Vignettes from Earth’s Oldest Records
It’s been a while since I looked forward to a book’s release more than Written on Our Hearts. Billed as a biographer’s peek at the Old Testament, a view from the storyteller’s perch, I yearned to hold it in my hands and curl up with the stories that are as familiar to me as my own plains pioneer heritage, like holding my own spiritual book of remembrance.
There’s a downside to having someone else write a book about your people.
I wondered about myself for a moment as I turned the pages to a book that was too small to bear the weight of God’s grand designs and read the still very readable vignettes. (Another recent discussion about my persistent curmudgeonly reaction to Austen’s characters in Pride and Prejudice has me worried about my integrity as a reader. Surely I’m not going the way of the get-off-my-grass writers, still so early in my life?) I read on with increased self-awareness and not a little trepidation.
As author Emily Freeman discussed Jacob, I realized what it is. It’s not just that she writes for the to-this-point-less-interested reader of the Old Testament (and I’m far from that place, though I know many in it); it’s that I have a different take on those stories that mean so much to me … and, I realized, to her.
So I am a bit of an opinionated curmudgeon. But I can be taught.
I returned to the pages with renewed interest, not because I was expecting to discover historical realities that I hadn’t already absorbed (as I guess I had hoped), but so that I could get an entirely different sense of place … her sense of place for a place I already thought I knew.
Then it became interesting.
Her Jacob is a deceiver who is taught a lesson when his father-in-law in turn deceives him, who learns to trust in the Lord’s plans and the Lord’s timetable from an impetuous and eager-beaver beginning. My Jacob is an earnest young man awash in the currents of expectation exuded by people carrying the weight of unwieldy future blessings, doing his best to navigate, often feeling overwhelmed by the infinity numbers attached to everything he chooses.
It occurs to me that both of us may be seeing a snapshot of the real Jacob, the complex character who persisted with the Lord and was renamed Israel because of it.
Occasionally in Freeman’s writing I nodded energetically. She spins a single vignette around one of my favorite interactions in the Old Testament: the purchase of Araunah’s threshing floor by King David, a holy place in Israel’s past and future. Despite the good man’s offer of the area for a temple site, David refused it because he would not give his own offering “of that which doth cost me nothing.”
That interaction has profoundly influenced the way I approach my own living of the law of sacrifice. We live in a society that is obsessed with getting good deals on things, with making a living paying less for things than they are worth and turning around and selling them for more than we paid. David, the Lord’s King, eschewed that practice, as old as any economy on Earth. For the Lord, he would sacrifice for his sacrifices.
Freeman makes a connection to our own temple worship that I hadn’t, however. From the very inception of the building of God’s temple, the purchase of the ground to the olive trees that formed the doors, David pursued a path of consecrated sacrifice. He not only built the structure with integrity to God’s design, he built with integrity to God’s way of doing things at every stage of the process. It’s a mindfulness from the very beginning of a lifetime work that I had not read into even one of my favorite interactions. I like that.
In every one of her stories, I found a perspective different from my own. Once I let go of my fierce love and loyalty to my version of the Old Testament, I found an even richer sense of place, like a busy Mid-East market that suddenly opened up another street full of vendors. The wares were tame – mostly fresh fruit and scarves – but I found a lot within Freeman’s work that I could share with others who don’t like the foreign feel and too-big acreage of the Old Testament’s storymall.
I brought back souvenirs for my friends and a few new conversation pieces. A worthwhile adventure.
Meanwhile, I think my own version of the story of my people needs dusting off. Perhaps the conversational What Were You Thinking? should take shape and go to press. Then someone else can sit holding it, grappling with conflicting opinions about my story of her people.