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Edan Cielo Green

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of G!d

— an essay that highlights a subtle, yet powerful theme among Mary Rowlandson’s, “Narrative of the Captivity”–

In Judaism we hold dear to our hearts a concept that is sung in prayer and whispered in daily actions. A promise and prophecy that guides our being; the prayer of “Granting us a Portion in Your Torah.” – “ותן לנו חלק בתורתך” The etymology of these words in both Hebrew and English prompt us to recognize a very tangible platform to connect with infinity. How do we become a “character” in the story of everything? How do we contribute to Creation? Of course these concepts relating between G!d and the Jewish people are different and a truly far comparison, however utilizing the relationship between “us” and the “portion of Your Torah” can bring light into understanding the genre of Mary Rowlandson’s “Narrative of the Captivity.” By understanding who Mary is, was and will be throughout her narrative, the readers will come to understand the genre of the human desire and necessity to connect to the divine.

The truth of this narrative, highlighted by the fact of its primary source, is that it is a story of humanity. A tale of people. Mary Rowlandson hailed from a devout Puritan community that valued G!d and the freedom of religion. The religious plight to “The New World” offered great opportunity for what would eventually evolve into “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” However, until then, the painful clashes between Native American tribes and Puritan settlers would remain the foundation of Mary’s story. As her narrative begins, “Now is the dreadful hour come, that I have often heard of (in time of war, as it was the case of others), but now mine eyes see it.” (Rowlandson 1682) War, clashes, pillaging and hate between the Puritans and Natives was Mary’s reality, and she now an active participant in this story. In the beginning of the narrative, the readers also gain insight into Mary’s perspective that helps shape the arch of the story. “We had six stout dogs belonging to our garrison, but none of them would stir, though another time, if any Indian had come to the door, they were ready to fly upon him and tear him down. The Lord hereby would make us the more acknowledge His hand, and to see that our help is always in Him.” (Rowlandson 1682) Although the theme may be interpreted as just historical, (leh’avdil) but the story of Mary is the story of an individual’s relationship with G!d. Imbedded among every experience, Mary consistently returns her human experience to divinity.

As her narrative progresses and the climactic attack of the Native Americans on their community unfolds, Mary still utilizes speech as a method of mundane-to-divine connection. “…like a company of sheep torn by wolves, all of them stripped naked by a company of hell-hounds, roaring, singing, ranting, and insulting, as if they would have torn our very hearts out;” (Rowlandson 1682) Her elusion to sheep and wolves may serve as biblical reference as it was the catastrophic story of Yosef and his brothers that referred to death by wolves with the use of sheep blood. Mary’s choice of words significant and intentional to pull the heartstrings of the human and inspire within the reader an awareness of religious stories. The gruesome description by Mary serves an historic source, however the eternity within her words further articulate her inability to avoid G!d, even among her suffering. “Oh the roaring, and singing and dancing, and yelling of those black creatures in the night, which made the place a lively resemblance of hell. …But the Lord renewed my strength still, and carried me along, that I might see more of His power; yea, so much that I could never have thought of, had I not experienced it.” As Mary transitions from the “observer” to the one experiencing the attack, the genre of human necessity to connect with divine only expands further.

The power of Mary Rowlandson’s narrative is that she not only connects further to G!d by her own struggle and strive for faith, but she also finds G!d “dispersed” among those around her, even among her greatest enemy. Among being in captivity, Mary is offered what, generally, most religions hold sacred as a direct line to connect with G!d: a bible. “I cannot but take notice of the wonderful mercy of God to me in those afflictions, in sending me a Bible. One of the Indians that came from Medfield fight, had brought some plunder, came to me, and asked me, if I would have a Bible, he had got one in his basket. I was glad of it, and asked him, whether he thought the Indians would let me read? He answered, yes.” (Rowlandson 1682) The genre of the human pursuit of divine also is highlighted by the subtle question that arises within Mary’s text, fate vs. free will? How much is left within the hand’s of human choice versus the divine statement of fate? Was it Mary’s consistent devotion to G!d throughout her adversity that catalyzed her victories, or was it the surprising kindness of those she felt foreign to? “at last an old Indian bade me to come to him, and his squaw gave me some ground nuts; she gave me also something to lay under my head, and a good fire we had; and through the good providence of God, I had a comfortable lodging that night.” (Rowlandson 1682) Mary experiences surprising kindness by few Natives that tend to her human needs, and with that still attributes the comfort to the “good providence of God”—thus solidifying the theme of humane desire and necessity to connect with G!d, in any and all circumstances.

Mary Rowlandson’s story is a piece of the “American Bible.” Although the setting, characters and lifestyles noted in the Narrative are significant to American history – the greater theme and message of the piece echoes the eternal, human story. Just as the Greeks mythological epics and the African, tribal folktales, the universal story of the world seeks to follow the truth of Torah. The reality that Torah is both the past, present and future of G!ds relationship to man. A story and relationship all humans seek to take part in, in jubilation and despair.

About the Author
Edan has recently finished studying as a gap year student in Israel and loved every moment growing and exploring through various experiences. She hopes to share some of the wisdom and insight she has been blessed to have witnessed and heard, as well as try to articulate and pass on moments that were most impactful for her. Edan believes in using the power of words to silence our fears, worries and doubts in order to hear our inner truths of clarity, faith and hope. Through some poetry, Torah and anecdote, she is praying to illuminate the lights that already exist in all of us.