John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

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Poet's Corner: from Gospel

From Gospel:

[n.b. Patrick O’Hanrahan and Lucy Dantan are respectively a professor and a graduate student in the University of Chicago Department of Theology, traveling together in search of a lost 1st Century Gospel said to be written by one of the Twelve Apostles, St. Matthias. Rabbi Mordechai Hersch, an old friend of O’Hanrahan and a professor of history at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has assisted at various them at various points in their search, though not necessarily for the same reasons. Things come to a head in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia…]

     “Hypocrites! You, Paddy, with your delusions of grandeur! Cover of Time magazine, front page of The New York Times, money and new position—did you hear yourself in Jerusalem? Not just Jerusalem. For as long as we’ve known each other the Gospel of Matthias was going to be your ticket. It was going to make up for everything that had gone wrong in your life. A panacea, a philosopher’s stone!

     The rabbi, pacing measuredly, turned on Lucy: “And you, little girl. Did you hear yourself, bagel in your mouth, at the King David? Princeton, Harvard, Columbia—what to do with all the big offers coming your way? Oh yes, this scroll meant you got to see the world, got to take a Greek cruise, but some pretty new schmattes, get rid of that thesis you hated. Both of you, think about it! You never once have thought about the implications of this scroll. Never once!

     Both Lucy and O’Hanrahan remained quiet.

     “You didn’t care if this gospel caused a war? You didn’t care if this gospel shook the faith of millions? I never once heard you consider such a thing. And you, Paddy, you yearned for it to be a firebomb. I’ve heard you delight in the possibility that you could dismantle the Vatican, upset housewives all over America— you prayed for this to turn Christianity on its ear.”

The rabbi’s voice weakened with strain: “I’m sorry I wrote that book, Not the Messiah. It was unworthy of the gifts that God has entrusted to me. You don’t believe me, little girl, though I have spoken honestly with you. But I don’t care what you think anymore. I tell you …”

     The rabbi sat down on the bed, he too showing the strain of the recent weeks.

     “I tell you,” he continued softly, “I think about God all the time. When I wake up in the morning—you, Paddy, may mock—but I praise God for the day and that I am alive in it. And when I go to sleep, I go to sleep praying—God is the last thought I think. And through the day, I make a sandwich. I take out the garbage. I make the bed. And I think then of God too.”

     Lucy wished she hadn’t spoken. She wanted to say something but it was impossible. Because she used to be that way too.

     “… but it is how I am,” the rabbi went on. “And as I get older, I come to see the world as a great challenge laid out to us by God. Moslem, Jew, and Christian all adoring the God of Abraham. If we kill each other in war after war, I am convinced God will have done with us! If we learn to love and respect each other and praise this God of Abraham together, then we will be worthy of His world, and not until. And that is why I held back that last chapter. Just in case it did upset the apple cart, hm?”

     Rabbi Hersch stared directly at Lucy, looking tired but his eyes piercing and purposeful as ever.

     “Because, little girl … I wouldn’t do that to you. The bleeding Sacred Immaculate Wounds of Mary’s little toe—I think a lot of your religion is full of crap. I respect it—this much …” He held up a pinched finger. “Which is nothing. To hell with the church, to hell with your religion, but I would not shake your faith. I would not do that to you because you are a good person, Lucille. And if you find God in what you believe then I am not going to have it on ledger: the Rabbi Mordechai Hersch took that away from Lucille Dantan. No one who believes in God …” He looked to the ceiling. “… should cause others to disbelieve in this Godless world. I would never do that to you.”

Wilton Barnhardt (b. 1960)

Gospel is, if not my favorite book, certainly in the top ten. It's not a perfect book—it drags a bit in spots, particularly in the chapters set in Greece—but nevertheless I find it endlessly fascinating, both for its insights into the history of Christianity and for its exploration of faith. This passage is one of many that make me like the book so much.

Gospel is, unfortunately, out of print, but it's well worth looking for in your local library or from a used bookseller. And maybe one of these days Barnhardt will come out with another book and his publisher will bring it back into print. I'd love to have some copies on hand at the store; I know I could sell it. Alas.

Tags: poet's corner

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