Thursday, May 16, 2019

Book Review: Parables by Sapphira Olson

My hope is that in connecting with these parables you can glimpse how narrative fragments in your past, present and future are of meaning. That your imagination can open up a world of transcendence for you. That your heart may rise up and go deeper into your story and the stories of the divine: imagined possibilities full of truth, excitement and discovery. - Sapphira Olson, Parables

There is something about a story's ability to communicate truth or tease people's thoughtfulness that more straightforward explanations or explorations can't accomplish.

One of the best known users of story as a teaching tool was Jesus, whose parables were a hallmark of his earthly ministry, several of which have made it into common vernacular even among non-Christians. Phrases like "Good Samaritan" and "prodigal son" endure in cultural consciousness thanks to the memorable stories from which they come.

One other aspect of the parable style is that these particular kinds of stories often have a strangeness to them. Exploring a parable's details often reveals that the lesson isn't as clear cut as it seems, and the reader or hearer is left pondering the story's meaning for a while.

In Parables, Sapphira Olson presents a new collection of stories meant to elicit such wondering. Pulling from a variety of traditions and often featuring figures from multiple belief systems in the same tale, Olson explores themes including faith, doubt, institutional religion, relationships, love, and grief. There is a timelessness to the presentation, and yet she also seems to have some present day issues in mind as well.

As one example, "The Parable of the Vine" features two men who regularly meet in a vineyard to exchange ideas and enjoy each other's company. Eventually, we discover that the pair are Jesus and Dionysius, and they are visited by a man representing a formal belief system. He insists that one of them declare themselves to be the correct one to follow, and by the end the former enjoyment and freedom that defined this meeting is lost. The reader is invited to reflect on the pitfalls of insistence on one truth above others, among other themes.

Other parables are more mystical in nature, such as "The Parable of the Two Gates," where two lovers' desire to be together presents them with a choice to pass through a gate of horn or ivory, each of which will bring blessing and suffering in its own way. It explores love and devotion using mythical elements that might need to be read and considered slowly in order to understand.

Sapphira Olson offers imaginative stories with provocative elements. If more prosaic forms of discourse are not your thing, Parables might be the alternative you're seeking.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)