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2 religious books, only one with a Hoosier connection. And the connection is feeble.

November 28, 2016 by Reader's Connection

The reading of a religious book is one of the requirements for this year’s reading challenge. I’m also observing our state’s bicentennial year by looking for Indiana-related material, but haven’t done well in this blog post.

The Good Book: Writers Reflect on Favorite Bible Passages is an anthology edited by Andrew Blauner. I’m sure that some of the authors gathered here have flown over Indiana sometime in their lives.
The Good Book: Writers Reflect on Favorite Bible Passages

The subtitle is misleading. Not all the contributors have favorite Bible passages. Robert Coover hates the whole thing, Genesis to Revelation, and calls his piece “The Bad Book.”

Humorist-essayist Ian Frazier grew up in Ohio, which is right next to Indiana. His essay moved me the most, so let’s cut to that. It’s called “This Saying,” and has to do with an incident described in the gospels of Matthew and Mark.

crumbs

Frazier says that after he moved from Ohio to New York, a thrilling part of his part of his life was sitting around with acquaintances, trying to make the cleverest comment.

topsjesus
cold_hard_2

I should say that my favorite passage in the Gospels is Christ’s agony in the garden, because Jesus, who is said to be completely human and completely divine, is allowed to really be human for a little while. We hear at Catholic mass that his death was “a death He freely accepted,” but in Matthew, for example, Jesus asks three times if there’s any way he could avoid his coming death and burial. He tries to be a good boy and say, Thy will be done; but then he asks again, Can we please not go through with this? 

Part of what made Frazier’s essay so moving for me was his idea that Jesus is oscillating between being human and being divine. “A similar idea in physics is the uncertainty principle, which says you cannot know both the position and the speed of a particle at the same time. Jesus was God and man oscillating back and forth–either and both, both or either, simultaneously.”
When he first encounters the Syrophoenician woman, “Jesus is just a man. He is tired, he wants to get away and rest, and he identifies by his human membership in the tribe of Israel.” The woman is not a Jew, so Jesus tries to brush her off. But her reply catches him up, and he swings back toward being God. The fact that her remark makes Jesus pay attention to the woman, and realize that her daughter is as worthy of life as the child of any Jew, makes this a key moment for Frazier: “The short interaction between this Gentile woman and Jesus at the beginning of the Gospels is a signpost that shows where the entire New Testament is going.”

 

Metamorphoses

 

Before I came across Blauner’s anthology, I was going to pass off the Rolfe Humphries translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses as a Hoosier title, because it’s published by Indiana University Press.

That may sound weak, but my idea that it’s religious book could be even flimsier. Unlike predecessors such as Hesiod, Ovid didn’t believe a word of what he was writing.

Mythology

 

And this really ticked Edith Hamilton off. In the introduction to her classic compilation Mythology, she expresses her contempt.

ham_ov

 

When I Was a Child I Read Books

 

 

Idle? There’s a lot going on in these stories, and a reader can still get caught up in these tales of women turning into trees and water bodies to avoid being raped by gods. I let the cat out of the bag when reviewing The Good Book above–I’m a Eucharist addict–but I still believe in Ovid’s changes.

In her collection of essays When I Was a Child I Read Books, author Marilynne Robinson, a devout Christian, mentions Zeus. I don’t remember the name of the essay, and I can’t look it up because that sly god Hermes has made off with the book.

robinson_zeus

That’s the world where I live. I don’t worship Zeus at an altar in my house, but metamorphoses are going on all around me all the time. Some people get depressed at this time of the year, so I won’t dwell on the story of Ceres and Proserpina (those are their Roman names, the ones that Ovid uses), and how it came to be that we have changing seasons. If you know the story, though, you might enjoy looking forward to springtime with a poem by Alicia Ostriker, who uses the names of the Greek goddesses: Demeter to Persephone. (If the poem makes no sense to you, you can click that link about Ceres and Proserpina. Same story.) When Ostriker read this poem at Butler a few years ago, she talked about how the dilemmas of these mythological characters can be related to the raising of a daughter

I myself am going through a metamorphosis by retiring at the end of November, and–I’m writing this the day before Thanksgiving–am filled with gratitude toward all of you who use the library and all my colleagues through the years.

Best wishes to everyone for all your coming seasons.

Glenn Halberstadt


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