Most of our collaboration on The Voice took place by means of technology: through email, Internet, SKYPE, and cell phones. In some cases the work was personal, that is, people knew and worked closely with their reviewers and commentators. In other cases, the work together was anonymous. It is standard practice in scholarly work for a person’s book or article to be reviewed anonymously, so neither the writers nor the reviewers know the identity of the other. This process ensures that a person’s feelings—positively or negatively—about another do not affect the quality of the review. I understood the need for those checks and balances.
But there were a few remarkable occasions when writers and scholars actually sat down together, face-to-face, to work through a translation.
One of my favorite times working on The Voice project took place in Austin, TX. Greg Garrett, a noted novelist and nonfiction writer, was working on the translation of the book of Hebrews, so I drove over to spend a few days with him. It was summer, so he had arranged for us to work in empty classrooms at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, the institution where he had studied for his Master of Divinity degree and would later remain as writer-in-residence. The staff of the school graciously allowed me to stay in one of the dorm rooms—on The Voice discount of course.
Over the next few days, Greg and I shared meals, swapped stories, and settled down over the Greek text of the letter to the Hebrews. I watched carefully and listened closely as Greg, a gifted writer, worked through the challenging prose of one of the New Testament’s most sophisticated and difficult-to-translate books. We plotted the argument and puzzled over the best way to communicate to our modern audience the way our anonymous Jewish author went about persuading his Jewish audience about the superiority of God’s new covenant. I remember watching Greg count out the syllables—the rhythm—of the prose. I learned from watching Greg that well-crafted prose has a rhythm; meter is not restricted to poetry. I had never thought of it before, but working with Greg convinced me it was true.
Scholars are often strong left-brained people; this means they are good on the technicalities. A translator might say, “This word is a Greek adverbial concessive participle and its referent is thus-and-so” or “This syllable is a pronominal suffix on the Hebrew root and its antecedent is x-y-z.” Scholars can do that sort of thing all day long. But gifted writers, poets, and artists are often strong right-brained people. They are better equipped than technical scholars at capturing the beauty of a phrase or finding the right word to resolve the rhythm of a poem. This is why I’m fond of saying about The Voice, “Finally, a Bible for both sides of your brain!”
I remember leaving Austin on the last day a bit sad. Greg and I had run out of time, and we had not been able to translate through all 13 chapters of this tough letter. We would have to go back to our respective lives to complete it, in between other duties. I was sad too that more of my Voice-related experience had been so isolated. Translation is often a solitary experience—the nature of the discipline demands it be so—even if you are working in a “collaborative environment.” As I started the car and headed for home, I was grateful for Greg’s talent and friendship. When I look back, those were good days.