Friday, December 6, 2013

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín

The Testament of Mary Those of us who grew up listening to Bible stories may enjoy this chance to reimagine the life and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. As we listen to the clear and (should I say?) bitter tones of Meryl Streep reading Tóibín’s words, we realize that not much had been said of Mary in the Bible, as though she had been an unimportant part of the life of Jesus. Or perhaps, using a modern-day sensibility, she shunned the limelight, and others sought to protect her anonymity and her right to privacy by nearly erasing her from the proceedings. Rethinking the story suddenly makes the whole series of events leading to the death of Jesus fresh again, completely vital, and filled with horror.

I was awakened to this performance by a review by Charles Isherwood in the 11/24/13 NYT book review section. Isherwood tells us that this story was conceived as a dramatic monologue performed by the Irish actress Marie Mullen in Dublin in 2011, and was later expanded into a book, which was then shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize.

The audio of this short novella is a mere three hours, but it is filled with new slants on old miracles like the death and resurrection of Lazarus, the changing of water into wine, walking on water, among others. It tells of the crucifixion and the rising again. But what it did specifically for me at this time of year was to remind me again of the reason for Christmas, something we all need to be reminded of every year.

As literature, this short novella churned the creative juices and made me realize we all came away from those stories with ideas about how it could have played out, though I was too young at the time to imagine the pain a mother would experience watching her son be broken. There is a historical basis for much of what is written in the Bible though perhaps the interpretations are embellished and imagined. It behooves us to take the opportunity to reexamine these stories and ideas once again, whenever we can, to see if it sheds new light on our understanding of the underpinnings of our beliefs.

I also relish the opportunity to challenge my own knowledge of and understanding of “the facts of the case” and see how those facts fit with what Tóibín has shared with us. I am reminded once again how surprised I am when I discover my own sentiments in the mouth of another, one who lived hundreds (and this case, thousands) of years before me. When we hear of the governance and trials taking place, do we imagine that these people had no sense of justice? How else could a system of courts and hearings and trials, no matter how flawed, have come into being? I loved being reminded of these things, and I encourage you to have a look, no matter your religious background. These stories are part of the underpinnings of much of the political structures in the Western world, like it or not, and it is fruitful to be reminded.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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