Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lord's Style of Language

I'm reading an essay by Robert Wilken, of the University of Virginia. He cites a very interesting observation made by St. Augustine. Wilken writes: “Ambrose told [Augustine] to read the prophet Isaiah. Augustine took his advice, but as soon as he took the book in hand he was perplexed by what he read. ‘I did not understand the first passage of the book,’ he writes, and he thought ‘the whole would be equally obscure.’ So Augustine laid it aside, as he explains, ‘to be resumed when I had more practice in the Lord’s style of language.’”

I really like this point of being practiced in reading the “Lord’s style,” which I would amend as God’s "style" in revelation in a manner that requires from the spiritual aspirant something more than cursory reading. More relevant, a handler of scripture really must avoid reading words with the identical meaning and importance that we ourselves apply to these words in our day to day lives. When words are lodged in revelatory context—a book meant to have the impact of guidance or, at least, influence—then we must receive the words with minds perched high on some transcending branch. Obviously words must be familiar and provoke from us some meaning that we have come to understand, but the point here is about expanding and heightening our sensitivity to nuance when reading the Quran. We can’t make something majestic as parochial, something layered as flat, something elliptical as a whole. Learned men and women have advised readers how to approach the Quran. So I’d like to add (or borrow) this: read slowly (very slowly); don’t let your mind wander; don’t jostle back and forth as if you’re in some “madarasa”; don't race or artificially compete; relax; remember the source; and lock in on something that really strikes you. Read out loud and, very important, once in a while read long passages slowly and silently. Something about the voice that can (sometimes) be distracting. Pray for an inkling for “the Lord’s style of language.”


Anonymous Shiraz said...

Great advice. We think it's so easy to deal with this holy scripture that we forget it took some 23 years to come down. So if we take 23 years to really come to terms with it, I would even consider that "fast." Let it soak in, let it breathe inside your head, let it move you word by word. Never mind if other people look like they've got it all figured out. Don't worry about them; worry about yourself. It's about your own understanding and knowledge. And that may take 23 years, but take that time. It's a worthy investment :)

5/24/2007 4:20 PM  
Blogger Abuljude said...

If only, for English-speaking Muslims, there were a better way to get to "The Lord's Style!"

Just a couple of weeks ago I was helping my son learn surat Quraysh, using Muhammad Asad's translation (my favorite). I had difficulty correlating the translation with what I was reading in Arabic. By coincidence, I went to a retreat the next day where Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah discussed the meaning of the sura, and by delving into the origins and context of the language he illuminated its meaning for me.

If only we had such unpolemic access on a regular basis!

5/26/2007 8:53 AM  
Anonymous Irving said...

A beautiful expression the Lord's style of language :) It is doubtless true for every Holy book.
Thank you once more for an illuminating post. When one can read the Qur'an with the eyes of the heart, the Qur'an becomes the heart of the believer.

Ya Haqq!

5/27/2007 9:47 AM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Right, Shiraz. I heard an story of one scholar who for 23 years read the entire Quran once a day, and then afterwords took 23 years to read one time, just to understand the book from the view of a slow pace. AND thanks Irving for your remarks. I think you're right. The Lord's style is in all of His revealed books.

AbuJ, Surat Quraysh is very short but packed with glimpses of the Quraysh and the times. Thanks for dropping by.

5/27/2007 10:46 AM  
Anonymous Maliha said...

You promised a while back to give an overview of the different Tafasir out there. I am holding you to it, and still waiting.

Sometimes when I read the Quran it becomes too familiar, in a sense that I know what the next verse will say and get into a "rut" as far as meaning is concerned. At those times all I get out of it is that temporary "high" and good mushy feeling that comes from reciting the Quran. I hate you have any suggestions on how to break out of that mold?

How do you keep your recitations "fresh" and your mind open enough for new insights/inspirations?

5/29/2007 6:45 AM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Maliha, those are really good questions, and all I can do to answer is to mention a few things that I've heard from others who have greater experience. I'll have to gather them. I'll be out for a few days, if not the rest of the week with a medical issue, and as God wills, shall resume after convalescing. Again, as God wills.

5/29/2007 8:48 AM  
Anonymous Maliha said...

I am sorry to hear about the medical issues, may He grant you shifaa, strength and patience Inshaallah.

5/29/2007 9:04 AM  
Blogger Abuljude said...

Khair, In Sha Allah! You are in my du'as.

5/31/2007 1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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6/02/2007 12:19 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Thank you Maliha and Abuljude for your well-wishes and prayers.

6/03/2007 10:32 AM  

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