On Translating the Doukhobor Psalms
The Doukhobor psalms were once a living, breathing set of sacred texts, passed along orally from parents to children, and added to with each generation.
As we lost the ability to speak and read the Russian language, we lost the ability to pass down this sacred heritage. It seems obvious that our only chance of preserving these
psalms and the wisdom contained in them is to translate them into the English language.
But we can’t translate them literally. The worldview that gave rise to these psalms is disappearing. The language these psalms use to convey deep spiritual truths and mystical
insights is less and less used in modem society.
This doesn’t mean that God is dead, but it means that old ways of understanding and speaking about the sacred are being replaced by new ones.
For example, up to 70 percent of people under the age of 30 identify as “spiritual, but not religious”! These people are highly interested in spirituality, but not in the guilt, dogma,
authoritarianism and lack of ﬂexibility that plague established religious institutions of all kinds——including our own Doukhobor organization, to some extent.
Nevertheless, these people want and need spiritual guidance. They want to understand and connect with the sacred in a way that is loving, forgiving, authentic and full of joy.
Imagine each of these people as a young spirit wrestler, walking away from an established church organization, and looking for a genuine way to connect to God. What can we offer them? What do they most need to hear?
The Doukhobor psalms, if translated in this way, can be a source of spiritual nourishment for a younger generation-—-and hopefully for many generations to come.
Principles Behind These Translations
These psalms are full of deep, wise, heartfelt teachings about how to live our lives, how to cultivate relationships with the world around us, with each other, and with God.
It is possible to express this heartfelt wisdom in language that is:
- clear and alive;
- usable in the context of public worship and everyday prayer by anyone who wants to pray;
- gender-neutral, respectful and inclusive of all human beings and all paths toward the sacred;
- positive, focused on spin’tual growth and lawakening, rather than on judgment and punishment;
- provides a gateway into spirituality for people who are not necessarily committed to or familiar with the Christian worldview.
Doukhobors traditionally believe that a spark of the Divine lives in each person. This is our chance to open our culture, and our prayers, to include everyone. May our ancestors,who struggled so hard to cultivate peace and wisdom, bless us to do this work, and may the Divine enable and empower us to do so.