The Common Good
July-August 1997

Christian Midrash

by Julie Polter, Anne Wayne | July-August 1997

Tapping into the imagination of God

The process of imagining is a risky business when you "choreograph your dance in the arena of sacred scripture," Winter says. "It took some conversion in me to know that I had the right to do this. I said to myself, Why are we Christians so nervous about the word "imagination"? In Judaism, they have a methodology for honoring imagination. One of the processes of interpretation is midrash: taking the word and pushing it as far as it can go and imagining all kinds of things.

"They are not saying this is what happened—but in the process something does happen. All of a sudden there is a meaning there that was never seen before because we went outside the lines, we turned it upside-down, we turned it inside out, we did everything in a different way."

Miriam laughed as she told us her Christian midrash is calm compared to Jewish midrash. "We are so rigid and yet in the early days of Christianity we were probably among the most imaginative. Look at the tales and the realities. We have a virgin birth and one who rises from the dead—the imagination of God run wild. If we free our imagination, God has a little more leeway and the Spirit can get a word in edgewise. Maybe give us an insight that is inappropriate, but is the one that brings the good news that’s been trying to be said for so long."

Winter explains the process that led to her writing The Gospel According to Mary. She began by asking, "What would it have been like if we had a gospel written by a woman? What would a woman have remembered about Jesus?

"Mrs. Jairus! What did Mrs. Jairus have to say? We only read that Jairus went to Jesus. Sure, Jairus went to Jesus, because mama sent him. ‘You go to Jesus and get some help. I’m staying home with our daughter,’ which is where mothers are—at the bedside of their sick children. There was so much implied behind the text that you could imagine back and still be doing truth telling. Fiction and imagination and myth deliver truth in a different way. And it not only might reveal a different picture of women and their experience in the New Testament but it might even reveal a different image and picture of Jesus."

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