We have been reading this book – One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp – in our Thursday Bible study group. I’m going to kick off a web series for Saturdays with this book. I’m not sure exactly how to replicate the discussion of the live group. So what I’m going to do first week is suggest the book and give my quick review/preview. Then over the following Saturdays post the study questions, themes, discussion starters that I found while reading and used with the group. Maybe give some of my personal musings around those questions. Some books will take longer than other. This particular one is packed full. We seem to be taking 1 chapter a week although I expect to pick up pace after chapter 4. I can’t recommend it enough. But I can say you really should read it with somebody else to share the questions. So here is my review/preview.
There is a surface way to read this book as “one woman’s story”. It is a good book in that sense although stylistic and aesthetic questions to me would just make it a good book on par with many other memoirs produced today. But AV’s one woman’s story is actually a universal story. It is a challenge and a spotlight. As a spotlight it highlights ground that frankly many of us will never walk – the ground being too scary to walk. It gives us a mental picture and some of the emotional experience without the risk. It stands as a challenge to walk there anyway. St. Paul would write in Eph 2:10 that, “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10 ESV) We don’t know where that road leads or what those forms the light shines on are for us. AV encourages or invites us to walk anyway.
In that way, in being one woman’s story that is also a universal story, this book stands in a great tradition of mystical yet practical Christian writing. You could say it starts with Augustine’s Confessions, wanders through such works as Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, John Tauler and Meister Eckhardt (the German mystic predecessors to Luther), to the more modern example of Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain or the writings of Henri Nouwen. AV has written a deep book. I’ve read it through now about three times and find stuff each time. I am coming at this from a more Lutheran/Catholic view. If this falls into someone in the Reformed Tradition I’m sure that there are other examples like maybe Oswald Chambers or an older example being the Nevin and Schaff Mercersburg Theology of the sacrament. (AV seems to have a very sacramental view of life and world. That is odd for a Zondervan published work, but hopefully a signal of good things as this is a very popular book.) The biggest accomplishment of One Thousand Gifts, is how deep its roots are in the Christian tradition and how rich the life portrayed is, and yet it is a completely modern work. In a modern world drained of meaning and grace – AV provides a spotlight and challenge for how to live that today. The themes are universal and deeply orthodox; the life is from today.