Friday, January 18, 2008

Rich in Grace

(My dear wife has published her first book of poetry. Yes, that does mean that she has another book ready for publication. What follows here, however, is something of the story of her first book. It can be ordered at the Web page of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau.)

It was just a line with an internal rhyme, but since she rose from bed, she could not shake it from her head. “Eve took the bait – she did not wait to weigh the consequences.”

So, Kathryn Ann Hill took her muse for a walk to nearby University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee’s Golda Meir Library, thinking that a change of scene and a little time might give her respite – or a few more lines.

That was in November 2003. Kathryn had been writing poetry regularly for the past year. Occasionally her verse was published in small journals like Gottesdienst: A Quarterly Journal of the Evangelical-Lutheran Liturgy, for which she is copyeditor, and The Bride of Christ. She was encouraged by appreciative responses from readers.

On this foggy Sunday afternoon in November, Kathryn headed for a table in the library lounge and wrote down the line that kept looping through her brain.

“As I left the library I saw a flyer for an upcoming lecture. It reproduced a medieval woodcut. There was an image of Eve grasping a couple pieces of fruit. A wickedly grinning serpent faced her. A figure resembling Jesus looked on from a tree in the background. Here was a picture that illustrated the line that had been haunting me. I knew I had to attend the lecture this flyer announced. It was a lecture on Biblia Pauperum.”

The lecture was sponsored by the rare books department of UWM library. “Before the lecture was over, I was hooked,” Kathryn recounted.

Biblia Pauperum translates ‘Bible of the Poor.’ It is a book of triptychs portraying stories from the Old and New Testaments. It was intended to teach the Christian faith to the poor who could not read. It was produced by an order of begging friars.”

Kathryn had some familiarity with medieval literature from her undergraduate studies at Valparaiso University in Indiana. Her interest in Christian texts was nurtured by her father, a Lutheran pastor, and her husband Michael, who also became a Lutheran pastor.

During the cold, dark months that followed the lecture, Kathryn adopted a regimen of study and meditation. “Max Yela, the Special Collections Librarian at UWM, was helpful. His staff made photocopies of pages from a facsimile edition of Biblia Pauperum by Avril Henry, a book that is now out of print. Each weekend I would study the scholarly notes and the pictures from the Henry edition as well as the Bible texts that matched the triptychs. Then, walking to and from my job as secretary at Luther Memorial Chapel in Shorewood each weekday, I would meditate on the Bible lessons and ponder lines of poetry. Usually by the end of the week I had a finished poem.”

“Volumes from my husband’s library, especially the literal translations of Genesis by Richard Alter, and The Five Books of Moses by Everett Fox, aided my studies of the Bible narratives. Michael was my severest critic, but he helped me to be faithful to the Bible texts.”

“The images of Biblia Pauperum were fascinating because they showed again and again how Christ is prefigured in the Old Testament. Martin Luther called the Old Testament Scriptures ‘the cradle of Christ.’ This book by Roman Catholic friars literally shows Christ at the center of Holy Scripture. In the central panel of each triptych is a scene from the life of Christ. Usually the panels on either side depict an Old Testament story which points to a promise that Christ would fulfill.”

After a year of studying, meditating, and writing on the images of Biblia Pauperum, Kathryn had a collection of 38 poems. The poems combined with 38 pictures from the medieval book became Rich in Grace: The Bible of the Poor for 21st-Century Christians. This month Rich in Grace was published by the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau.

A pre-publication review was enthusiastic. Dr. Francis C. Rossow, Professor Emeritus, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, wrote: “Repeatedly in her poems Kathryn Hill takes the jewels mined by the medieval authors and gives them the kind of setting that enhances their worth and splendor…. Her poems are not only an orthodox and devout witness to the Gospel – they are an artistic witness to that Gospel.”

This is Kathryn’s first published book of poetry. A second book is waiting in the wings. “I found a book of wood engravings by Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais on the parables of Jesus. To accompany these beautiful pictures I have written 44 poems interpreting the parables. Michael’s library again provided invaluable help, with studies on the parables by C. H. Dodd and Jeremias Joachim.” This collection of verse has not been published yet.

“I am encouraged by the publication of Rich in Grace. The ALPB worked hard to produce an attractive book of picture and verse.”

This first book begins with a catchy first line: “Eve took the bait – she did not wait to weigh the consequences.”

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