The Real Housewives of Padan-aram

This week’s drama of Princess Kate and the Manipulated Photo has been hard to miss.

This week’s drama of Princess Kate and the Manipulated Photo has been hard to miss. I’m pretty nonplussed by the fevered speculation about where Kate’s disappeared to (they said she’d be out till Easter after abdominal surgery, let’s calm down guys?), but Kensington Palace releasing a photo that turned out to have some weird AI-type glitches and that’s been retracted by major news agencies sure hasn’t helped matters.

As a story it’s soapy, a bit sordid; and pretty low-stakes as world events go, especially now. But the last few days I’ve been toggling between my phone (some of the tweets have been very funny) and Marilynne Robinson’s new book, Reading Genesis (released today). In a cacophonous time, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and essayist bends her attention and gorgeous prose on, of all things, the first book of the Bible.

If that seems far removed from today’s concerns, think again. Robinson beautifully and provocatively shows that these Scriptures, intensively pondered over millennia now, are at once about all humanity – every one of us, and the great sweep of our history on this planet – and about the lives and often sordid dramas of a particular family in ancient Mesopotamia. I’m currently reading about sisters Rachel and Leah, the two wives of Jacob, who struggle with jealousy, infertility, heartbreak. It’s the Real Housewives of Padan-aram; it’s also, astonishingly, the working out of divine promises to humankind. These women live their complicated, often disappointing lives, and the freight of the story is that every family on earth will someday be blessed as a result.

Global history is not more or other than the story of particular human lives. We can misapply our precious attention; but training it on one another – importantly, in compassion and an attempt at understanding – is never trivial.

Image source: Rick Wilson, “Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge, Countess of Strathearn and Lady Carrickfergus,” (April 2014), CC BY 2.0,