Jeshu: a novel for the open hearted, by Charles David Kleymeyer, 2013, Quaker Heron Press, 582 pages, paper edition: ISBN 978-1490353005, Kindle edition: ISBN 978-0991029204, iBook edition: 978-0991029211.
This highly acclaimed novel is a vehicle for imagined conversations between Jesus and a small band of friends accompanying him as he fulfilled his mission 2000 years ago. We are drawn in to these conversations as his companions struggle to understand his revolutionary vision and follow his challenging example. The author is a Quaker, and the way he tells the story resonates strongly with many of the values Quakers espouse.
Jesus’ vision is that it is possible for us all, however challenging our circumstances, to live in the freedom of love rather than the bondage of fear … and that this is what the term “the Kingdom of Heaven”means. Charles Kleymeyer brings home to us in a very moving way that this vision is as fresh, relevant and revolutionary now as it was then.
As a sample, here’s a brief synopsis of one of the conversations, and the circumstances in which it arose:
The scene is Nazareth, at the village well. One day a disheveled group of lepers enters the village chanting the word, “unclean”, and pleading to be allowed a drink. The villagers shrink away in horror and disgust. Jeshu, as soon as he’s aware of the visitors, runs to the well, springs up on to it and urges them to hand him their pots so that he can fill them with water. He then breaks a deeply ingrained taboo by embracing each one of the lepers. This is an unheard of thing to do … the lepers are astonished … many of the villagers are very angry with Jeshu.
Daavi, a young friend of Jeshu, is present throughout the encounter. Next day he goes round to Jeshu, who’s in his workshop, and let’s off steam about how terrible he feels about the lepers, and how he failed not only them but also himself by hanging back and doing nothing to help. Jeshu tells him it’s okay to feel bad about it, but that guilt and pity are false emotions that paralyze us. They paralyze us by suppressing our true emotions. When we encounter injustice our true emotions are rage and love. Only when we allow ourselves fully to feel the burning rage will it be transformed into loving and effective action. “All of us are still learning”, he says, “learning how to craft acts of love from rage.”
Then he goes on … what those people really need is fairness, not charity. They need wells of their own … and not just wells, but land and the tools to work it so that they can live decently together and feed themselves. This theme is developed much further in the closing part of the novel.
Another way of describing the novel is that it’s the story of one person’s spiritual path, and of the profound effect on him of his relationship with Jesus. That person is Daavi, the novel’s ‘narrator’.
Here’s the publisher’s blurb:
“Yeshu: A Novel for the Open-Hearted is a lyrical, Quaker retelling of the New Testament saga known by some as “the greatest story ever told.” The book invites its readers in to join a storytelling carpenter called Yeshu, his young neighbors Daavi and Shoshana, and a band of fellow seekers on a journey brimming with lessons, laughter, and beauty, that forever alters their lives, and still impacts ours. On the way, Shoshana goes missing and Daavi searches for her, but also for his own soul. The novel explores love, community, and the powerful connection between nature and the spirit.
“The tale Daavi shares was written for readers of all ages and spiritual backgrounds—by Charles David Kleymeyer, an award-winning writer, culture and development sociologist, performing storyteller, and Quaker activist. For five decades he has worked and often lived with ethnic peoples of the Americas, joining their struggles to improve their lives, revitalize their cultures, and restore the earth. Most of that time, he was also imagining Yeshu.”
Phil Gould, February 2017