Monday, September 15, 2014

7 Questions: Alice Camille

Alice Camille is an author, religious educator, and parish retreat leader. She received her Master of Divinity degree from the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, where she also served as adjunct faculty in ministry formation, preaching and proclamation. Alice has worked in parishes and campus ministry, supervised a shelter program for homeless women, and been active in ecumenical settings.  Alice writes the monthly commentary, "Exploring the Sunday Readings" (Twenty-Third Publications) and collaborates on the homily series, "Prepare the Word" and daily reflections for "Take Five For Faith" (both from TrueQuest Communications.) She is the regular "Testaments" columnist for US CATHOLIC magazine (Claretian Publications) and a regular contributing essayist to "Living With Christ" (Bayard, Inc.) and "Give Us This Day" (Liturgical Press.)  She is currently working on a three volume lectionary commentary for ACTA Publications called This Transforming Word.

1) First off, thank you for taking the time to answer the following questions.  I wanted to start off with a question about your personal involvement with Sacred Scripture. How has Scripture played an important role in your prayer life?  Has it always been that way?
From childhood on, I was a big reader and in love with stories. But I didn't take the Bible to heart till I was about fourteen. One Sunday I heard a really good lector read a passage from Jeremiah like he meant it. It was such a passionate lament, delivered so dramatically, it resonated with my teenage self. Jeremiah sounded the way I felt, most days! I admit I vandalized the missalette that day, tearing the passage out so I could spend more time with it. It had never occurred to me before that anything in the Bible had anything to do with me. All of a sudden, I knew that Scripture was meant to speak right to me.

Some years later in college as an English major, I studied the Bible as Literature and developed a sense of how it tells its Story. When I was 22, I made the commitment to read the entire Bible cover to cover. They always say that's the worst way to do it, but I'm a bit of a kamikaze once I commit to something. It took eleven months to read all the way to Revelation. By then, I felt like a different person. I saw God, the world, human history, and my place in it all in a radically new and significant way. Reality was on fire for me. Eventually, I made my way to a seminary program at the Franciscan School of Theology, to study Scripture formally. I had no plan in mind to do anything with such a degree. I just wanted to know all I could about what had become a crucial Story to me.

2) Greg Pierce, President and Co-Publisher at ACTA Publications, called you "a true treasure to the Catholic Church in the United States" for your ability to open up the Scriptures and make them come alive for the average Catholic.  With such a wonderful endorsement of you and your ministry, I was wondering what you thought about the current state of Catholic Biblical literacy in the United States in 2014, particularly as we approach the fifty year anniversary of the publication of Dei Verbum?
Greg Pierce is a gracious man. I hope not to be a liability to the Church, at least. I try to be clear that I'm not a Scripture scholar, but rather an eager student of these books. It's made such a difference in my life to have encountered Sacred Story that I've become evangelistic about wanting to share that experience. But are we there yet, all of us together, in terms of biblical literacy? We're certainly much, much better than we were before the Second Vatican Council. I meet lay Catholics all over the country who are in small groups reading and studying Scripture; lectors taking their calling seriously and becoming students of the texts they're charged to read; older priests who barely got introduced to Scripture in their seminary training who have since embraced the need to know these texts more intimately and thoughtfully. What impresses me is that, while many Protestants of my acquaintance have often memorized more Scripture and can summon up chapter and verse, practicing Catholics have internalized much more Scripture than they realize through their exposure to the lectionary.  When a Catholic finally comes to Scripture intentionally, they already have an instinctive sense of how to appreciate what it's saying. Especially if they've been graced with good preachers in their parish!

3) Recently, you have been involved in The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition project by ACTA Publications.  What attracted you to this project and this unique translation? 
A good friend gave me The Message years ago when it just included the New Testament and the Book of Psalms. The author, Eugene Peterson, expanded his unique translation gradually. At the time I got this older volume, I was writing mostly lectionary-based commentary that required the New American translation, and so I didn't have a professional use for The Message. I gave it away. Later on, I was leading a pretty sophisticated group of parishioners in a Bible study that lasted seven years. We started using different translations to spice things up. I got interested in Bible translations and how they inform meaning. The more I made textual comparisons, the wider my appreciation of a passage became.

When ACTA got involved with The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition, I was very interested. One problem I'd had with some translations I favor is that there are "holes in the plot," so to speak. I love my Jewish Study Bible, for example, but it's only good so far as it goes, which is the end of what we call the Old Testament. Some Protestant translations are interesting to use but without the Catholic books, the Deuterocanon, they leave me hanging in some of the work I'm doing. The chance to see The Message paraphrase translation "completed," from a Catholic perspective, was exciting. To be part of that completion, even in a small way as a first reader/consultant, was an adventure.

4) What was your role in the new translation of the Deuterocanonical books done by William Griffin?  Do you remember any specific renderings that you helped influenced to be included in the final, published version?
As I mentioned, I'm no scholar and I don't read ancient Greek or Hebrew. The paraphrase translation of the Deuterocanonical books you see in the Catholic Message is entirely the work of William Griffin. I didn't and couldn't have written a word of it. Most of what I did was ask questions that I thought would concern the average reader. Such as: is this macho-sounding phrase here necessary to be true to the text, or is it creative license gone a shade into the valley of testosterone? Ancient texts are nearly always sexist-sounding from a modern perspective: it was a man's world back then, for sure. But translators can also contribute to and exacerbate that impact by their word choice. I compared each verse of the paraphrase to the more familiar New American Bible, which is based on different original materials than the ones Bill Griffin and Eugene Peterson employed for The Message. Where there were significant departures in meaning, I tried to discover why. Bill usually had a good reason; a few times he modified a phrase that was strictly playful, for the sake of cultural sensitivity or greater fidelity. 

5) Connected to your work with The Message, you are in the process of completing a three volume commentary on the Sunday and Feast Day lectionary readings called This Transforming Word.  The volume for Cycle B of the lectionary calendar will be available for purchase shortly, and like the one for Cycle A, is keyed to The Message Bible.  I have been enjoying reading your commentaries for Cycle A these past few weeks in preparation for Sunday Mass.  I appreciated your reflection back in the commentary for the twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time on Isaiah 22, where you noted that God is the divine hand that hammers us in as imperfect nails into the walls of history.  I was really taken by the image, particularly in the end when you related it to the nails of the cross.  I am interested to know what your hopes are for this series of books and what inspires you when you are composing each reflection?
I was first asked to write Scripture commentary for the Sunday readings twenty years ago. Not having a scholarly background, I could only write about them as a believer who deeply cares about these words and ideas. I made a promise that I wouldn't pretend to be smarter than I am, or to have answers I honestly don't. The goal wasn't to do what the scholars rightfully do with their special expertise. But I didn't want to go the devotional, sentimental, or pragmatic routes either: becoming the Ann Landers or Helen Steiner Rice of the lectionary! My job was to do what the thoughtful reader should do: allow the word of God to fall on my heart and to ask its burning questions of me. I read each passage. I let it talk to me. Then I try to faithfully transcribe that conversation for the reader.

What are my hopes for This Transforming Word, Cycles A, B, and C? Every book is an invitation launched into the unknown. Sort of like stuffing a note in a bottle and casting it out to sea. I hope people find it and read it. I hope it begins a conversation within them that brings them something useful, personal, and wonderful. I hope the encounter with Scripture becomes, for each reader, full of grace. I judge the success of everything I write by the one-sentence rule. If the reader finds in a book one sentence worth posting on the bathroom mirror or bulletin board, one idea that opens a door, then it worked.

6) How do you think the average Catholic could best utilize The Message:Catholic/Ecumenical edition and your lectionary commentary volumes?
The Catholic edition of The Message is not going to replace the New American Bible—or the New Jerusalem, NRSV, or whatever folks are already reading. Until the day he died, my Dad preferred the Douay family Bible he'd had all of his life. Of course he did. It was the voice of God in his head. And I have a special affection for all of these translations and more, each for different reasons. No one should, or will, abandon all other Bibles for the Catholic Message. And yet—

—no one should disregard a new translation just because they like a familiar one. The cardinal rule to keep in mind is that every translation is an interpretation. There is no "right" Bible, and all the rest are somehow wrong ones. Every translation is an interpretation, so it can be fascinating to see what this interpreter discovered in the text versus that interpreter. Some translations have just the right solemnity and cadence to be declared in front of the assembly. And others sound friendly and engaging in a little gathering of friends, or with young people; on retreat, or for personal reflection. The folks who use This Transforming Word with its excerpted passages from The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition will most certainly be hearing those same passages proclaimed from the ambo that Sunday from the New American Bible translation. That will be a formal public encounter. This Transforming Word provides an intimate, personal experience. Ideally these two collisions with the Word will complement each other and make the Sunday encounter richer.

7) Finally, do you have a favorite passage or verse from the Bible?  Why?
I have three. They each came into my life when I needed them. First was the Jeremiah passage that led me to missalette vandalism: "You have duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped." (Jer 20:7-9) The Message renders this wonderfully as: "You pushed me into this, GOD, and I let you do it." So true!

The second is from the Letter to the Hebrews: "God's word is alive, it strikes to the heart; it pierces more surely than a two-edged sword." (Heb 4:12) I think that's a Grail translation I used to pray with a lay community years ago. It describes my experience so powerfully I used it for the title of my first book.

Last but not least, Romans 8: "Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" (Rom 8:35-39) Most translations say"What will separate us," but the Grail insists on who. The whole passage describes all the forces of earth and heaven that are very strong, but can't do it: can't keep us from such great love. The Message says gleefully: "There is no way!" I'm wagering my whole life on that hope.


James I. McAuley said...

This woman is filled with humility. She is also on fire with the love of God. May God bless her. I will have to check out her books.

Timothy said...

Indeed! I have been enjoying her Lectionary commentary series quite a bit lately.

@Pat9714 said...

I love your work, and your words here, Alice Camille. Very helpful.