The Book of Longings
Sue Monk Kidd
Some years ago, this magazine reviewed Cornelius Plantinga’s Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalist. The thesis of the book was that preachers who read fine writing will likely become deeper and more deft preachers. I wonder what might be included in such a book, seven years on. Sue Monk Kidd’s The Book of Longings must surely be one. Kidd is no Dorothy Sayers, she does not simply re-tell the Bible story, rather she interprets, adds and extends it.
The heroine is Ana, a girl with a brilliant mind and a love of writing. She studies and writes secretly, until forced into a betrothal she ultimately escapes. She meets and falls in love with Jesus, whom she marries. Their relationship inspires each to new heights of thought and spiritual pursuit.
The story is meticulously researched, and beautifully written – I won’t give the plot away here, save to say that we dip in and out of events of Jesus’ life that are recorded in the Gospels. The details of the narrative reveal what it was like to be a woman at the time, living not just under Roman occupation, but under the tyrannical demands of the religious hierarchy too. Ana is forced to pose for a picture by Herod Antipas, thus ruining her reputation. Her friend Tabitha is raped and then mutilated for telling the truth about it. It also gives an insight into the mind of men like Judas, how he might have thought, and what prompted him. The re-telling of the clearing the of the Temple is full of impetuous indignation and unpremeditated righteous anger.
Ana, wife of Jesus, is the focus throughout. We accompany her as she struggles to realise her spiritual potential, as she makes friends, and enemies, and finally comes to a place where her voice can be heard. From a preacher’s perspective, reading of Ana might give some clues about the kind of women who were bold enough to leave their homes and follow Jesus (Luke 8: 1-3).
Personally, I found Kidd’s portrayal of Jesus the man captivating and compelling. This is a real flesh and blood Jesus, who laughs, works, prays, and eventually hears God’s call to an itinerant teaching ministry. This Jesus comes alive on the page, the kind of man any reader would want to meet. There is much for preachers to gain from this book. Kidd’s use of language is deft and engaging, her underpinning research enables us to use the culture she depicts to gain insights into biblical times. But if for no other reason, I suggest that preachers should read this book for the portrayal of Jesus. Kidd’s work is an object lesson in presenting Him as a captivating person who will draw our hearers toward Him.
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