Tanya Marlow, Those who Wait 2017
For an evangelical (i.e. Bible-believing) Christian to confess that the Bible no longer excites and delights him sounds like heresy. However, I suspect I am not alone among my generation in feeling that way. We read it (or even study it occasionally) out of duty or habit, but it doesn’t feel “living and active”, as we are told it is. It has become over-familiar. We know the stories and the lessons well; we have after all heard them or read them often over the years, and we or they have become jaded. It is only the exceptional teacher or preacher who revives its immediacy for us.
Tanya Marlow is one of those exceptional teachers. Sadly we are denied listening to her as she has suffered from myalgic encephalomyelitis for over twenty years and been largely confined to her bed for the last seven of them. (See Tanya Marlow talking about ME.) However she writes a blog called “Thorns and Gold” (Tanya's website and blog), and has written a downloadable book. Now she has written Those who Wait (Malcolm Down Publishing, £9.99), which looks at four characters in the Bible and their experience of waiting: Sarah, Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary. What Tanya does is imagine them telling their own stories. However her retelling is always backed up with scholarship, the book ending with discussion about the theological and historical issues involved on the way. Each character’s story is told in five short chapters, with pauses for reflection after each. Finally there is a section entitled, “The God who waits”, reminding us that we are not alone in the experience of waiting.
I think this is a brilliant book. For one thing it’s multi-purpose! You can use it for personal devotion; you can use it in group studies; a church fellowship could use it for Advent (you might detect the characters follow an Advent pattern, beginning with the patriarchs and prophets). Mainly it’s brilliant in the way it shines light on the Bible narrative, reminding us that it’s about God’s interaction with people like us and their reaction to him in their own struggles with life. Tanya Marlow shows us, not only does the Bible engage with real people, but through it we can find a God who’s concerned with the issues where the rubber hits the road. The section headings illustrate this: “Sarah’s story – Dealing with Disappointment; Waiting for Joy”, “Isaiah’s story – Dealing with Delay; Waiting for Peace”, “John the Baptist’s story – Dealing with Doubt; Waiting for Justice”, “Mary’s story – Dealing with Disgrace; Waiting for Jesus”. If you’ve never been troubled by any of those eight concerns, the book will probably be of only academic interest to you; but if you recognise them, this book will encourage you that you’re not alone, and that you’ve not been forgotten by the Comforter who caused the stories to be written in the first place.
I’ve read quite few Lent and Advent books over the years. This is quite the most readable and exciting I’ve come across. I loved the way it reengaged me with the Bible by quite unexpected roads. I especially liked the Celtic-like blessings after each character’s section, such as this:
“May you who are cloaked in and choked by cynicism
Be broken by the grace of God.
May you who are in hiding
Find God’s hands held out to you
As an open invitation of love.
May you see God’s face when it all feels too late,
And may you encounter the God who sees you, knows you, loves you still.
I suspect that this vibrant book is the product of years of enforced silence and frustration, rather like a minor prophet's. It will probably have a wider audience than Tanya would ever had from one pulpit or conference platform. My hope is that it will have a huge circulation. It deserves it.
(Those who Wait is published on 16th October, and can be ordered from Wordery and other online and retail outlets, I believe.)