Reliving the Passion

Walter Wangerin Jr. Reliving the Passion: Meditations on the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1992. 156 pgs.

Walter Wangerin. Author of The Book of the Dun Cow, and many other excellent works. I had read him before, and enjoyed his writings, so when a friend recommended this book, and had a copy on hand for me, I couldn't resist. Apparently, my friend has been reading this book for Lent every year for a long time now. And that is how the book is structured; it contains 40 daily readings, one for each day of lent, all focused on the Passion of Jesus as told in Mark. So, I got the book, and Kristina and I read it together for our lent. Overall, it was a very good experience.

Other than the outline, which I already gave you, this book seems to be focused (at least in many of the readings) on getting the reader inside the story of Jesus' passion. Often Wangerin will write from the perspective of one of the characters, but just as often he writes himself, and thus the reader, into the story. In each case, he is trying to flesh out the story and make it more real to the many Christians for whom the Passion has become just another dead narrative tale of the bible. He seeks participation, and for the willing there is great reward.

For the reader who is able to enter this narrative, the experience is unique and inspiring. However, it should be said that some will find his style, and the details he necessarily has to add to the biblical story, barriers to this entering in and participating. His style can tend towards the middle ground between poetry and prose, which makes for a non-rhyming semi-rhythmic kind of tale. I happen to enjoy this style, but many do not. As for the details he adds, they are, as far as I could tell, fairly historically accurate; nonetheless, many readers of scripture will find this move awkward, or, perhaps, impious. As I say that, I am in mind of Paul's discussion of meat sacrificed to idols; strictly speaking, imagining the details of biblical stories is not wrong (so long as we remember they are our imagined and added details), but that some have trouble with this is acceptable as well (though one might question how we can really read biblical stories without adding details from our imagination and historical knowledge).

That criticism aside, Wangerin accomplishes his goal as only a master storyteller could. His skillful writing enables the reader to experience each poignant detail of the story which is central to our faith. He does his work so well, in fact, that at times I found myself not wanting to read on. The crucifixion is not something to be taken lightly, and the question of whether or not we really want to experience deeply the dark and disturbing parts of the passion narrative is a fair one. That, however, is a compliment to Wangerin who rightly assumes that, as much as our gaze recoils from our savior dying on the cross, our hearts need to be filled with that awful saving sight.

If your looking for some lenten reading, look no further. Next year, along with giving something up (like facebook or chocolate or unnecessary electronics or whatever) read this book. You won't regret it.

No comments: