The Testaments

Well, I figured it is a good time for another book review. These quiet, wintery days of rain and slush have allowed me to finish a new book I received for Christmas. (Actually, I picked it out for myself and told someone to buy it for me — but who’s checking up, right?) The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is the continuation of her last book, the Handmaid’s Tale. A continuation? A prequel? A sequel? The reviews say it takes place some 15 years after the handmaid, Offred’s, time. Sheesh. It’s as bad as the whole Star Wars saga. I can’t figure that one out, either. Notwithstanding the timing, I was excited about the follow up, as I had quite enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale. If you’d like to read my review of that one, you can do so here.

Let’s start with basics. I love Margaret Atwood as a writer. Admittedly, I haven’t devoured too many of her books, but appreciate the fact that she includes Canadian content (yeah for us canucks!) and I could have circled a tonne of new vocabulary words in this novel. I really enjoy new words. I should read more. I should encourage others to read more. Words are good. New words are even better.

Anyway… the book is comprised of 3 narratives (or “testaments”). The first being from Aunt Lydia (an elite character from the previous novel), Daisy, a woman from Canada observing Gilead from the outside, and Agnes, a young woman who has grown up in the dystopian Gilead. The plot twists around these three and their unique perspectives on the totalitarian state. Especially unique is their role as women in this theonomy. There’s a good word. It means:

Theonomy, from theos (god) and nomos (law), is a hypothetical Christian form of government in which society is ruled by divine law. Theonomists hold that divine law, including the judicial laws of the Old Testament, should be observed by modern societies. (Wikipedia, 2020)

I don’t really want to give away too much of the book, but rather share my views and thoughts. Like much of the other reviews I read, I was slightly disappointed. This sequel was much anticipated after the Handmaid’s fanfare, and I too, had greater expectations than the book delivered. At first, I found the characters slightly confusing, and it was difficult to follow along. Maybe I just need to read more. Big words and all that. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t as good as the first one.

What I did find interesting, was the idea of faith in the book. Now, bear in mind, the novel is written in this idealized world of Theonomy, and from Atwood’s own perspective, of which I don’t want to judge her views of faith, God and feminism… but I did muse about one particular passage in the book:

“The truth was not noble, it was horrible. …Up until that time I had not seriously doubted the rightness and especially the truthfulness of Gilead’s theology. If I failed at perfection, I’d concluded that the fault was mine. But as I discovered what had been changed by Gilead, what had been added, and what had been omitted, I feared I might lose my faith.

If you’ve never had a faith, you will not understand what that means. You feel as if your best friend is dying; that everything that defined you is being burned away; that you’ll be left alone. You feel exiled, as if you are lost in a dark wood….Everything was withering.”

1. Atwood, Margaret, Chpt.50 “The Testaments”, Penguin Random House Canada Limited, 2019, page 303.

I found this thought quite provocative. Especially coming from the character who grew up in the idealistic view of Gilead’s “right and true” society. What she believed to be true, nobel and just, was, in fact, the opposite. What she was told about the Bible, and what she actually read in the Bible, were very different. And so, I leave you with that thought. Consider it as you may. On what is your “truth” based? How will you define “faith”? Jesus often condemned the religious leaders of His time for their lack of “truth” because they twisted and added and subtracted to the texts. Do we do the same? As usual, I don’t claim to have the answers. I simply probe your thinking. As a good author should. As a good reader should. Hmmmn, I should read more.

Old Testament Promise

Welcome back to a New Year and a new post! I hope you had a relaxing and fun filled holiday. We were on the go a lot (as usual!) but this year, I managed to set aside some time for just chillin’. It was a much needed “sabbath rest”. Perhaps I should post about that sometime.

However, it is not my intention to post about rest this post… in fact, quite the opposite. I’ve been thinking about power and wrath recently. Which seems far away from anything peaceful. I’ve been reflecting on some promises of God over the break, and in particular, this one:

“The Lord is slow to anger and great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet.”

Nahum 1:3

It’s tucked away in one of those little books at the back of the old testament; tiny writings about the prophets and their respective prophecies. Nahum prophesied against the wicked Assyrian city of Nineveh and, in turn, comforts the people of Judah, that despite what looked like a dire situation, God was in control and would not allow evil to prevail forever. He is great in power, indeed!

We went with family and friends to see the latest Star Wars movie (The Rise of Skywalker) over the holiday. Now, you have to understand, I am a gracious mom and like a good action movie, so I obliged and got a ticket — but I really have no handle on the mega underworld of Star Wars junkies. I recognize some characters, and can appreciate good special effects, but when it comes to background story, character development, conspiracy theories and general folk lore of the Empire, I admit, I am a little lost. (That baby Yoda of the Mandalorian series is cute, though!) Sensing my loss in the discussion pending the above said movie, my middle Mitton summed it up for me: “Mom, you just need to know that the good guys won.” Profound, eh?

Any good movie, book or series always seems to have that delightful conclusion: Good defeats evil and the “good guys” always win… eventually. The plot twists and turns, and there seems to be no one coming to save the underdog… but eventually the people band together and save the day. Goodness prevails!

But I recognize that storybook happily ever afters are not always as evident as we hope. Perhaps your 2019 has been fraught with pain, heartache and deceit. Maybe you have been angry that God hasn’t answered your prayers. There has been no white-horsed cavalry to come save you from that thing that weighs heavy on your heart. Perhaps you are wishing for revenge. You have seen evil prospering and it is hard to watch as it festers and grows. The guilty seem to go unpunished. But then, we come back to our promise:

“The Lord is slow to anger and great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet.”

Nahum 1:3

I’m claiming it today. I want to trust that God will take His vengeance on evil. That my mere fluff of anger at injustices will be but a puff of smoke compared to the storm clouds that God will conjure up. Will you join me? Will you be satisfied with knowing that “the good guys won?” Then I will raise my glass in victory with you, and toast to a new year, and an old, but comforting, promise.

This is My Father’s World

Ahhh… today is the first of October. And in Canada, fall is beginning to show itself in full colour. With it, comes the sigh of satisfaction at a bountiful harvest, and the joys of quieter days. (We are going to ignore the fact that the weather can’t make up its mind and both snow and 30 degree celsius temperatures happen all in the same time frame — just work with me and my idealized vision of autumn, okay?!). I wasn’t sure what to muse about this week, and was going through the things that have been recently on my mind: Greta Thunberg and her fight for global change, aboriginal celebrations of strength, fall fairs, baked warm apples and pumpkin spice lattes, and for some reason, this old hymn popped into my head:

This Is My Father’s World (Lyrics)

This is my Father’s world,

And to my listening ears

All nature sings, and round me rings

The music of the spheres.

This is my Father’s world:

I rest me in the thought

Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;

His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world,

The birds their carols raise,

The morning light, the lily white,

Declare their maker’s praise.

This is my Father’s world,

He shines in all that’s fair;

In the rustling grass I hear him pass;

He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world.

O let me ne’er forget

That though the wrong seems oft so strong,

God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world:

Why should my heart be sad?

The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!

God reigns; let the earth be glad!

“This is My Father’s World”, was originally published, posthumously, by the author’s wife in 1901, in a book of his poems. Maltbie Davenport Babcock, was a New York minister who frequented the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario, simply to marvel at “His Father’s World”. I think he was close enough to Canada to appreciate the true beauty displayed, especially during autumn. The popular hymn was adapted from Babcock’s poem by his friend and musician, Franklin Shepherd, in 1915. (The original poem contained 16 verses of 4 lines each).

I was reminded of the hymn back on my travels to Wolfville, Nova Scotia this summer, (you can read about that adventure here) and discovered it is also themed in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. As the camera pans the rolling hills of the Shire and all the familiar simplicity of a hobbit’s homelife, we are reminded that despite this era of evil, this is My Father’s World.

So, as our sunflowers begin to droop from faces ladened with seeds, as the leaves change colour and eventually die, as fall mums and ripe apples display their ruby redness against a backdrop of golden hues, I hope you relish the thought that this is my Father’s world. Perhaps you’re off to drown your troubles in a quiet coffee shop with a “grande PSL”. I’m here to remind you: That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet. Happy first of October, my beloveds!