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Finding God

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It was the summer of 2003 and I was not consciously intent on finding God. However, a seemingly random sequence of events led me first to Rainer Maria Rilke and then to his Stories of God. “Finding God” – the phrase still makes me uncomfortable. Rilke has one of his characters say that it is an insane arrogance to decide whether He exists or not, as if the decision itself calls Him into being or banishes Him from existence.

Just this past Friday, at a Christmas party, given by friends – a couple, a mutual friend I’ve known a long, long time, said to me that my fascination with Rilke’s Stories of God still surprises her somewhat. I thought that odd because I felt that I was in one way or another on the road to finding God for quite some time. She reminded me though of a time when I was an adamant atheist.

I smiled because, in my college days, that was true. I said quite a lot and as one does when filled with the fervor of the righteous, I said it quite loudly. I recall a Christmas Eve party a very long time ago when I drove a poor Catholic friend to tears for saying something quite rotten about nuns and their renunciation of their humanity, of their sexuality. I, in due course, apologized to her for that.

Still, I felt that I had, as the years worn on, settled into a stoic sort of agnosticism. A theological “don’t ask / don’t tell” policy.

Then, in 2003, as I became reacquainted with a singer-songwriter’s latter body of work, themes of which centered upon mortality and eternity, I became more conscious of my estrangement from this notion of heaven and a loving God. The man quoted from Rilke’s Herbsttag (Fall Day): “he who now has no house, shall never have a house / he who now is alone, shall long remain so…”

That spoke to me.

So, I set out to discover who this Rilke gentleman was and in finding these stories, I have found much besides. Finding God though – I still don’t know. There is much I don’t yet understand about Rilke’s view of God – I’ve only recently been introduced to the concept of Rilkean angels. And, so, I remain, perhaps arrogantly so, an agnostic. One bent on finding God, but an agnostic just the same.

There is much in these stories that bends me toward Rilke and God. From the allegorical journey of the right hand of God to the final tale told to the Dark which envelopes all things, much – well – is said about God and life. In due course, Rilke takes us to Russia, to Italy, to cities near and far, small and large, to the countryside, to the edge of the world and ultimately to within ourselves to think upon things, all things, quietly, alone.

If you’ve not read Stories of God, I encourage you to do so. If you too are on the road to finding God, I think you’ll feel as much joy in reading these stories as I have.

A Unique Stories of God collection – in three respects

I’ve read, in fact first read, two fine, earlier German-English translations of these stories. I recommend these to you as well. However, this edition has three unique attributes not found in either of those earlier translations. In this edition of Stories of God:

  • Each story is translated by a different translator, enabling you to glimpse something of the art of translation, something of how different translators solve particular problems in different, interesting and valid ways – and compare with your own approach –
  • A fourteenth story not found in either of the English translations currently on the market
  • The original German work, Geschichten vom lieben Gott, so, you can read either / or, or in parallel

In Closing

Aside from Sonnets to Orpheus and the Duino Elegies, Rilke, of course, left a great body of poetry. From Life and Songs to New Poems, there is a good number of reasons to overlook his prose, especially Stories of God, which he wrote at about the same time as The Book of Hours.

However, I encourage you not to pass over Stories of God. So much so that I’ve put together a special offer that will enable you to not only read the stories in English, essays about the translation process which led to them, and also Rainer Maria Rilke’s original text.

In the first story, Rilke’s storyteller says that these are stories to be told to the children. Perhaps, but they are certainly stories to be told. Elsewhere in Stories of God, Rilke writes that the story was alive when it passed many lips. In that spirit, I encourage you to also listen to the stories.

The Offer

So, if you’d like to read great German literature as you learn German, why not read Stories of God in parallel with Geschichten vom lieben Gott? And, for a limited time, take advantage of the free audio recordings: click here.

Thank you!

Jack Beacham

Copyright 2009 – Aventure Works, Inc.

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