By Amanda Cleary Eastep
I’ve been meaning to write this review for, well, months. But today…Easter Day, when I lament failings in my life and celebrate that the God of all died for each…today seems the best time after all.
At our house church gathering on Good Friday, our spirited group quieted as the evening’s message was shared and our pastor said, his voice snagging on the sharp edge of truth, “You can’t believe…and not be changed.”
Before resurrection, comes death; before the embrace of grace, comes the piercing. For the Savior, but also for us.
In Pierced & Embraced, 7 Life-Changing Encounters with the Love of Christ, author Kelli Worrall, uses literature, her story of miscarriage and struggle with God, and stories of seven women from Scripture to show how Christ pursues us, disrupts us, enfolds us, and ultimately redeems us.
Worrall opens the book with a retelling of Flannery O’Connor’s startling short story “Greenleaf,” about the “epic battle” between the stubborn and hard-hearted Mrs. May and a bothersome bull, penned up for three days, that persists in invading Mrs. May’s property.
O’Connor, a young woman who herself was pierced daily by the debilitating effects of lupus, is known for her often comedically dark, violent, and religiously symbolic characters and storylines. What O’Connor uses to shock readers in Greenleaf, a violent death, is not used, as Worrall points out to “shock … for shock’s sake alone.” Instead, she explains, O’Connor’s goal is to “penetrate the soul of the reader with the reality of grace.”
O’Connor famously said of her writing:
“When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”
This, too, is Worrall’s goal in paralleling O’Connor’s fictional characters with the very real stories of seven women in the Bible.
- Mary, mother of Jesus
- The woman at the well
- The woman with the hemorrhage
- The woman caught in adultery
- Sisters Mary and Martha
- The woman with the alabaster jar
- Mary Magdalene
Worrall clearly and beautifully details how each woman, in her own way, is both pieced and embraced by the love of Jesus.
Doesn’t Jesus draw large and startling figures for us?
In the woman at the well
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
In the bleeding woman, who, in a crush of hundreds of people, touches the hem of his garment
“Who touched my garments?” …And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed.
In the adulteress about to be stoned
Jesus straightened . . . asked her, “Woman, where are [your accusers]? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.
Of this startling moment, Worrall writes: “I love what Augustine wrote: ‘The two were left alone, misera et misericordia’ (‘a wretched woman and Mercy’).
How that image pierced me as I read. Here I am, this Easter as every day, my wretched self and Mercy.
As you read this book and contemplate answers to the questions at the end of each chapter, I hope, along with the author, that you encounter Jesus, both through a piercing of your heart and a sense of Christ’s strong embrace.