Sunday, June 09, 2013

To be satisfied with mystery

A few weeks ago, after I stumbled upon this beautiful post, I became curious about Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts. I’d never taken any notice of it before. I guess I thought it was one of those coffee-table books that said thanks for lady bugs, cups of tea and gum boots. Not that there anything wrong with saying thanks for lady bugs, cups of tea and gum boots, and I do like this poem by Leunig, I just didn’t feel the need to read that book.

But this weekend I started reading the actual book, and I can’t put it down. It is not at all what I was expecting. It is rather her own story of struggling with the age old problem of suffering, and out of the ugliness of anger and bitterness and resentment into a life of practicing gratitude. As a child she watched her younger sister be run over and killed by a truck, as a result of which her mother ended up in a locked ward of a psychiatric hospital (recently one of the girls who used to be in my book club lost her 14-month-old daughter in an accident at home, and I actually said to another friend ‘you’d just have to let that go, and trust it to God, wouldn’t you, or you’d go mental’) and then her brother-in-law and his wife buried their two baby sons, who died of some horrible genetic disease, within 19 months.

It was actually a conversation with her brother-in-law that helped her along this path. It went like this. Don’t get too bogged in the theology of it, as it was obviously also in God’s plan that Manasseh live and do what he did, but it reminds me of something Francis Schaeffer said in an interview when he was dying of cancer: “nothing scares me more than that I could ask God for anything, and get it, because I don’t know everything”.
“You know ...”John’s voice breaks into my memory and his gaze lingers, then turns again toward the waving wheat field. “Well, even with our boys ... I don’t know why that all happened.” He shrugs again. “But do I have to? ... Who knows? I don’t mention it often, but sometimes I think of that story in the Old Testament. Can’t remember what book, but you know—when God gave King Hezekiah fifteen more years of life? Because he prayed for it? But if Hezekiah had died when God first intended, Manasseh would never have been born. And what does the Bible say about Manasseh? Something to the effect that Manasseh had led the Israelites to do even more evil than all the heathen nations around Israel. Think of all the evil that would have been avoided if Hezekiah had died earlier, before Manasseh was born. I am not saying anything, either way, about anything.”

He’s watching that sea of green rolling in winds. Then it comes slow, in a low, quite voice that I have to strain to hear.

“Just that maybe ... maybe you don’t want to change the story, because you don’t know what a different ending holds.”

The words I choked out that dying, ending day, echo. [She told her brother-in-law, the day their second son was dying in hospital “I’d write this story differently”.] Pierce. There’s a reason I am not writing the story and God is. He knows how it all works out, where it all leads, what it all means.

I don’t.

His eyes return, knowing the past I’ve lived, a bit of my nightmares. “Maybe ... I guess ... it’s accepting there are things we simply don’t understand. But He does.”

And I see. At least a bit more. When we find ourselves groping along, famished for more, we can choose. When we are despairing, we can choose to live as Israelites gathering manna. For forty long years, God’s people daily eat manna—a substance whose name literally means “What is it?”. Hungry, they choose to gather up that which is baffling. They fill on that which has no meaning. More than 14,600 days they take their daily nourishment from that which they don’t comprehend. They find soul-filling in the inexplicable.

They eat the mystery.

They eat the mystery.

And the mystery, that which made no sense, is “like wafers of honey” on the lips.
I like this book. The writing style is a little weird (she has habit of putting the adjectives and verbs on the end of the sentence, which doesn’t quite take my fancy) and I need to think more about what she does with the word eucharisteo, but I have been blessed and stretched and reminded of many good things by the first five chapters.

And here’s a song. A couple of weeks ago I downloaded some Ben Shive music off Noise Trade, because I had seen his name about the place. I like this one. It find it gets perhaps too “rousing” at the end, but I love how it starts. 


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