Some ruckus was raised in the blogosphere lately here and here, both writers offended by Ann Voskamp’s heightened expression of worship at the end of her book, “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.” In a rapture of thanksgiving expressed before Rembrandt’s painting, Supper at Emmaus, in Paris, as Mozart plays, she expresses the apotheosis of her book’s theme,”There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up.”
Now that I have provided a helpful context, and you have fixed in your brain this phrase, the big of giving thanks, you may now read the controversial passage. I have highlighted a key phrase to understanding in bold letters. Other emphases are the authors’ own.
“I fly to Paris and discover how to make love to God.”
“God lays down all of His fullness into all the emptiness. I am in Him. He is in me. I embrace God in the moment. I give Him thanks and I bless God and we meet and couldn’t I make love to God, making every moment love for Him? To know Him the way Adam knew Eve. Spirit skin to spirit skin.
“This is what His love means. I want it: union. This is the one gift He longs for in return for His unending gifts, and this even I could give Him, and anywhere. Anywhere–in the kitchen scrubbing potatoes, in the arching cathedrals, in the spin of laundry and kids and washing toilets–anywhere I can have intimate communion with the Maker of heaven and earth. I can’t help myself here. Inches from the canvas, strains of Mozart carrying, I whisper eucharisteo:
“Thank you, God, for the bread of now …
for Your Son and sacrifice …
for the love song You keep singing, the gift of Yourself that You keep giving…
for the wild wonder of You in this moment.
“A stranger on the road, my cold heart burns (Luke 24:32) and He is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh and I am his and He is mine and I want to touch the paint. I want to run my fingertips across the oils, let the colors saturate my skin, let them run into my blood. I want to be in the painting, Supper at Emmaus, the painting to be in me. I want to be in God and God to be in me, to exchange love and blessings and caresses and, like the apostle-pilgrims, my eyes open and I know it because of this burning of the heart: this moment is a divine interchange. I raise my hand slightly, finger imperceptibly the air before the canvas and this is intercourse disrobed of its connotations, pure and unadulterated: a passing between. A connection, a communicating, an exchange, between tender Bridegroom and His bride.
“The intercourse of soul with God is the very climax of joy.”
(One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, pp. 201, 217-218)
Now before you go running to the shed to grab a pitchfork, ask yourself: Did the writer ever say, God made love to her, too? Was she careful to write this, “intercourse (of soul) disrobed of its connotations, pure and unadulterated, a passing between.”
This is not a bodice-ripper with God, here. This is a tender moment of pure joy in which a woman uses the metaphor of intercourse to express the epitome of thanksgiving and satisfaction and pleasure in what is clearly a sublime moment for her. The whole sensory experience was a gift of God to her–she aches to express the thanks she feels, and since we were created with lovely bodies that do lovely things, and since the giving of intimate love in marriage is really the loveliest thing, it is a logical choice. She has been removed from the context of her book, that of living fully in everyday life, and she is now transported to Paris! To Mozart! To Rembrandt! In those words, in the wild wonder of those blazingly bold words, her thanksgiving reaches its peak of joy. I would not have chosen it, as my sensitivities have been very shaped by the controversies over the “Jesus is Your Boyfriend” movement, but I consider it a slander to say she is advocating her readers should imagine they are having sex with God.
This choice of “intercourse of soul” is merely a metaphor for a kind of intimate communion. A metaphor Christ gave to His church, of which she is presumed to be a member. Nothing unorthodox here, except if she ascribes a real sexuality to God, and so I repeat it here and bold it out, it is a slander to say she is advocating her readers should imagine they are having sex with God.
You would have to take Spurgeon to task for the same ‘heresy’, because he writes of a similar passion for Christ, and uses similar metaphors taken from Song of Solomon, here: He says, “love, strong, fervent love, aspires to higher tokens of regard, and closer signs of fellowship…
By kisses we suppose to be intended those varied manifestations of affection by which the believer is made to enjoy the love of Jesus. The kiss of reconciliation we enjoyed at our conversion, and it was sweet as honey dropping from the comb. The kiss of acceptance is still warm on our brow, as we know that he hath accepted our persons and our works through rich grace. The kiss of daily, present communion is that which we pant after to be repeated day after day, till it is changed into the kiss of reception, which removes the soul from earth, and the kiss of consummation which fills it with the joy of heaven. Faith is our walk, but fellowship sensibly felt is our rest. Faith is the road, but communion with Jesus is the well from which the pilgrim drinks. O lover of our souls, be not strange to us; let the lips of thy blessing meet the lips of our asking; let the lips of thy fulness touch the lips of our need, and straightway the kiss will be effected.
The delicate sensibilities of his Victorian readers must have been sorely tried by those words. Kisses to pant after, to be repeated? The ladies must have worn a path to the fainting couch! More recently there was a similar furor over the song David Crowder covered, written by John Mark McMillan, titled “How He Loves.” Crowder had to burka-ize the original lyric which offended many, to make it something our grandmothers could sing in church. The original line said,
“So heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss and my heart turns violently inside of my chest”
and many believers said “ewww…disgusting.” And I didn’t like that line much either, because we were disengaging from a church that was engaging in the False Prophetic, and I was really tired of hearing how Jesus is Your Boyfriend. But I did love the chorus, and felt like I was being soothed by the Father in a rocking chair when I sang it. I needed soothing then. I just couldn’t sing about the messy kiss. What a relief it was to me to be able to sing that song with a clear conscience, when I discovered the authorial intent of the song, here:
The idea behind the lyric is that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of earth converge in a way that is both beautiful and awkwardly messy. Think about the birth of a child, or even the death of Jesus himself. These miracles are both incredibly beautiful and incredibly sloppy (“gory” may be more realistic, but “Heaven meets earth like a gory mess” didn’t seem to have the same ring). Why does the church have such a problem with things being sloppy? Do we really think we’re fooling anyone on Sunday morning, especially God? Are we going to offend him?
I think if both these passionate writers, McMillan and Voskamp, understood the context on the other side, why the offense is taken, if both of these creators could understand how grieved many are, how they wish writers could choose less graphic metaphors because these things do go on, (and unfortunately, this video interview, “Intimacy for Miracles” has been removed–the ‘event’ is now over for CBN, but interestingly, all the other interviews from the event are still up. “Mama” Heidi’s beatification continues apace. But in this censored video, Gordon Robertson had to put Heidi Baker back in her chair, when she was prostrate under the table making orgasmic sounds. And saying God was giving her pleasure that way. That’s blasphemy! But,
This. Is. Not. That.
So I have great sympathy for those who have raised objections; believe me I get it! I understand the problem. And at first glance, especially with the provocative way this quote was framed by the offended authors of the posts above, I raised my eyebrows, too. But I began to think to myself how clumsy words are. I am a poet. I struggle so many times with unhelpful metaphors, many that I have had to abandon because they got in the way of the ultimate truth of what I wanted to express. Artists who fumble around with language do not always paint with letters so illuminatingly as Rembrandt did with his chiaroscuro of oil paints. Writers with words are very murky, and muddled, and we mostly miss the sublimity of what we really sought to express. It is so “through a glass darkly”, with wordsmiths.
So let’s give grace to each other, as long as we see only these blurred reflections in a very dim mirror. We feel our clumsiness most keenly when Heaven meets our own earthiness in a tender moment. Words fail. How I wish everyone could know these moments! And reader, if you have never, ever, caught your breath at the thought of Jesus, and your heart never skipped a beat when you heard His name, and if you don’t ache with pure longing for your Heavenly Bridegroom’s soon return–those kinds of things so clumsily communicated by all these artists, (except Rembrandt!), then I feel sorry for you. You are missing something precious, and I think Jesus longs for you to long for Him in that pure, and pleasurable, way. To pant for Him, as Spurgeon scandalously writes. Our Lord is pleased and promises a reward for His clumsy, but faithful lovers, who long for His appearing.
Here is Kim Walker’s passionate version of “How He Loves.” It is beautifully sung, but posting it here does not mean I endorse Jesus Culture. Far from it! This false movement evangelizing churched youth is an unpaid bill of a passionless orthodoxy.Until we find and rest in that fellowship that is “sensibly felt,” as Spurgeon himself so beautifully modeled, we will lose more of our youth to these counterfeits. Listen and weep at the end, as Kim stirs the crowd into an emotional frenzy, and perfectly prepares their hearts for the pitch of the 24/7 Prayer Movement, and for IHOP’s Bridal Paradigm– I spot Winnie Banov drunkenly swaying in the background. Jesus Culture is softcore false prophetic. And thus our Enemy counterfeits this real truth, that God has passionate love for us, and longs for a passionate response from His bride. And so the enemy herds the thousands and thousands of youth in the audience into false-gospel preaching Churches like Bethel Redding and the re-education camps IHOP calls prayer rooms, and “internships.”