Slow reading: In the beginning, the conversation

“In the beginning was the Word …” It’s such a familiar phrase, many of us have stopped already paying attention. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we think, we know Jesus is the Word, let’s move on. But today I’d like to pause and focus on the word logos.

Logos is a Greek word which encompasses many meanings. It can be translated as word, yes, but also as statement, account, or reckoning. According to a major lexicon, it’s a ‘communication where a mind finds expression’; it can also mean a question. It can mean a report, a story; it can mean a teaching, message, or wisdom. It can mean reason, excuse or motive; it can mean a subject under discussion. And so, wherever the word logos appears in the New Testament, a committee has made a decision about how to translate it: and we know committees are biased.

For the committees which translated our English Bibles were almost entirely made up of white middle class men holding social and positional power, trained in European schools of thinking, working in hierarchical structures, and shaped by the translations and scholarship of the men who went before them.

And so they, like we, assume John’s account of the gospel begins with ‘the word’: which can imply a fixed, immutable, even authoritarian noun spoken from on high to be accepted wholesale by the people. Perhaps it’s not surprising that this translation was first cemented during the time of Constantine, when Christianity was adopted as the religion of empire and interpreted through an authoritarian lens.

And yet logos is so much richer than a single static word, and the person being introduced in John’s account embodies a curious, open, questioning stance. So I invite you to wonder what happens when we translate logos differently, perhaps as something fluid, dynamic, dialogical, and relational. For example, what happens when we translate logos as ‘conversation’ ?

1. PREPARE: Make yourself comfortable. Uncross your legs; relax your body; uncomplicate your heart. Ask God to help you surrender to whatever it is that God wants to do in you or say to you today. Breathe slowly and deeply in, then out.

2. READ: Read the following passage aloud at least three times through, slowly. Listen carefully. Notice anything which captures your attention.

In the beginning, the conversation: and the conversation was with God, and the conversation was God. It was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through the conversation, and without the conversation not one thing came into being. What has come into being in the conversation was life, and the life was the light of all peoples. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

3. REFLECT: Allow a word, phrase or single image to speak to you. What do you notice? What emotions do you feel? What questions are bubbling up? Reflect in silence.

4. RELATE: Now wonder: What does this translation suggest to you about God, church, people, the earth? Does it uphold, upend, challenge or enrich your image of Jesus? What stance does it imply? What adjectives spring to mind? Does it remind you of any other representations of God? (Hint: Proverbs 8:22-31; Matthew 28:19 …) What does it suggest about your own stance in the world, or the stance of the church?

5. RESPOND: Do you have any sense of an invitation, comfort or challenge? Pray about this, and tell God about anything which is emerging. If you feel called to action, ask God to show you the next step.

6. REST: When you feel ‘done’, rest awhile. Savour the conversation you are having with God, and God’s loving presence. Close with a gesture of thanks: perhaps a simple bow. As you prepare to leave this space, if any word, phrase or image persists, let it guide you. Or if nothing in particular arises, remember this:

  • All things came into being through the conversation … 

Of course, we here at Sanctuary try to embody the logos in all its forms, which is why on any given Sunday you will encounter a story, some teaching, a few questions … and plenty of conversation!


PS – This Sunday 15 May at 4.15pm AEST, join us on Zoom for our weekly immersion in word and conversation! For the link, text me, or email us via the contacts form.

Emailed to Sanctuary 11 May 2022 © Sanctuary, 2022. Suggestion to translate ‘logos’ as ‘conversation’ made by Victoria Loorz on The Liturgists podcast, 21 April 2022 (Church of the Wild). Find it here. The lexicon quoted is A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edition (aka BDAG). Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash. 

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