In range this is a giant step beyond the author's clever Bodies in Motion (1972) as Kotker places a good man--Congregational minister Arley Minor--within a half century of moral imperatives, domesticated Passion, and the bean suppers that New England Protestantism has become. The gentle child/man Arley is an offshoot of the Minor clan, headed by tough tribal Joseph, judge and undertaker in the small town of Judea (Kotker's biblical parallels are happily open-ended). As the Minors disperse, as Arley moves from the security of his people, he holds back the fear of war and sudden death, of loneliness and desolation, by retaining a prehensile grip on the felt presence of God and the Christ child. Arley, loving and loved by his parishioners, is stationed at a series of small, poor churches. ""The people paid him to keep alive the drama they remembered from their parents. . . [but he] was not a man in their eyes."" But was he a man to his increasingly restless wife and his children--Jesus, after all, was not a father. In a dark, divisive present his daughter wonders about her father's inglorious ascension; he died in a hospital elevator. Was he expecting to be ""greeted, raised up, held?"" Kotker has created a world of old parish houses smelling of winter coats, bright Easters, deathbed watches, and distracted congregations. Her drama of primordial terrors ""before all words"" is strong and valid even if played out among empty pews.