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Disclaimer: I don’t write book reviews, but in recommitting to daily reading this year, to support my writing, I will occasionally write about the books that I’m enjoying here. Let me know if it’s something you want more of!
A journey towards Jesus
Last year, as politics became less about policies and more about power, more about oppression, more about right vs wrong, I fled the dark thoughts surrounding it by turning to Jesus, to rereading the gospels over and over again, every 30 days, August-December. Part of this was spurred on by my church, who preach the word of looking to Jesus weekly. Part of it was Annie F Downs’ commitment to do the same for the entirety of 2020. And part of it was desperation. I needed Jesus. I needed to see him. I needed to know him: what he would do, how he would respond to similar circumstances in his own life, culture, and time.
So I spent those months hunkered down with him, not seeking some deep study, but just watching him in the stories. And what I walked away with the most was a firmer grasp on his humanity. On his likeness to us.
Of course he was/is also God.
Of course he didn’t sin, because…he was/is God.
But I think so often if we only focus on those twin facts, we lose his humanness. We lose just how much he relates to us. We miss the empathy present in his life, both then and now. We miss the capability of growth, of evolution. He was and is countercultural, but I wonder if before that can happen, a lot of unlearning happens in how to be that. In how to go against the culture you grew up in, the culture that is imprinted by parents and family and everything and everyone that surrounds you. He had to grow. The Bible says that he did grow, and not just physically, but mentally and spiritually—to grow in wisdom is not just about age or maturity. It’s to grow in wholeness, to grow in faith and devotion.
To put it simply: Jesus did not come out of the womb wholly ready to encounter the world with the Kingdom of God. He had all the stigmas against him, just like many do now. He had a whole culture to learn and unlearn. He had to grow up into it, to first know and encounter the Kingdom of God confined to earth for himself—just like we all must.
As I walked with Jesus in those pages over and over again, that’s the part I focused on. How he grew. How he interacted with others, also just growing. How he built the Kingdom by being part of it, not only by teaching it.
So that leads me to this novel that kept my attention for most of April.
A voice to the voiceless
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk-Kidd tells the story of Jesus’ wife. It is not making a case for Jesus having a wife, but it is simply telling a story, a “what if” scenario. In her endnotes, Sue graciously describes two things that stick with me. First, marriage was so commonplace that it would make sense for it not to be mentioned as a highlight in the gospels, which each were written with the writer’s agenda—not to detail the entire, chronological history.
Second, if Jesus did have a wife, then her voice was decidedly shuttered by early church history, which is another very common practice of that time and culture. Most women in the New Testament are left nameless, known mostly by relationship, with several exceptions. That is really what drove Sue to write this story, of a woman that, if real, was most silenced, and to give her a voice.
I loved this book long before I read Sue’s notes at the end, but it was those notes that really solidified the spot in my heart for this book to stay.
Because isn’t that what Jesus did, too? Gave voice to the voiceless?
What stays with me from The Book of Longings
The book itself is a sweeping saga about Ana, who meets Jesus and later is wed to him. I loved her character and how she rose to the challenges she faced, and how she softened—without losing that strength—through Jesus’ understanding and support of her.
But of course, as someone pursuing Jesus, it was his character in this novel that will stay with me. Because for me, it really complemented what I’ve been learning about him and his journey. It showed him as 100% human, like us, struggling and wrestling and grieving and hoping—and loving his wife through it all.
*spoiler alert below*
Stop reading if you don’t want to know specifics!
One of the first times that Jesus and Ana first cross paths, she comes upon him praying alone on a hill. He speaks words of mourning. Later, when he describes that moment, he says (paraphrasing): “When my father died, I heard God say, ‘I will be Father to you now.’ I am learning what that means.”
He tells Ana of his sense of mission and longing to bring God’s kingdom. Surrounded by other ideas of how that comes—force, murder, overthrow—he speaks of love.
This book enlivens the mystery of Jesus’ growth and young adulthood. It takes great care in guessing at his thoughts and heart in that journey. But the main focus of the story is Ana, and how she grows in her own views of God, faith, and love–especially in relation to what she feels compelled to do: write. Of course I also related to this gnawing in her bones to write down the stories she couldn’t stop repeating in her mind.
Overall, it is just a breathtakingly beautiful read. I highly recommend reading it!
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