The word “wild” has loomed large over the field of memoir this year. You’ve probably heard of Cheryl Strayed’s wonderful book about her amazing journey on the Pacific Crest Trail. I reposted a wonderful review of the book by Strayed’s mentor Paulette Bates Alden here.
Now I have another wild book to recommend. Here’s my review of Jean Janzen’s Entering the Wild: Essays on Faith and Writing:
“Jean Janzen writes our songs,” declares Canadian writer Rudy Wiebe on the back cover of this book of memoir essays. He is right on at least three levels: literal, lyric and longitudinal.
First, the literal. Janzen may be most well-known to Mennonites through the hymn texts she wrote for Hymnal: A Worship Book. If you have sung “Mothering God, You Gave Me Birth,” or “O Holy Spirit, Root of Life” or “I Cannot Dance, O Love,” you might want to start reading this book with Chapter 11: “Three Women and the Lost Coin: How Three Women Found Me.”
Like all the essays in the book, this one exudes a spirit of grace, receptivity and gratitude. For example, the three hymn texts above arose from an externally perceived need for a new kind of song.
The hymnal committee, searching for texts that honored feminine characteristics of God, sent Janzen and a group of other poets the writings of three medieval women mystics. Janzen describes the medieval women as muses and herself as being like an Aeolian harp that sings when the wind blows through it, both passively responding and courageously challenging the status quo.
She writes: “These three women inspired me to create hymn texts that were ultimately set to music and included in the hymnal. To my amazement, they have since appeared in numerous hymnals, and some have even been translated into other languages.”
Second, the lyric. Even when writing nonfiction prose essays, Jean Janzen’s voice sings. She uses many of the poet’s devices: metaphor, rhythm and repetition. While describing her home of more than 40 years in Fresno, Calif., she says, “These are the months of a hush that turns into deep velvet evenings and a cathedral for morning birdsong.”
Often these ecstatic, near- erotic and Psalm-like passages end with allusions to biblical and mystical texts: “The mountain … says, somehow, that holiness desires me… . The night presses its immensity and mystery against me and knows me. It calls me by my name.”
Read the rest at Mennonite World Review.
What experiences in your reading or writing life qualify as “wild”? Any you are willing to share?