Pressing Down Hearts: The Comfort of God's Word in a New Language
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Last month's check of Old Testament prophecies with the Nigerian translators was unexpectedly difficult. My grandmother suddenly passed away while the team and I were the midst of checking Isaiah 61. I found myself dwelling on this verse in particular:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted...
Spoiled, Rising, and Pressed Down Hearts
Where the English says "brokenhearted," the translators' rendering promises good news to the "spoiled hearts." Later in the chapter, the same people were described with "rising hearts" which finally became "pressed down hearts." Why the difference? How do you get a spoiled or rising heart? How do you press a heart down?
As a translation consultant who does not speak the language, I asked the translators to explain these idioms to me in more detail.
I learned that a "rising heart" is upset by something that has deeply disturbed it -- perhaps similar to "unsettled" in English. A "spoiled heart" is the experience that causes a "rising heart." Once your heart is spoiled, it rises, leaving you in unresolved emotional and spiritual pain. Betrayal, insult, physical pain or sickness, loss of a loved one, poverty and injustice can all be rendered as "spoiled heart" so this idiom is used a lot in their translation for various key biblical terms along these lines. A rising heart or spoiled heart is comforted when it is pressed down.
When a close family member dies, the community gathers together to "press down hearts" of the bereaved. This is not just covering up the hurt or smoothing over the pain. A pressed down heart is one that is comforted by the presence of love and care until it's restored to peace, quieted and contented.
At the end of Isaiah 61:1, their translation says that the coming messenger will "press down hearts." As I learned these idioms, my own grieving heart felt the sorrow they described.
Pressing Down My Own Heart
The morning after my grandmother's funeral, the lead translator and his family called me from Nigeria to express their condolences and prayers for my family. I was overwhelmed by their reaching out in this way, but even more so when he said,
"A Yamba ci̱ngo̱man gaanggu̱ bu yi̱ bwiyan gaanggu̱ wa." "May God press down your hearts that are spoiled."
His words were straight from their Isaiah 61 translation. I confess I cannot find English words for how it feels to have my own rising heart pressed down with these words from God, through this Bible translator -- for the first time in his language.
These idioms have been used by this community for a long time, but now they are putting them into practice as part of their own Bible translation. Now, God is "pressing down" their hearts and mine with his love through their heart language.
The lead translator, also a pastor of a Nigerian church in his community, says of this work:
"Our people, they want every part of the Bible they can have. They have read the book of Luke and are finished, so now they are always asking us for more books in our language. Every time: 'Books, books, books!!'"