Over the weekend I endorsed a new book, A Christmas Portrait, written by my friend Phyllis Nichols. Written in the register of love and longing, this novel (which will be released this coming October) invites the reader to enter the story of a grieving family through the eyes of ten year-old Kate.
Wise beyond her years, full of sharp wit and insight, the loss of her mama in the preceding year leaves an aching, empty space at the heart of her household and close relatives. Their realistic acknowledgement of their grief as Christmas draws nigh, as well as Kate’s forthright questions about heaven, become a bridge of healing in the wider community as their pain sensitizes them to the pain of others.
More than anything else, the narrative is about intentionality. How will they respond to what has happened to them? They have choices about the future they will craft, with God’s help.
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 places a stark decision before the people of God. Constructed as part of the farewell address of Moses to the people, this dramatic composition seeks to motivate the people to live into the promise of the ancient covenant. At this juncture in the history of Israel, the question of how to dwell in the land is posed once again. Written and edited during the exilic period of the seventh and sixth centuries BCE, this text is an exhortation to faithful living.
Possessing the land of promise has been the enduring challenge for Israel. It is a history of failure for the most part. The nation has suffered conquest, infidelity, failed nationhood, and corrupt leadership. The present word of encouragement, placed on the lips of Moses, is meant to offer a pathway of hope to a demoralized people. With God, there is still the possibility of the covenant people getting it right.
They, like Kate and her family, can choose life through “loving the Lord your God, obeying God, and holding fast to God . . . for that means life and length of days” (Deuteronomy 30:20). Humans are more than what happens to them; we can choose to live in God’s embrace by returning to the practices that grant flourishing.
Before she died, Kate’s mother suggested that certain things would sustain her as a person—her faith, her family, and her sense of what endures forever. The ancient Deuteronomistic editors likewise offer their vision of the life God intends for Israel. If the people of covenant love, obey, and hold fast to God, they will “live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors . . .” (v. 20). “Living in the land” is a key biblical metaphor for thriving humanity—right with one another and right with God. God beckons us all to choose this future.
Molly T. Marshall
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