My friend gave me a new book. I am not sure what prompted the gift, but that is why it is so special. A gift means being given something you did not earn and do not necessarily deserve. That surely is the case in the gift of my new book. In fact I am glad I don’t know why he gave it to me. It surely is special. The gift is special and that makes the book special---even before I read the first page.
I was eager to jump into the book. The author, Ann Voskamp, is a Mennonite farmer along with her husband in Canada. That helps me appreciate it. I like the Mennonites. I see them as cousins to Quakers, but I sense they usually are more serious and more deeply spiritual than many of us Quakers, so I have deep respect for Ann Voskamp for this reason. I don’t know why I have not heard about her or read her.
The book, One Thousand Gifts, has sold over a million copies! So unless she has given a great deal of money away, Ann Voskamp is one rich Mennonite. But I can’t imagine this would mess up her faith. In my mind she has to be a simple, pious, winsome Mennonite woman. She is a woman of faith. As I began this first story in her book, this seemed more true than ever.
The first chapter is entitled, “An Emptier, Fuller Life.” I liked the paradox of that. The story turned out to have a raw poignancy. She tells the story of her own birth and being named, Ann---meaning according to her, “full of grace.” Within a page or two we hear about her younger sister, Aimee, who was killed by a delivery truck in her own farm lane. That was the moment, ironically, that Ann and her family “snapped shut to grace”---grace being the meaning of Ann’s name. Now the first half of the chapter title made sense.
However, it was a later paragraph in that chapter that grabbed my attention. Basically, Ann Voskamp asks the question: is that all there is to life? In effect she says no and invites us into her theological thinking. She says, “But from the Garden beginning, God has a different purpose for us. His intent, since he bent low and breathed His life into the dust of our lungs, since he kissed us into being, has never been to slyly orchestrate our ruin.” I very much like the way she is easing us into a commentary on those early chapters of Genesis. I eagerly read on.
“I open a Bible, and His plans, startlingly, lie there barefaced…His love letter forever silences any doubts…” Voskamp then turns to a quotation from I Corinthians 2:7, quoting from the NEB: “His secret purpose framed from the very beginning (is) to bring us to our full glory.” Ah, here is the second half of the chapter title. I rush on in her text.
Voskamp claims that God “means to rename us---to return us to our true names, our truest selves. He means to heal our soul holes.” For some reason that short phrase, “soul holes,” jumps off the page, slamming through my eyes straight to my heart. It is a wonderfully powerful way to describe the tragedy of Genesis’ Fall---chapter 3 when Adam and Eve decide to take a bite and all the vicissitudes of their problems and our problems are set in motion. Our souls were wounded---we all have soul holes. That’s now the given. The only question is whether there can be anything else?
This is precisely the issue Voskamp addresses. There can be something different. Again follow me through quoting her words. Reassuringly, Ann says, “From the very beginning, that Eden beginning, that has always been and always is, to this day, His secret purpose---to return to our full glory. Appalling---that He would! Us, unworthy.”
She finishes that paragraph with theological flair. “And yet since we took a bite out of the fruit and tore into our own souls, that drain hole where joy seeps away, God had this wild secretive plan. He means to fill us with glory again. With glory and grace.”
The beauty of her words and the power of her faith and conviction of her theology leave me nearly breathless. Can it be true? In faith, yes. Can it be proved? Of course not. But it impresses me as a powerful faith answer to a dead, little body of a girl---a sister---in a farm lane. That was fact; faith has to do with coping and healing those kinds of facts of life.
It seems factual to me that most of us know about our own “soul holes.” We know about the emptying of life that comes when our soul holes drain us of hope and joy. Our lives are littered by disappointments and disasters of life. Voskamp helps us see that emptiness was not part of God’s hopes and plans for the human race. Instead God’s secretive purpose is to bring us to glory again---to fill us with glory.
I am so thankful for my two gifts: the gift of this book and the gift of the book’s theology of glory.