Archive for May 2015
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Picador, 2012, 406 pp.
After finishing Wolf Hall, I couldn’t wait to dive in to Bring Up the Bodies. The story picks up right where Wolf Hall leaves off, with the death of Sir Thomas More. King Henry VII is becoming disenchanted with Anne Boleyn, as she loses her second child. Bring Up the Bodies follows the story forward to the accusations, trial and death of Anne Boleyn, as the King’s infatuation with Jane Seymour grows.
As in Wolf Hall, the focus of the story is Thomas Cromwell, and the novel unfolds from his perspective. Mantel’s storytelling makes Cromwell a sympathetic and humane character, a shrewd businessman with a growing fold of young men in his household. However, Bring Up the Bodies shows Cromwell as the legal architect of the trumped-up case against Anne Boleyn and her supposed lovers. Mantel’s Cromwell is patient and calculating, the perfect embodiment of the proverb, “revenge is a dish best served cold.” The story places the four men accused of cavorting with the queen in a play, years before, mocking Cromwell’s mentor Cardinal Wolsey. Cromwell’s case is his silent, unacknowledged payback.
One of the interesting aspects of Mantel’s story is Cromwell’s religious and spiritual life. His intellectual curiosity makes him a Protestant sympathizer, because he believes in access to the Bible, to thought and new ideas. However, he seems distant from God or faith, uncertain of the reality of God, or more importantly, whether God matters at all. If God is real and God matters, he is convinced, it is a God unbound by human limits and human imagination. This interaction with the dying Queen Katherine is an example.
She looks up. ‘I have wondered, master, in what language do you confess? Or do you not confess?’
‘God knows our hearts, madam. There is no need for an idle formula, for an intermediary.’ No need for language, either, he things: God is beyond translation. (91)
Mantel’s writing is just superb. Her style is subtle and direct, just like Cromwell himself. Initially, it appears like it could be dense or dry, especially since the major plot developments are already known by history. However, I find myself turning page after page. Mantel is already at work on the third volume of the trilogy, and I can only hope it will be published soon.
There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor, ed. by Rev. Martha Spong, Skylight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, VT, 2015, 215 pp.
For years, my clergywomen friends and I have been swapping stories about what our lives are like in the crazy, beautiful work of ministry. “You should write that down.” “We should write a book someday.” “Somebody needs to publish all these stories,” the voices echo. Finally, someone did!
There’s a Woman in the Pulpit captures the stories of dozens of clergywomen across denominations and cultures and across the world. The initiative began with the RevGalBlogPals, a blog ring of women in ministry that I read for a long time and was honored to join when I became a blogger myself. Many of these women have been writing their stories for years, others are new to ministry or to writing. They pulled together the best of the best from all the submissions for There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.
Here’s my response: I laughed. I cried. I shouted, “I know exactly what you mean.” I had to put the book down because I was too deeply moved to turn another page. I wanted to answer back by swapping stories of my own. I felt like I was hanging out with old friends (and, truth be told, several of the authors are my friends–in person or via the internet). I said a deep, sighing “yesssss” on multiple occasions.
The breadth of the stories moved me. While I expected the stories about tender moments with the dying to bring a tear or two, I was surprised to also find myself sighing deeply over the stories of mothering through ministry, or presiding at the communion table, or preaching. There were stories I immediately recognized as similar to my own, like keeping vigil at the bedside of a beloved church elder or searching for a nice pair of preaching heels, and stories that offered me a window into another’s life, like parenting a child with a disability or juggling a church and a farm.
If you want to know what it’s like to be a woman in ministry (or just a person in ministry–not all stories are gender-specific), this is the book for you. If you are a person in ministry and want to read something reflecting our experiences with beauty and wonder and humor, this book is for you. If you love a woman in ministry, this book will offer insight into her world. While there are occasional stories of sexism or gender bias, most of the book is just about the beautiful, messy, holy lives we share with beautiful, messy, holy people and congregations.
When I have shared stories like these with others, including male clergy colleagues, there is often disbelief. “That doesn’t really happen, does it?” You might read this book and feel the same question arise. Here is my three-part reply: 1. Yes, this stuff really happens. 2. Yes, I mean it. It really does. 3. Isn’t it beautiful and messy and holy, and isn’t that just what God is like?
I’m so proud to know many of the women whose writing is contained in this book, and I feel blessed to have our stories told for the world to share. Get it, read it, love it.