Mamisoa getting to know Moni
July to August 2020
1- Getting to know you. Where do you live? What is your day to day routine? What are you doing now? Etc.
I live in Switzerland, in a town near Zurich and very near to the lake of Zurich. During summertime from end of Mai to October I start my days at the lakeside. I take a cup of coffee with me and a book, I read and drink my coffee next to the lake and then I jump into the water. I love this early morning routine. Since I work as a freelancer it is the only daily routine I have. Except of this one hour in the morning each day is different. Most of time I work at home preparing classes or lectures, writing articles or tales or didactic tools. Or I travel by train to teach here or there in Switzerland. Like this my days are full of interesting theological subjects, I love to teach others and learn from them as well.
I live with my husband and no children. This is why I am free to do my work at irregular times.
2- You are a biblical scholar and one of your favorite subjects is around fairy tales. This is very new to me and I am interested to learn from you. How did you come up with the idea of theology and the art of story-telling?
When I did my PhD about the stories of Hagar in the Old Testament I started a formation as a fairy tale teller. Very soon it became clear to me, that there are a lot of similarities between the biblical stories and other stories who are told for years and centuries. Both speak a symbolical language. Both talk about the struggle for a good live. (To be sure, there are many differences too …) For example, it was through fairy tales that I finally understood the metaphor of God as a king. Becoming king or queen in fairy tales means to be responsible for oneself and the others. It is not about being mighty (if you are a good king or queen) but about being just. The fortune is not one at the outside, but one of the souls.
After realizing this, I started to tell biblical stories as I tell fairy tales: In my own Swiss-German dialect, in my own words, by heart. To build up a tellable biblical story I have to do the exegetical work as if I would write a science paper. It's all about text and context and historical background. After this I try to step right into the story. To live the story as one of the characters. Out of this experience and this knowledge I start to build the story I will tell.
It is amazing to feel the reactions of the audience. Very often people tell me, that only now they understand such or such text. Only now they are touched by a text.
You should know that in Switzerland Bible isn't very popular. Most of people are secular and hardly know any biblical story. By listening to freely told stories they can realize, that this very old texts are meaningful till today.
3- Your work is very interesting. I have been fascinated by the story of Hagar in the Old Testament and how it has been neglected by many. Would you tell me about your PhD about the stories of Hagar?
With pleasure! Me too I am still fascinated by Hagar’s story. I did a narratological research following the basic question, why on the one hand Hagar gets a lot of space in the Sara(i)-Abra(ha)m-stories and lives many special experiences – but on the other hand she is neglected by the text and disappears as suddenly as she first appeared. For example I compared Hagar with Abra(ha)m and found, that they have a lot of similarities. Abra(ha)m is famous for leaving his homeland following a divine instruction (Gen 12,1-3), nearly losing his "only" son (Gen 22), and because of the promise of offspring (f.ex. Gen 15). – In the European theology these are the three main points to outline Abra(ha)m as an example of faith. But each of these points would be true for Hagar as well. She goes back to Sarai and Abram following a divine instruction (Gen 16), she nearly loses her only son (Gen 21), and she receives the very same promise of offspring as Abra(ha)m does (Gen 16).
I enjoyed my researches on these texts and I love how they are getting richer and richer the closer you read – and I was shocked how simple the picture of Hagar is painted in most exegetical commentaries.
During the last semester I had the chance to teach a biblical seminary on narratological text research and how to build a narrable story out of it. We worked on the texts about Sara(i) and Abra(ha)m and I was very pleased to see how my students got involved with the characters. Through the story-telling they were forced to really understand and to speak out loud what they believe.
4- This is fascinating! How does your theology shape your value as a teacher? What is challenging, especially in time of crisis and what is empowering?
There is a saying which is very true to me: "Teaching means showing what you love." But in my eyes this isn't only a didactic phenomenon, it is also about grace. Especially in our theological subject, it is as if holy spirit is present when we talk about the biblical texts and motifs – and this can happen in a Hebrew class as well as in a class about fairy tales.
What challenges me most as a teacher are students who want to read the bible only as a historical document and are not prepared to see it's symbolical and – finally – theological meaning.
In time of crisis as we live it right now, I feel empowered by the old texts. In these days I am working on Genesis 1-9, the stories of creation and flood. There are a lot of new beginnings in these stories: Eve and Adam start a new life after leaving the garden in Eden, Cain resettles in Nod, Noah and his family take part of the new beginning after the flood. And God also takes more than one beginning for creation and after all the protection of life. It seems to be deeply human to restart after a crisis and it is accompanied by God.