• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Wednesday, January 03, 2007

    Book Review - The Nativity Story - Contemplating Mary's Journeys of Faith.

    Whilst the stories about the birth of Jesus are celebrated by Christians of all denominations, the Roman Catholic church has a particular affinity with them due to the special prominence they give to Jesus's mother, Mary. Thus many Roman Catholic believers, particularly women, have spent much time contemplating her story, and, more importantly, her faith. It is fitting then that a collection of essays by different authors outlining some of their own reflections on Mary has been put together to accompany the film The Nativity Story. Such a compilation is hardly novel, I'm sure many similar works have been created celebrating Mary's faith, but this books link to the movie is something new. And for those of a Catholic persuasion, it's a rather good idea, putting a fresh twist on a much loved, time honoured, practice. The Nativity Story will undoubtedly encourage Christians of all persuasions to consider the faith of Mary afresh, and one would expect that this book would be able to facilitate exactly that.

    That said, other than the front cover, the photographs that introduce each chapter and the introduction by Sister Rose Pacatte, the book doesn't have a great deal to do with the actual film. Hardly any of the essayists even mention the film. (It is, of course, fairly well known that the film was rushed through production in less than a year, suggesting that publication dates which would be incredibly tight. It would seem likely then that few of the authors would have even seen the film at the time of their writing). That's not a criticism of the book as such. It had a clear remit, which it fulfils well, but potential buyers should be clear that this book does not really contain any analysis of the film itself.

    The 11 essays look at a number of the different facets of Mary's spiritual journey. Indeed the title of each essay begins "Mary's Journey of/to…" and they take the reader through such topics as faith, love, surrender, fear and doubt, and everyday life. The first page of each chapter has a photo from the film, before giving a brief biography of the author. The essays start with a section of one of the gospel accounts before 10 or so page mix of commentary, story, reflections on the author's own life, and relevant anecdotes. Each chapter concludes with a number of questions "To Ponder".

    Overall the various chapters make fairly interesting reading for a lay audience, with some insightful comments about the story and what we can learn about life through reflecting on it. Judith Ann Zielinski's essay "Mary's Journey to Elizabeth" was a personal highlight. Rose Pacatte's introduction also contains a couple of interesting points such as a quote from André Bazin. That said, much of it is common to her other Pauline Books and Media publication on The Nativity Story, "A Film Study Guide for Catholics".

    One of the difficulties about compiling a book like this is avoiding too much common material. Overall the book does this reasonably well, although there are a few times that it repeats particular details that ideally should have been edited out. It becomes a little tiresome, for example, to be informed a number of times that Mary could possibly faced being stoned.

    Those who found The Nativity Story inspired them to find out more about Mary will enjoy this book. The relatively brief chapters (approx. 10 pages), and simple language will mean even reasonably young teens will find it readable. As teenagers are perhaps the age group most likely to be inspired by this film's portrayal in particular, then this is certainly a good thing. It is, of course, difficult for a male, 30-something, British, non-Catholic male reviewer to really know the impact a particular book could have on the average teenage Catholic girl. Perhaps what we would have in common would be our relative inexperience at learning from Mary. This book and the film helped me in that respect, and I at least suspect that it will help many others too.

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