In the air, on the air, tunneling through cables, conquering newsrooms, occupying the mouths of pundits, settling in the vacuous chambers of the minds of senators and congressmen, securing and challenging the border of church and state, opening the addled heart and vault of Las Vegas: Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.
Image: A lot of history makes its way into your new book Wearing God, especially American history. Could you talk about what you think makes a good history book, the kind you like to read?
LW: Two things come to mind, and they don’t always show up in the same book. Some historical episodes lend themselves to almost novelistic writing, and in the last twenty-five years there has been a lot of interest among historians in taking craft seriously, experimenting with narrative form. You see it in writers like John Demos and Simon Schama.
Lauren F. Winner’s new book, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God, is excerpted in our spring issue of Image. Each chapter explores a single biblical image of God through a mix of exegesis, cultural history, and personal essay. Image’s Mary Kenagy Mitchell recently asked her about her new book, her love of history, her punctuation, and the politics of writing about the Bible:
Image: Your new book is about overlooked images of God in the Bible. I imagine there were some images you found that didn’t make it in. Could you talk about some of those?
LW: In the scriptures there are a lot of animal and nature images for God—water and rock and so on. I’m especially interested in two that liken God to dew and to a tree. I’ve spent time with the tree image, thinking about what trees are, and I have a nascent spiritual practice of tree gazing, where I regularly stare at a magnolia in my yard as a practice of attentiveness.
Because I enjoy the finer things in life, I ran into Dollar Tree the other day to grab a few bottles of shower gel. The store is a bright, stale-plastic-smelling establishment specializing in glow bracelets, “chocolatey” Easter candy, and knock-off pregnancy tests. (Why didn’t they carry those during my childbearing years?) While it’s preferable to the more staidly dismal Dollar General, it’s certainly not a place for spiritual awakening.
The young man at the checkout, who probably had already swiped several dozen last-minute gift bags across the scanner by this point in the day, smiled warmly at a sixtyish woman standing in line in front of me.
“Are you having a good day?”
“Why, yes!” she beamed, unfolding a few bills from her coin purse. She thought a bit. “You’re so friendly to everyone here. I really like that.”
“Well,” he said, looking up shyly, “I just like to treat people the way I would like to be treated.”
The woman brightened immediately. “You know, the Gospel of John says Jesus even lays his life down for his friends. And he says we are his friends if we do what he commands.”
My eyes caught his, and in a microsecond, everything was said: I was trying to be nice. I didn’t mean to bring Jesus into it. I’m trapped and embarrassed you’re hearing it too.
Hank’s trembling confession had charged the small jail visitation cell where I sat discussing the image of God with three men from the infirmary. I pulled out the last of three “icons” and passed it around. It was a color printout of the crumbling Sphinx in Egypt—its nose fallen off, all color worn away by sand and time. “How have we, have you, become like this? If we were made images of God, works of art, how have we been defaced?”