, as I follow Jesus on the way.

    Being with this the Gospel lesson, Mark 10: 46-52, I was struck with what must have been forming within Bartimaeus as he begged in blindness on the city street. What healing and strengthening was the Spirit doing in the dark to give Bartimeaus the courage to name his need to …

  • 0 read more What the Tree Remembers

    What the Tree Remembers

    by Ivanna Johnson-McMurry

    As I walked out of the library and into the main foyer that led to Pastor Sadie's[i] office, I was met by Elder Zimmerman, who I had been friendly with in the past. Imposing, he stood nearly six feet and muscular to my five foot frame. He had a glorious gray beard, neatly trimmed, with sideburns to match, and wore black ill-fitting trousers with a white button down shirt. His large hirsute hands rested near his thighs. Simple, rectangular wire-rimmed bifocals nestled atop his hooked nose. I said "hello" as I looked past him to the office door of …

  • 0 read more Sanctuary


    by Sandy Vrana

    Intro from the author: Holy Incarnation Church was open at all hours, and going there was an aesthetic as well as a religious experience. The Church was always more than nuns and priests, more than the congregation. The rites of the church connected me to something very ancient, almost timeless. Religious ritual is incipient drama, and that was part of its attraction, too. Yet it was also something more than all of these things…..


    At fourteen I walk to the church
    in early autumn dusk. In the dim hush
    behind double doors my hand dips
    into holy water, cool, …