Read Wonder Beyond Belief: On Christianity by Navid Kermani Online


What happens when one of Germany's most important writers, himself a Muslim, immerses himself in the world of Christian art? In this book, Navid Kermani is awestruck by a religion full of sacrifice and lamentation, love and wonder, the irrational and the unfathomable, the deeply human and the divine - a Christianity that today's Christians rarely speak of so earnestly, bolWhat happens when one of Germany's most important writers, himself a Muslim, immerses himself in the world of Christian art? In this book, Navid Kermani is awestruck by a religion full of sacrifice and lamentation, love and wonder, the irrational and the unfathomable, the deeply human and the divine - a Christianity that today's Christians rarely speak of so earnestly, boldly and enthusiastically.With the open-minded curiosity of a non-believer - or rather a believer in another faith - Kermani engages with Christian art in its great richness and diversity. The result is an enchanting reflection which reinvests in Christianity both its spectacular beauty and its terror. Kermani struggles with the cross, falls in love at the sight of Mary, experiences the Orthodox Mass and appreciates the greatness of St Francis. He teaches us to see the questions of our present-day lives in the pictures of old masters such as Botticelli, Caravaggio and Rembrandt - not with lectures on art history or theology, but with an intelligent eye for the essential details and the underlying relations to seemingly remote worlds, to literature and to mystical Islam.Kermani's poetic school of seeing draws us in as we are carried along by his unique perspective on Christianity, rekindling our interest in great art at the same time. We are captivated by his unique and brilliant Islamic reading of the West....

Title : Wonder Beyond Belief: On Christianity
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ISBN : 9781509514861
Format Type : ebook
Number of Pages : 272 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Wonder Beyond Belief: On Christianity Reviews

  • Roger Brunyate
    2019-04-03 00:49

     Catholicism from an Islamic PerspectiveMaria Advocata (late classical period, detail)A book radiant with truth and beauty. Written by a Muslim scholar with deep humanity and an enquiring mind, it essentially asks the question “What is this Christianity that reveals itself in such extraordinary works of art?” It also strikes a special chord with me, as both a former professor of art history and a former Christian. I have moved on from both practices, but still retain an intense curiosity and a certain respect. Perhaps it is an advantage that, like the author, I come to the subject at some distance, since it it not so much Christianity he is writing about as, specifically, Catholicism. This is very different from my Protestant upbringing, yet strangely fascinating as a nexus of doctrine, repository of ritual, and inspiration for some of the greatest art. And at its center, there is the Virgin Mary:As my friend withdrew to say a rosary, I had some time with the Virgin. But why do I call her Virgin if I don't believe in her as the Mother of God? One word: touched. God has touched her. That is both grace and torment; it raises up and strikes down; it is both a caress and the blow of a hammer. All is lost and God suffices.The book began, Kermani says, as a series of articles for a Swiss newpaper about specific art works. That explains both the short length (around four pages) of most of the chapters and the seemingly random selection of examples. But there is nothing random in the author's consistent honesty of approach, that might even seem sacriligeous to some, simply recording what he sees in the figures as human beings, rather than as icons cloaked in the incense of sancity. Perhaps that is why the painter he most often comes back to (8 out of around 40 artworks) is Caravaggio (1571–1610), who, as he says……is interested only in people. Of all painters, he has the keenest eye for what the appearance of the Celestial means to terrestrials: it blows them apart. Caravaggio's pictures show, not revelation, but many variations on the torment of those to whom it is revealed.Caravaggio: The Incredulity of ThomasNor is there anything random about Kermani's organization. The book is in three hundred-page parts with about a dozen chapters in each. The first, "Mother and Son," deals with the life of Jesus, from birth through resurrection. The second, "Witness," is inspired by figures from the Bible or the Catholic hagiography: Cain, Job, Judith, Elizabeth, Peter, Jerome, Ursula, Bernard, Francis, and so on. Although the chapters in the third section, "Invocation," are also illustrated by artworks, they deal with more abstract concepts, such as Vocation, Prayer, Sacrifice, Tradition, Light, and Lust (yes; see below). The general movement from specific to concept is also mirrored in the shape of the three sections, each of which ends in two or three much longer chapters, in which Kermani seeks a harmony between Islamic teaching and his own evolving view of Christianity. These are some of the densest chapters in the book, but they also contain some of the greatest beauty. At the very end, for example, Kermani returns to Francis of Assisi ("who appeared the more saintly to me the less I believed in the hagiography"), marveling at a recent academic article showing that the one manuscript we have from his hand, the so-called Cartula, might actually have been written for Sultan al-Kamil of Egypt, and thus be the earliest document of friendship between Christianity and Islam. Padre Paolo Dall'Oglio at Mar Musa*The final figure in Kermani's list of holy figures in Part II, Paolo Dall'Oglio, is an Italian Jesuit priest who made it his mission to go to the deserted monastery of Mar Musa in Syria out of a love for Islam. He was kidnapped by ISIS in July 2013 while offering himself as a go-between, and is now presumed dead. Kermani's twenty-page chapter on him is virtually a recommendation for sainthood, in either religion; it is clear that Padre Paolo is the embodiment of much of his own philosophy, although in infinitely more courageous terms. The chapter contains one of the greatest tributes to Christianity of Padre Paolo's stripe than anything you could imagine:If there is one thing I admire about Christianity—or perhaps I should say about those Christians whose faith not only convinced but conquered me, robbed me of all my reservations—if I were to take just one aspect, one attribute as an example, a guideline for myself, it would not be the beloved art, or the whole civilization, music and architecture included, or this or that rite, rich though they may be. It is the specifically Christian love, which is love not just for one's neighbour. Other religions are loving too, exhorting the faithful to compassion, indulgence, charity. But the love that I perceive in many Christians, and most often in those who have dedicated their lives to Jesus, the monks and nuns, exceeds what a person could achieve without God: their love makes no distinctions.There is much, much more that I could add. Kermani's constant presence as a father, a husband, a human being. His embrace of the erotic, even in a religious painting. His observation of the frequent feminization of Jesus in Christian art, and how that rings a chord with Sufi beliefs in Islam. His sense of terror in the miraculous. His openness about aspects of Christianity that he personally finds distasteful, and yet the respect he feels for people that can embrace this "Wonder Beyond Belief":I really don't believe in the Eucharist. If there is anything about it I would express without sounding disrespectful, it is awe and, intuitively, approval, affirmation at least, that other people actually see the body of Christ in a disc of bread and taste, bite, swallow, digest and excrete it, and not just symbolically.Or this, on the prime Christian symbol, the Cross:It is because of what it represents seriously that I reject the cross outright. Incidentally, I find the hypostasis of pain barbaric, somatophobic, ungrateful towards the Creation in which we rejoice.And this reminds me to mention my great admiration for the the translator, Tony Crawford, who is not afraid to present the author's often startling comments, abstract ideas, and precise but occasionally difficult words, as though they were the most normal thing the man could utter in everyday conversation. Through him, Kermani simply talks. I can do no better than to end with a small gallery of artworks mentioned in the book—most of them beautifully illustrated (though in ink which unfortunately feels gritty under the fingers, the volume's only flaw)—and let Navid Kermani speak for himself, whether inspired or down-to-earth, worshipful or downright shocking.======Rembrandt: The Raising of LazarusThere's no knowing whether Jesus' eyes and mouth are opened wide in dismay or in suspense, whether his hand is upraised in defence or in command. There's no knowing whether Mary's amazement is ecstatic or in panic, whether her hand is reaching towards the open tomb or repulsing her brother. There's no knowing whether Martha is really recoiling, silhouetted as she is in the lower left corner. There's no knowing what is going through the minds of the three men, at the back perhaps the Apostle Peter, as they stare at the reawakened Lazarus. There's no knowing whether Lazarus is laughing, however tiredly, or whether he is shouting, "No! I don't want to!'Caravaggio: Judith and HolofernesStill more insolent is Judith herself, though, her eyes, the taunting, just slightly disgusted look of sarcastic sympathy, with the wrinkled upper lip, as if she was as malicious as the lovers in Persian literature imagine their beloved to be, and the Sufis’ God: ‘He torments them with destruction after having created them’ […] such a rescuer as no nation would find fitting, least of all a people of God.Botticelli: Annunciation*Botticelli's Annunciation, for example, in which Gabriel comes creeping up like a lecher, whereupon the lily-white Mother of God turns her hips away in such a coy contrapposto as if she were posing for a lad mag.Stefan Lochner: Madonna of the Rose Bower (detail)In the most magnificent picture ever painted in Cologne, she reaches with her right hand for her son's wrist. Under the magnifying glass, you can see the gesture repeated in Mary's brooch: her right hand is on the raised right foreleg of the unicorn, which is equated with Christ. That, I read, was the official gesture of marriage and represented the Son and Mother as the Bride and Bridegroom of the Song of Solomon. To us, too, she is supposed to be our sister and friend and to a small degree our lover. The Father only later came near and spoke comfortingly to me.Bernini: The Ecstasy of St Teresa*Of course there is the Ecstasy of St Teresa, which is sexually more explicit, not only because Gian Lorenzo Bernini's representation of it is more explicitly sexual. […] How often I stood, during my Roman year, in front of the life-sized sculpture in Santa Maria della Vittoria, and each time I wanted to incorporate Bernini's ecstatic Teresa, moaning with lust, if not crying out loud, in my personal Christianity. It was an obvious inclusion, since I have been thinking for so long now about the beatitude, and searching for it myself I admit, in which pleasure and prayer, sex and God feel like one, and for the Islamic mystics indeed are one. It was probably that obviousness that deterred me every time.Caravaggio: The Sacrifice of IsaacHe would have done it. For a long time I located what was monstrous, abhorrent, menacing about faith—about the faith in just one God—in the twenty-second chapter of Genesis, between the second and third verse. That's right: not in the second verse [God's command to Abraham], not in the third [Abraham's instant obedience], but in the abyss of heartlessness that gapes between the two. […] Between them: nothing. No hesitation, no question, no sorrow for the son, no pity for his wife, no regard at all for any earthly judgement. He would have done it without batting an eyelid.*Asterisked images are mentioned, but not reproduced, in the book.

  • Roman Clodia
    2019-04-23 04:22

    I'm not religious but what drew me to this book was the idea of someone with faith, albeit non Christian, contemplating the religious art of mostly, though not exclusively, the European Renaissance. Kermani is a wonderful companion in these short essays, each of which engages with a piece of art: Rembrandt's Lazarus; Botticelli's disturbingly eroticised Christ; Caravaggio's brutal Judith, for example.Moving fluidly across times, cultures, geographies and religions, Kermani brings an almost spontaneous hyper-awareness to the art, illuminating it both visually and in terms of interpretation. His readings are sometimes surprisingly humorous (on the 'ugly' Christ Child, for instance) and yet always respectful, probing, insightful, and make us re-look at even familiar paintings with a different perspective. As a self-confessed textual rather than visual person, I found this hugely instructive, enlightening and always interesting.

  • Susu
    2019-04-23 23:21

    Ein Rundflug durch religiöse Kunst (viel Caravaggio) und Traditionen des Christentums - aus Sicht eines Muslims. Am Ende bleibt die größte aller Fragen: Wieso streitet man überhaupt um und unter den Religionen?

  • Ben
    2019-04-23 23:46

    Navid Kermani gives a personal and intimate view into his experience of Christian art - full of tenderness, curiosity and a joyful eye for detail. His choice of works is personal instead of encyclopedic, giving the book the feeling of some evenings spent listening to a friend, rather than a dusty lecture. The fact that he is complementing his spacious knowledge with amazement and the fresh eye of an "outsider" - given the fact he is not Christian but Muslim - gives especially Christians the beautiful opportunity to rediscover their own faith anew.

  • Christian
    2019-04-05 02:33

    Sehr gutes Sachbuch, das gar nicht dröge daherkommt. Die gelegentlichen Einschübe zum IS empfand ich teilweise als aufgesetzt.

  • Piet Michael
    2019-04-24 02:32

    Dieses Buch ist erkenntnisreich und lehrt vieles über das Christentum, aber auch den Islam. Es ist gut geschrieben und dadurch nur ein weiterer Grund, ab und an nicht nur Romane und Erzählungen zu lesen, sondern zu Essays zu greifen. Das einzig bedauerliche von meiner Seite aus betrachtet ist Kermanis Fixierung auf Caravaggio, was aber keine Minderung der Gedankengänge bzw Ergebnisse der Themen bedeutet. Kermani ist vielleicht nicht der beste Romancier, aber ein geistreicher und großartiger Essayist.

  • Steven Felicelli
    2019-04-12 01:47

    check out my review at Berfrois

  • Augustin Chartier
    2019-04-18 02:46

    Navid Kermani, auteur musulman s’intéresse à l’art chrétien ; drôle d’idée ! Que peut-il en dire lui qui ne croit pas que Jésus est mort et ressuscité ? Dans son ouvrage l’auteur ne cherche pas à détourner l’art chrétien, bien au contraire il nous le fait découvrir ou redécouvrir d’une manière toute nouvelle. Il nous relate de véritables expériences spirituelles devant ces œuvres. Mêlant ainsi son expérience personnelle de la foi dans sa propre religion et des expériences authentiques de vie spirituelle, on aimera ou on n’aimera pas !Il nous livre ses doutes, ses incompréhensions, son admiration parfois pour une religion qu’il côtoie mais dont certains aspects lui échappent. Son approche est très intéressante car il lie thèmes, œuvres et analyses déployant parfois sur plusieurs œuvres un thème, il permet au lecteur de les voir sous un regard neuf. Que peut dire un musulman des humiliations vécues par Jésus ? De la beauté d’une croix ? Du don d’une vie pour le Christ ?Ainsi même s’il est parfois déroutant, Navid Kermani permet à son lecteur de vraiment regarder l’art et le monde d’un œil différent qu’il serait en bien des aspects trop bêtes de rater, d’oublier et de passer à côté ! On est parfois offusqué par ses propos, parfois conforté dans sa foi…A vous maintenant de vous faire votre opinion, personnellement j’ai beaucoup apprécié cette lecture.

  • Mb
    2019-04-20 03:35

    Sehr erhellend! Auch über den islamischen Blick auf Religion!