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December 19, 2012: Intellect and Imagination

I make it a point, once I start reading a book, to read it in its entirety. I am able to do this because I’m somewhat selective. Sometimes, I discover things when I keep reading that surprise me. A case in point: I’m currently reading Lamb by Christopher Moore. It’s about Jesus Christ’s lost years, the time after his birth to his adulthood. It’s told from the perspective of Biff, Jesus’s childhood friend and sidekick.

I was, admittedly, put off by the lack of strong women characters, and the overabundance of male humor. But this morning I came across a passage that stopped me dead in my tracks and made the entire read worthwhile.

In the passage that I’m now still thinking about, Jesus (called Josh in the book) has

just attempted to talk to the apostles about loving one’s neighbor, and is trying to impress upon them the importance of loving the Romans. Nathaniel and Judas clearly don’t get what he’s getting at, which is that the kingdom of God has nothing to do with the kingdom of Israel, so Jesus resorts to the use of parables, some including a wheat field being filled with tares. He says, “you can’t pull out the tares without pulling out the grain.”

Josh, seeing the apostle’s confused looks, then tries another parable. This one is “the kingdom of heaven is like, uh, a merchant seeking pearls.” After, they’re still confused.

Three hours later, Josh gives up, telling his buddy Biff that the apostles are “the dumbest sons of a bitches in the valley.” Biff’s response is that “they’ve become like little children, as you told them to do.”

“Stupid little children,” Josh exclaims.

Mary Magdalene (called Maggie in the book). Then steps forward and says what she’s thinking. I am going to quote this passage in its entirety, because otherwise, I can’t do it justice:

“You two are the ninnies here. You both rail on them (the apostles) about their intelligence, when that doesn’t have anything to do with why they’re here. Have either one of you heard them preach? I have. Peter can heal the sick now. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen James make the lame walk. Faith isn’t an act of intelligence, it’s an act of imagination. Every time you give them a new metaphor for the kingdom they see the metaphor, a mustard seed, a field, a garden, a vineyard, it’s like pointing something out to a cat – the cat looks at your finger, not at what you’re pointing at. They don’t need to understand it, they only need to believe, and they do. They imagine the kingdom as they need it to be, they don’t need to grasp it, it’s there already, they can let it be. Imagination, not intellect.”

There are many reasons why this passage resonates with me, and I suspect that there will be many more to come. Now this is fiction, sort of. The implication is that Josh, aka Jesus, at times did not fully see that humans have the capacity to both reason and imagine. I suspect that after, he did acknowledge that both are equally important.

This passage resonated with me when I read it, and more importantly will continue to resonate with me. Quite obviously, Josh (at that very moment) did not see that imagination and intellect are, combined, what comprises the human spirit. After, a woman alluded to this – a so-called prostitute at best -- I suspect that he saw the light.

I, of course, have been thinking about this in the context of book reviews, mainly because Raudi’s Story took a drubbing a few days ago. I also have been reading hundreds of reviews in the New York Times Book Review section. Someone once gave me a large stack. I brought them inside when I was cleaning out my cabin, and have been reading them like comic books. They’re literary snack food. So right now I’m review hyper conscious.

I am now thinking that the person who refused to review Raudi’s Story was somewhat like the apostles. She simply could not take the leap of faith that imagination requires, and enter into the narrative and suspend disbelief. She’s actually the reader I was, before I wrote Raudi’s Story.

I still concede that in some ways, the book is flawed. Otherwise, it would have drawn her in. I maybe relied more heavily on imagination than intellect. I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to my writing – once it’s out there, I see what others are saying, and can be objective. This time, my skin was just a tad bit thinner.

Amazingly, my faith in literary human nature has been fully restored. Nancy Marie Brown, The US Icelandic Horse Quarterly editor, is a more academic writer. But she has decided to run Fran Buntzen’s review, and as well, the collaborative essay that Chris Romano wrote. This is huge. Quite often editors will go with a reviewer’s first impression.

What I learned here is what I knew, but did not acknowledge to myself. This is that imagination and intellect are both equally important. Together, equally valued, they add much to our lives as readers and critics.

A case in point. Above, I changed what I initially wrote, that I would not recommend Lamb to anyone. For what I realized was that others who read it might also get something out of it, maybe something far different than what I got out of it. And there’s nothing wrong with this. This is what I’m going to tell others at our next Church of Bread reading group meeting.

Next: 373. 12/20/12: Horse Rich