Book Review 8: “Those Who Wait”
A few weeks ago a friend on Facebook sent out a plea for people to review her book before it’s published next Monday (16th October.)
I’ve never met Tanya Marlow, but over the last year I’ve become electronically acquainted with her in her role as Christian speaker and writer, blogger (“Thorns and Gold”), campaigner, and lipstick enthusiast. Her kind, thoughtful and patient personality shine through the electronic medium, and I decided to give her book a go.
“Those Who Wait: Finding God in Disappointment, Doubt and Delay” works around an imaginative retelling of the waiting stories of four Biblical figures: Sarah, Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary. There are questions to consider, either as an individual or in groups; there are prayers and there are creative exercises, all based around the frustrations and pain of waiting for God to act.
Tanya has suffered from ME for about twenty years, during which time she has got married and had a son, although she is rarely well enough to leave the house. She knows a lot about suffering and waiting – and about being told that ME is purely psycho-somatic and she just needs to try harder to get well. This experience of course adds emotional impact and verisimilitude to her work.
This is not the kind of book I’m used to reading for myself, and I didn’t go to that kind of housegroup. So I’m not sure if I’m really the demographic intended.
I would strongly recommend Those Who Wait for people wanting to consider frustration and God’s delay in their lives, and in the world, within an orthodox but not unquestioning context. Tanya has worked very hard to provide different ways to approach the material – it can even be used as an Advent resource. Occasionally this feels like the kitchen-sink approach to Christian resourcing, and I think a reader or group would need to give some thought beforehand as to how best to use it, and not try to do everything.
Basically we have a prologue, the four retellings (each arranged in several chapters, with questions per chapter and more general questions at the end); an epilogue; and six group Bible studies which include passages from James on patience, and Romans 8 on the groaning of creation. There are also historical notes explaining the background to the stories and some of the narrative choices she made.
For me, such a book stands or falls on the quality of the retelling, and these are very good. Sarah waits for the promised baby. Isaiah waits for God to fulfil his prophecy of doom and ultimate hope (a wait that extends beyond his own lifetime.) John waits for the Messiah and for his own life to have a completed meaning. Mary waits for the baby. All of them are people with hurts and joys and a believable background. Occasionally in the telling the accessible modern and the ancient worldview clash (did the ancient world have a concept of “tourism”?) But the telling is imaginative and powerful.
I was particularly moved by the John the Baptist chapters, but especially intrigued by the Isaiah ones. We don’t (I don’t) often think of Isaiah as having a personal life, the way we automatically do for Jeremiah or Hosea.
It’s plain that Tanya wanted to include someone waiting for what does not come in their lifetime, and she relates this waiting and delay to our wait for Christ to return, and for justice. One can also applaud her evenhanded choices: two Old and two New Testament characters; two men and two women.
Her stories, and also her historical notes, do not shy away from the difficult issues, such as the sometimes appalling behaviour of both Abraham and Sarah; although she sticks faithfully to the text. The book is safe for those who believe the stories literally – but not safe for those who are afraid to express anger and loss, which is as it should be.
The Prologue (though rather long) and Epilogue should not be missed, as they provide a powerful and helpful introduction and summary. Her use of pregnancy and labour as a Christian metaphor is likely to please those who have read all too many images in Christian books (in C S Lewis in particular) and in hymns which only apply to men.
(“Be Thou My Vision” was written by a woman, and its words have been played with so many ways, and yet we all still have to sing “I thy true son.” “I thy true bairn” would almost rhyme??)
I admired this book, and enjoyed reading it quickly to review, and I think I shall buy a copy to go back and actually do some of the studies properly, as I also wait.
One of Tanya’s prayers:
Who waited for centuries in the light of heaven
Nine months in the warm darkness of a womb
And three days in a tomb
Be with us in the waiting, we pray.
Love from the PPI Blogger