The Gospel in Solentiname
Orbis Books, 1984
271 pp., $16.95
In the 1960s and 1970s, Catholic priest and poet Ernesto Cardenal lived and worked among the campesinos of Solentiname, a 36-island archipelago in Lake Nicaragua. On Sundays, the community gathered for worship. In lieu of a sermon, Cardenal led the men and women in a conversation about the gospel passage. Cardenal recorded many of those conversations and published them as The Gospel in Solentiname. In a 1998 essay, Timothy Gorringe points to these dialogues as a good example of a more widespread phenomenon: "Cardenal's Bible studies are the products of a community," writes Gorringe, "which believes that Jesus is the incarnate, risen and ascended Lord, who encounters us both in the Eucharist and in the struggle for justice. Whilst recognizing that everything is political, the members of the community do not think politics is everything."
Orbis has now reissued The Gospel in Solentiname in a lovely new edition (it includes six color plates of Stations of the Cross made by residents, in the school of painting now known Escuela Primitivista de Solentiname). Page after page illustrates the gospels informing life, and life and context informing the gospels. On the workers in the vineyard: "Jesus here takes the part of the last ones more than the first ones." On Jesus' farewell discourse in John: "If we want to be like Christ, a revolutionary, we have got to sincerely forget about ourselves." When reading Luke 9, on taking up the Cross, the conversation moves from construction workers who have gone on strike in protest of the 60-hour week required of them by the Samoza regime, to the relationship between life and love ("it seems to me," says one Oscar, "that life and love are two things that are alike or maybe the same thing") to the kingdom of God ("In this meeting we are having an experience of the kingdom").
I read The Gospel in Solentiname several years ago, in the old four-volume edition. Then, I was reading it in great swaths, huge chunks of text; I was reading, first, to get a handle on liberation theology, and, second, to immerse myself in this community of faithful readers. This time around, I am reading differently. I am reading just a few pages at a time. I am reading devotionally, and I am trying to practice what my colleague Chuck Campbell calls a "hermeneutics of dislocation": what happens, Campbell asks, when you read the Bible in different settings, in the hospital waiting room, at the shopping mall? What happens, simply, is an often uncomfortable but usually fruitful opening up of the text. I have been reading the Bible in this dislocating way since I learned of the practice from Chuck last year, and when The Gospel of Solentiname arrived in the mail, it seemed this practice of dislocated and dislocating reading was a faithful way to engage the Solentiname community's own faithful engagements with Scripture. I threw the book into my purse and decided to read wherever I was next. Where I was next was Target; I was there to exchange a broken blender. And what I read was this reflection on the wedding of Cana:
Olivia: The joys of the world are best at first and afterwards they change into disappointments. With the joy that God gives is just the opposite. Marcelino: It seems to me that the joy of brotherhood, the perfect society that God is preparing for humanity, that's the great party. But the best wine of that party will be the last one: eternal life.
Lauren Winner is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School. For the academic year 2010-11, she is a visiting fellow at Yale's Institute for Sacred Music. Her book A Cheerful and Comfortable Faith: Anglican Religious Practice in the Elite Households of Eighteenth-Century Virginia is coming soon from Yale University Press.
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