Jesus Christ is considered the most important and central figure in all of history for many. Yet in her debut novel, Kristen Wolf turns the biblical portrayal of the Messiah on its head by portraying Jesus as a woman.
The Way, which was released in July but is noted in the September 2011 issue of The Oprah Magazine as a “Title to Pick Up Now,” transports its readers back to ancient Palestine where a young girl, Anna, struggles to comprehend her purpose in a male-dominated society.
After she witnesses the brutal murder of a woman in her town, and her family goes through its own set of tragedies, Anna's father disguises her as a boy and sells her to a group of shepherds.
After years of learning the shepherding trade and pretending to be a boy, she ends up with a group of women who celebrate femininity and have mystical powers, leading her to acknowledge the woman she truly is.
The title of the book, The Way, comes from the name of the philosophy that the mountain-dwelling “Sisters” believe in and practice.
Men, in the novel, are accused of violently silencing followers of The Way and creating a masculine God. For much of the story, Anna must hide her true identity as a woman, calling herself by the name of “Jesus” and even forgetting she is female at some points.
Controversial, no doubt.
In an interview with The Christian Post on Tuesday, though, Wolf said that her goal was not to offend anyone's religious beliefs.
“It's not my role to criticize any religion,” she said, though she has braced herself for criticism that might come her way.
"The story is fiction. It is in no way intended to be historic or scholarly. Again, my hope is to provoke conversation and dialogue, and I understand that [taking] criticism is a natural part of that."
Her personal story reveals much of her motivation behind her writing the novel. As a 6-year-old, Wolf set up a temporary altar in her parents’ driveway where she conducted Mass for an audience of mostly Jewish children, for which she had “borrowed” some items from the Catholic church she attended.
She says that she felt “excluded from my spirituality” as a child because of the amount of masculinity – church leaders were male, God was identified as Father and the Christ is the Son. These identity issues played a big role in her writing of the book.
For her, finding her identity “has been a search and a yearning that I've had, and that, I believe, other people have had as well, and so I wanted to explore it for myself but also bring other people along with me because I think it's a worthwhile exploration.”
Today, Wolf doesn't identify herself with any particular religion, but believes in ideas similar to those that are promoted by The Way – wonder, awe, attentiveness, and gratitude toward creation.
"For me, spirituality is a constant question, and a constant search ... it's the yearning that we all share, and that is to understand that which is greater than all of us,” she commented.
This first novel will not be her last, either. Wolf has a trilogy planned, though she could only speak very little of it.
“It continues the story of The Way into present day and beyond,” she said.
She doesn't believe exclusively in the Christ of the Bible as the one, true way. At the same time, Wolf said that she believes that if people followed his teachings the world would be a better place.