Witness to history

bystanders coverBook | Bystanders | Valerie Volk

Review by Alan Ray

The Bible contains a library of dramas. Similar to a festival of plays we have, in the one book, historical, romantic, morality and mystical plots.

Valerie Volk invites us to become immersed in 15 of these stories through the eyes of bystanders to the main action. Just as any great play contains cameo roles, so too do the well-known Bible narratives. So often our attention concentrates on the big names in any drama, that we fail to speculate on the nuances and commentary which might be offered by the “bit players’ or people in the crowd. Like a skilled director, Volk pans her camera onto the periphery of the narrative, thus bringing a fresh insight into the main storyline.

She takes as some of her examples the anguished, imaginary thoughts of Sarah seeing her son Isaac about to be sacrificed; the possible yearnings of the woman accused of adultery and the reflections of the father of the blind man healed by Jesus. Resembling a monologue in a Shakespearean drama, we enter the innermost depths of the human soul.

Many Bible studies for congregational use now employ the lectio divina practice of reading, meditating, praying and contemplating the Word, thus promoting communion with God. A good director will instruct his actors to enter into the mindset of the characters portrayed. This method-acting technique and lectio divina principles have been employed with consummate skill by this writer to revitalise some well-known and other less well-known passages of scripture.

Is it time for us in our tech-savvy world to engage with our emotions by experiencing these Biblical narratives, rather than a cerebral exegesis of the text? If we follow the revelations offered by Bystanders, we will surely bring a profound understanding and contemporary relevance to these pericopes, similar to what the medieval mystery plays brought to that era.

With questions at the end of each chapter which would provoke lively discussion, this book would make an excellent resource for church study groups and perhaps also for preachers seeking a different application to their sermon texts. It is recommended for its evocative, poetic language.

Wakefield Press (2015). RRP: $24.99

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