The last two novels I read in '08 were the first two books of Ann Rice's Christ the Lord series. I had never read anything by her before since she seemed (to me) consumed with vampires and other Gothic/horror material and that really does not appeal to me. (I remember freaking out at a slumber party over the movie Interview with the Vampire. I don't have the stomach for that.) But WORLD magazine had a fairly favorable review of Road to Cana (book 2) so I thought I would give this a try.
Rice had a revival of her faith from atheistic dormancy to the Catholicism of her childhood a few years back and decided she would not write anything else that did not pertain to her new faith. So she set about writing a series of fictional novels of Jesus' life. Her conversion story is told in part in the Author's Note at the end of Out of Egypt and she has a new memoir, Called Out of Darkness, detailing this.
Out of Egypt (book 1) begins with seven-year-old Jesus and his older half-brother James playing with some neighborhood kids, including a bully who tries to pick on Jesus. Somehow...Jesus ends up knocking down the kid and it appears he is dead. Jesus doesn't know what happened but he felt some kind of power or force leave him. Right away, I was a bit perturbed at this and I wasn't sure I could continue. Apparently, James is a child from Joseph's first marriage (wife now deceased) and there are no other children from the union of Joseph and the Virgin Mary. Rice's decidedly Catholic beliefs are all over the novel. Jesus later brings the bully back to life but he's got a bit of a reputation for doing weird things. (Rice notes that she used apocryphal and traditional medieval tales for some of this information.) I did finish the book and there were some bright spots. Rice is very well-researched and she brought to life the atmosphere and political situation of Judea under Roman control. The helplessness of the Jewish people and the oppression of Herod and others sets up the Israelites looking for a Messiah King who will march in to Jerusalem on his horse, lead an army, and overthrow Rome. Because the narration is from a young child's perspective, the writing seemed clunky at times--too seven-year-oldish. And it is impossible to know with certainty what Jesus knew when--when did he realize he was God's Son, fully God and fully human? There is a beautiful passage at the end of the book when Jesus has gone out to an olive grove alone at night, looks into the star-filled night, and prays to his Father that nothing he will ever do will be outside of God's will.
Road to Cana picks up years later as an adult Jesus is about to begin his earthly ministry. Again, I had some problems with Rice's plot, I guess, places where I was a bit uncomfortable with the Jesus she portrayed but again, it is impossible to really know. A grown man who is expected to marry, Jesus mourns that he never will and at times is tempted by a beautiful, godly woman, Avigail, who everyone in town expects him to marry. Rice is on more solid ground in the last portion of the novel when she covers Jesus' baptism, temptation in the desert, calling of the disciples, and the marriage feast at Cana. Here, the writing soars. Jesus' responses to Satan while being tempted were fabulous. There you hear the mission of Christ to save "soul by soul" the world, rejecting power, riches, and self-preservation.
Our women's Bible study this semester will focus on the Beatitudes and look at examples in Christ's life where he demonstrated and fulfilled those words. Coming out of the season of Advent, reading these earthy, human depictions of a very real God come to earth in Rice's novels, reading Reggie's blog posts about Incarnation, has renewed my desire to have relationship with a "Who" and not just study the "whats." We can focus on theology and concepts that end in -tion all the time and lose sight of the divine Person of Jesus who walked this earth, dirtied his feet and hands, and rescued his children.