Friday, January 8, 2010

The Woman Who Named God by Charlotte Gordon

I recommend HIGHLY a book by Charlotte Gordon. The Woman Who Named God. It is biblical scholarship at its best and also story at its best—a rare combination.

Gordon blends exegesis ( biblical text analysis and interpretation,) narrative (just plain story and literary analysis,) and midrash ( a Jewish method of using creative imagination to plum a biblical story for its hidden meanings, its emotional nuances and its spiritual and theological significance, often buried in the words themselves.) The author weaves these three approaches together seamlessly with beauty and skill.

I love this book and plan to read it again. Of course the Bible is my thing. I love it for its wisdom and its story. The Old Testament is a particular favorite, not just because of my partial Jewish heritage, but because you’ll never find better more complex lusty stories than these. Probably every human experience ever visited on humanity is there and all of it is sacred.

The invitation to and definition of my professional pastoral counseling and spiritual direction practice is: “All Human Experience is Sacred.” The Bible tells me so. I give my heart to that truth and try as much as I’m able to live it as if I believed it.

Gordon’s vision and what she attempts to do, and I think does, is to make this book an instrument of peace. The book shows that there is no scriptural justification in the Hebrew texts for Jewish/Christian/Muslim animosity or warring. Quite a remarkable achievement I think.

Charlotte Gordon lives in Gloucester, MA. She grew up as an Episcopalian. Her dad was Jewish and converted. As an adult Charlotte became fascinated by the Jewish faith and converted. (See how we all are one!) Gordon learned Hebrew and Aramaic just to do this book. I'm impressed with her commitment, patience and zeal, to say nothing of her intelligence. She is also a lovely speaker, talking with wisdom and piercing clarity about her passion for the Bible and for religious peace.

The chapters and not long or ponderous and they are titled. Notes expand on certain texts for the nosey or diligent among us. The prose has an easy but not unsophisticated flow. There's even a chapter on Jesus coming for dinner in the desert! The book follows the ancient call and vocation of Abraham, no easy faith his. The woman who names God is Hagar. The Abrahamic family dynamic is the psychological lens through which scripture works out the nuances of overt animosity and comes to peace. God is a character in the story, an active player on the stage.

Gordon’s style is light, humorous, her prose not polemical or with "attitude." This book is clothed in compassion and has the potential to convert even the most stubbornly partisan to a more wholistic inclusive but spiritually grounded point of view.

Which reminds me of a quote I heard and know not from whence it comes. Something like, I know the voice of God in my head because it is the voice which is abundantly compassionate to everyone concerned. That is one way to describe this book.