About Women Of The Passion

Review by Patrick Nolan

Being trapped in time and space is a danger that faces everyone who lacks or resists the imagination's pull to leap beyond the boundaries of one's own moment in time and place. "Is history even real before the moment of my birth?" "Is Tanzania even real if it is a place never thought of and hardly ever heard of?" And so it can be with the minor and, perhaps, some major players locked within biblical drama as it unfolded. Given their time and place, are they even real for contemporary readers? Joan Lynch's novel, The Women of the Passion, answers this question with simplicity and clarity.

Unless one has been a close reader of the Bible, chances are that the men and women surrounding Jesus in his final months are lost in the mists of memory or tucked into vague-recollections of mostly forgotten homilies. Peter is the "rock." Paul is the persecutor rendered blind. Beyond that, except for Acts, details fade... especially details of the women in Christ's life.

Joan Lynch has taken on the challenging task of rescuing ordinary mortals from the dangers of imaginary canonization. In Lynch's hands, the mere mortals surrounding Jesus--the Apostles, the Disciples, the women--remain ordinary people. Yet at the same time, Lynch reveals them in their extra-ordinary spiritual roles as the stone-masons and the bricklayers who erect the Church upon which Christ's mission would be realized. Lynch succeeds in showing that, in one moment in time, only a couple dozen ordinary people, with all their flaws, stood between the possibilities of having or not having a religion called Christianity. The group to erect the Christian faith was smaller than a mustard seed. And the role of women was critical in that faith's emergence.

Lynch's women are not elevated to some plane of rarified sanctity. Rather, the women follow the rhythms of ordinary life--acquiring oils, procuring food, cooking, feeding, and housing others also taken captive by Jesus' message and resurrection. The transforming force in all this immersion in ordinary life is the passionate belief of the women in Christ, especially seen in Mary Magdalene, the most notable of all the characters. Whatever the moment when belief transforms into devotion, Magdalene, Susanna, Miriam, Joanna have already passed it. They are seized with the same passion as the Apostles. And in their reaching after what is above them, the ordinary terms of their lives are propelled into high spiritual drama.

The novel begins with the last moment of the Crucifixion. The tone and the mood of this moment pervade the atmosphere for the rest of the novel. Fear, for the followers of Christ, becomes a reality as constant as weather. Almost immediately, this opening Crucifixion scene establishes the major struggle of the novel, the conflict between faith and fear.

The women, as well as the men, knowing that their Lord has been crucified, are rife with the anxieties that they will be the next victims. 'Clean them all out' is Herod's desire. Yet their faith keeps calling them out into the very open risks of public view. The women's faith, however, does not eliminate fear. Rather, it gives them the courage to overcome it.

Lynch provides a large stage for fear and violence to play itself out. But she is very economical with the violence an, as a result, makes the violence much more effective. It comes suddenly and happens swiftly. This makes concrete the fact that they face a threat that's final. Fear as a condition of being is justified. If they are afraid constantly, conditions--and Saul, the Persecutor--warrant it. Yet, out of these nuggets of fear and courage came a universal church of 2 billion people.

The issue of fear forces an attention on Lynch's style in the novel. The scenes, for the most part, are short. Sometimes, three scenes on one page. The pages read rapidly. Apparently, Lynch did not want her plot and its execution to be mired in lead. This has a bearing on the substance of the book. Fast narrative pace will not admit of interior monologues or authorial embellishment. It will subdue any in-depth penetration attempting to be psychoanalytic with character. The style, obviously, accelerates pace, producing a nice marriage of style and the substance of terror. In terror, the mind is always moving, darting.

The structure of the Christian Church began with a few people left after the Crucifixion, people who would enable the Church to crawl through the Ascension and the Pentecostal descent of the Holy Spirit, until it could walk as an organized church and run as a universal church in the many centuries that followed. Lynch gives us the Christian Church at its earliest and fleshes it out with its women. And... the meeting of Mary Magdalene and Paul in the closing scene is a very nice touch. Here, I was begging for just a little less pace.

Patrick Nolan is a Professor Emeritus in English Literature at Villanova University and the author of numerous plays and screenplays including The Jericho Mile for which he won an Emmy Award for screenwriting.

Review by Tiffany Moody

In Women of the Passion, Joan Lynch captures every aspect of the people, events and atmosphere surrounding the Passion of Jesus Christ and the culmination of Pentecost. This book grips you from the beginning and does not release you until the very end. The fact that we all know how the story will end does not take away from the drama or suspense that unfolds.

What we as readers do not know is the personal journey of each of the characters who knew Jesus, believed in Him, and risked their lives to spread the way to the world. Lynch brings each character alive in such a way that makes you feel as though you know them. You hear their inner thoughts, fears and insecurities. You experience a spectrum of attributes such as bravery, jealousy, loyalty, uncertainty, admiration and deceit. You are given perspective on the attitudes and motivations of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Romans, and King Herod and his house. You are drawn into the lives of each character, illuminating their relationships with their families, each other and Jesus Christ. You sense the humanity of each of these historical people, and breathe in the smells of Jerusalem, see the dirt road rising up before you, and feel the oppressive heat around you. Whether you are Christian or simply enjoy historic novels, Women of the Passion is a compelling read that will draw you in, capture your heart, and surely will satisfy.

Tiffany Moody
December 2011

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