A student approached me with an irresistible request. “I’m looking for someone to supervise an independent study for me,” she said. “I want to read Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre as a sacred text. Would you be interested?”

Vanessa’s ministry is to seek ways of creating sacred community among diverse groups of people. From Judaism she inherits a conviction that reading together is one of those ways. Each week we read a portion of Jane Eyre together, trying to understand Jane’s theology, studying how Jane is transformed through her interactions with others, listening for the ways in which she and other characters are made vulnerable by love.

What does it mean to read Brontë’s novel as sacred? For Vanessa, it means having faith in Brontë’s words. The third-century Christian exegete Origen of Alexandria taught that when we come across stumbling blocks in scripture—things that we don’t understand or even things that can’t possibly be true—we need to read more deeply to discover meanings that lie below the surface.