A Fresh Translation That Is the Real Thing
"Embrace me as a seeker of the Truth!" This prayer in The Imitation of Christ continues to be echoed today in the thoughts of travelers on the spiritual path. After the Bible, it is the second most popular Christian writing, and in this rejuvenated translation by William Griffin, the 500-year-old classic attributed to Thomas à Kempis (A.D. 1380-1471) comes alive in sometimes ribald language. Griffin polishes the wry gloss dulled by previous translators' images of piety that precluded the possibility that religious thought could include humor. Restored is the attitude of thoughtful encouragement, showing how a clever wit proves more successful than badgering or a rap on the knuckles. What shines in this marvelous translation is an ageless text of humility, faith, devotion, and surrender.
This "how-to" for following the pilgrim's way reminds us to focus on spiritual matters rather than materialistic goals, affirming that the solace that results from putting God in the center of one's life is the richest reward one can find. Quoting freely from the Bible, including the Apocryphal books of Tobit, Wisdom, and Sirach, the essential message of the Imitation is representative of the Devotio Moderna, a movement of spiritual reform centered in the Netherlands that stressed the moral example of how to live, as demonstrated by Jesus Christ. "If you want to rule with Christ, then you're going to have to suck it in and wade through the same muck as Christ," Kempis tells us.
At its core, The Imitation of Christ is an example of sober piety and love of the divine. However, Griffin's new translation is anything but a model of solemnity and somber mood where laughter is forbidden. This new version puts perennial ideas into new clothes, using a tone that reflects the author's intelligence, wit, and understanding. Thomas à Kempis urges the reader to follow the example of surrendering to the will of God demonstrated through Jesus Christ. By uncovering a monk's sense of humor that had been lost in previous translations, Griffin renders the message in a rich and ironic voice that is right for our time and good for our souls. Although Kempis tells us to "look for Truth, not style," Griffin makes the search easier by providing a refreshing and satisfying read of this wonderful classic of spiritual thought. It will be a delight and reward for anyone who encounters it along the Way.