John Blase,
Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas
(David C. Cook, 2009)

Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas has lofty ambitions. John Blase seeks to bring attention to the events leading up to the birth of Jesus in terms both realistic and inspiring. The Nativity story has often been presented as a sanitized, colorful and wondrous fantasy with iconic figures, ignoring the coarse, difficult and exhausting reality that otherwise everyday people experienced. Well, Blase certainly focuses on the latter, as he delves into the more-than-mundane possibility that Zachariah got up several times a night to relieve himself as well as a description of the blood-stained hay around Mary after giving birth.

Blase's prose style offers a gritty realism to the ancient verses, providing a behind-the-scenes look at what may have been running through the minds of Biblical figures such as Zachariah, Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary. This aspect of the book's format is very well done. Instead of exploring the words of distant (in time and location), historical figures, Blase presents these people in a relatable first-person perspective. The reader is given a peek into the everyday life of 2,000 years ago, the joy and frustrations of interacting with a divine presence.

Now, it is odd when Blase writes in first-person perspective for God or Jesus. Typically, works of this type shy away from that, but not this book. It's only two chapters, but when God starts speaking, it is a radical shift from the dirt and grime of the sympathetic human characters. It makes some sense for Jesus to appear in this manner, as the underlying point of the story is the divine becoming human.

The format is interesting yet flawed, as one third unintentionally works against the remainder. Each chapter begins with a portion of Scripture, followed by a first-person narrative associated with the Biblical verse, and ends with a hand-written prayer by the author. The prayers are very heartfelt, but they are often tangential to the chapter's story. The shift of subject matter to a contemporary generic prayer distracts from the past setting that Blase so well establishes. In each chapter, the reader is taken back 2,000 years into that world, but yanked back to the current time by Blase's prayer. This might work well if each chapter were presented as a daily devotional; otherwise, there is a distracting temporal back-and-forth effect upon continued reading. The format may have been more successful if the handwritten prayers were separately offered as an appendix instead of the final aspect of each chapter.

John Blase has an accessible style that allows readers to understand these otherwise distant figures. Touching Wonder may not fully recapture the awe of Christmas, but it certainly pushes the reader to look at the Nativity in a different perspective. This book is certainly the Christmas story that hasn't been told in such a manner before.

review by
C. Nathan Coyle

19 December 2009

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