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John in the Company of Poets: The Gospel in Literary Imagination (Studies in Christianity and Literature) Hardcover – June 20, 2011
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"What would it be like to read the Gospel of John among the poets and to hear the incandescent and strangely clear music of that response? This book is the answer to this question. Gardner deepens our sense of what responding to "the Word made flesh" might look like by showing how the words of John have been caught and held close by poets, each new voice wrestling into language what these words might mean in their own moment before releasing them to sing across time. A book for the classroom, the study, the pulpit, and prayer, John in the Company of Poets is almost too beautiful for words."
--Esther Gilman Richey, Associate Professor of English Language and Literature, University of South Carolina
"In setting poetry, most of it modern, beside texts from the Gospel of John, Thomas Gardner has made a moving proof that not only the Word but also the word, when it is searched out, weighed and savored, is full of grace and truth."
--Marilynne Robinson, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Gilead
"Thomas Gardner is immersed so thoroughly in the Gospel of John he enables readers to reenact John's thoughts just as the exemplar, Jesus, enacted God as His Word. Gardner moves the gospel beyond mere intellection, directing readers into contemporary poetry that enlivens the spoken Word and gains further entry for all into the substance of God in His mortal body. The masterful explication of the poems chosen by Gardner draws their texts, along with the reader, deep into the gospel's sometimes elusive significance so that, all in all, John in the Company of Poets stands as the best contemporary rediscovery of the gospel I have read."
--Larry Woiwode, Poet Laureate of North Dakota and Write in Residence, Jamestown College
"... a fascinating cross-disciplinary study.... Gardner's collection represents a remarkable feat."
--Christianity and Literature (2011, 61:1)
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Poetry that embodies John’s Gospel
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His reading of John 4, for instance, smartly locates Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in the narrative arc of the Lord’s two visits to Cana. Prominently placed in between those are the records of Nicodemus’s befuddled conversation with Jesus and the conversion of the stranger/woman at the well. Gardner rightly alludes to the Samaritan’s growing engagement throughout her conversation with Jesus, a careful observation frequently missed, in stark contrast to Nicodemus’s increasing confusion. He thoughtfully notes that it was the presence of Jesus himself that both led the Samaritan to inquire about the true center of worship (Gerizim or Jerusalem) and to inquire elliptically about whether Jesus was indeed the Messiah. She uniquely recognizes that Jesus might well be the God’s promised one and the new center of God’s worship and so responds to Jesus’ affirmative revelation with her own unabashed, evangelistic fervor. The temple is here, Messiah is present, mercy has been extended, and a life is now changed, worship and evangelism must follow.
As carefully as he engages Scripture, Gardner’s book truly shines with his integrative commentary on poetic works that touch either directly upon the text of John at hand or the themes in that portion of the gospel. These are a wide-ranging selection, from John Donne and George Herbert to numerous contemporary works from authors in the last forty years. Most bring illumination to the text (though at times to my untrained, poetic eye it seems to stretch) and introduce the reader to seeing the biblical text anew through the meditations of the poets. His utilization of the poetry of Donne, Herbert, and Henry Vaughan, all early English poets, was exceptional. Vaughan’s “The Night”, Gardner points out, is a brilliant reflection on Nicodemus’s struggle to understand the revelation of Christ before him and also a haunting meditation on the theme of light and darkness that dominates the entirety of John’s gospel. Poetry, Gardner points out, is itself a revelatory process, “suggest[ing] that when we write our words are often more alert than we are.” His integration of poetry into the interpretive process of understanding John’s gospel sheds light on John’s gospel and ultimately further arrests our attention on Jesus Christ himself.
Gardner’s book is a delightful read, combining the best of a non-technical commentary with engaged poetical insight. It makes for thoroughly enjoyable personal reading or study through John’s gospel. His addition to the Baylor Press series, Studies in Christianity and Literature, is a fine one and encourages us to pick up and read further on through this promising series.
I looked on the Internet for books that might help prepare me on this journey and found, before Christmas 2013 Thomas Gardner's John in the Company Of Poets: The Gospel in Literary Imagination. As I ad other projects over this time I began to read the book in January.
There is a very tightly and beautifully written Introduction of some 12 pages. Reading this I felt I had been grabbed and shaken. Here is someone who loves this Gospel and he has a program; "In what follow's I trace the way John's arrangement draws readers deeper and deeper into the claim that Jesus is life itself....."
The book surveys the text at different levels and then Gardner illuminates it with poems (and poets') that resonate with the textures he sees in the text.
The discoveries he makes in the poems enlighten me about the "seeing through their eyes". This bounces about in my head and, not a little, in my heart.
This is not a book that can be rushed at it is not hard work but it is craftwork - I have not read poetry seriously for decades! The craft and context of the 20 poets with Gardner as the "weaver in chief" of a gracious journey of encounters and resistance is not soundbites and silliness.
Of course, I have not finished the book....there is yet much to do - it is so rich with resonances of my encounters with Nathaniel to Thomas, over the years. It has a freshness and fidelity that is a great joy but I find myself turning back and rereading to make sure i have got myself in the correct company.
So what sort of a book is it? It is for lovers of this Gospel - if you have spent time with John you will want to dust of the cobwebs of habitual reading and be struck with wonder at a familiar room filled with new light.
You must read it. My retirement project will have to be re-thought.