1. change in outward form or appearance; transform
2. to change as to glorify or exalt
“One Thousand Gifts”
Excerpts form pages 96-101, chapter five titled “What in the World, in all this world, is Grace?”
written by Ann Voskamp
I awaken to the strange truth that all new life comes out of the dark places, and hasn’t it always been? Pit of darkness, God spoke forth the teeming life. That wheat round and ripe across all theses fields, the swelled as hope embryos in womb of the black earth. Out of the dark, tender life unfurled. Out of my own inner pitch, six human beings emerged, new life wet and fresh.
All new life labors out of the very bowels of darkness. The fullest life itself dawn from nothing but Calvary darkness and tomb-cave black into the radiance of Easter morning.
Out of the darkness of the cross, the world transfigures into new life. And there is no other way. Then. . . yes: It is dark sufferings umbilical cord that alone can untether new life.
It is suffering that has realest possibility to bear down and deliver grace. And grace that chooses to bear the cross of suffering overcomes that suffering. I need to breathe. I roll down my window. I inhale the pungency of a passing hayfield in bloom of clover, ditches with those all together wild black-eyed Susans swaying in the early air. I try to think straight, truest straight. My pain, my dark–all the world’s pain, all the world’s dark– it might actually taste sweet to the tongue, be a genesis of new life?
Yes. And emptiness itself can birth the fullness of grace because in the emptiness we have opportunity to turn to God, the only begetter of grace, and there find all the fullness of joy.
So, God transfigures the world? Darkness transfigures into light, bad transfigures into good, grief transfigures into grace, empty transfigures into full. God wastes nothing–“make everything work out according to His plan” (Ephesians 1:11).
We sit in a room with bodies broken and casted, bent over walkers…durned, the skin dressed in gauze, the skin exposed, grafted, mottled, scarred. No one speaks. We try not to stare at each other but I can’t keep myself from saying it to God, the raw sob echoing St. Teresa of Avila’s: ” If this is how You treat Your friends, no wonder you have so few!” Can I be that honest? I am David, lamenting “O Lord, why…?” (Psalm 10:1). Why this broken world punched through with losses? “O Lord, how long?” (Psalm 13:1). How long until every baby thrives and all children sleep down the hall form mom and dad wrapped up in love, and each womb swells with vigorous life, and every single cancer clinic sits empty and we all grow old together? How long? I know a neighboring Mennonite woman folding away the clothes of her dead some and I sit in a room full of the battered and busted and I lament: please. And He takes the empty hands and draws me close to the thrum of Love. You may suffer loss but in Me is anything ever lost, really? Isn’t everything that belongs to Christ also yours? Loves ones lost still belong to Him–then aren’t they still yours? Do I not own the cattle on a thousand hills; everything? Aren’t then all provisions, in Christ also yours? If you haven’t lost Christ,, child, nothing is ever lost. Remember, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” [Acts 14:22 NASB], and in “sharing in [my Son’s] sufferings, becoming like him in his death” you come “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” [Philippians 3:10 NIV].
And I nod sift. Yes, Father, You long transfigure all, no matter how long it takes, You long to transfigure all. The wrinkled man in the wheelchair with his legs wrapped, the girl with her face punctured deep with the teeth marks of a dog, the mess of this world, and I see–this, all this, is what the French call d’un beau affreux, what the Germans call hubsch-hasslich–the ugly-beautiful. That which is perceived as ugly transfigures into beautiful. What the postimpressionist painted Paul Gauguin expressed as “Le laid peut etre beau”–The ugly can be beautiful. The dark can give birth to life; suffering can deliver grace.
In infant psychology at university, I learned that newborns, shown side-by-side images of two faces, spend more than 80 percent of their time looking at the attractive face. So to see through the ugliness to beauty, won’t I need to wear a lens? I’ll need my own transfiguration to enter a kingdom where the Prince is born into a manure-smeared feed trough, where Holy God touches leper sores, breaks break with cheats, where God wounds himself through with nails on a cross and we wear the symbol as beauty. Is the Son of God nauseated by the stench of twelve years of soaking menstrual cloths when He speaks tenderly to the bleeding woman? Is He repelled by the crazed eyes, the foul talk, or bad breath of the demon-possessed man. Staggeringly, doesn’t even Beauty Himself become the ugly beautiful? “There was nothing beautiful…about his appearance” (Isaiah 53:2). He became ugly that we might become beauty. The God of the Mount of Transfiguration cannot cease His work of transfiguring moment–making all that is dark, evil, empty into that which is all light, grace, full.
I take to heart the words of Thomas Aquinas, who defined beauty as id quod visum placet–beauty as that which being seen, pleases. And if all the work of transfiguring the ugly into the beautiful pleases God, it is a work of beauty. Is there anything in this world that is truly ugly? That is curse?
I see what I am. I am amputated. I have hacked my life up into grace moments and curse moments. The chopping that has cut myself off from the embracing love of a God who “does not enjoy hurting people of causing them sorrow” (Lamentations 3:33), but labors to birth grief into grater grace. Isn’t this the crux of the gospel? The good news that all those living in the land of shadow of death have been birthed into new life, that the transfiguration of a suffering world has already begun. That suffering nourishes grace, and pain and joy are arteries of the same heart–and mourning and dancing are but movements in His unfinished symphony of beauty. Can I believe the gospel, that God is patiently transfiguring all the notes of my life into the song of His Son?
What in the world, in all this world, is grace? I can say it certain now: All is grace. I see through the woods of the world: God is always good and I am always loved. Everything is eucharisteo. Because eucharisteo is how Jesus, at the Las Supper, showed us to transfigure all things–take the pain that is given, give thanks for it, and transform it into joy that fulfills all emptiness. I have glimpsed it: This, that hard eucharisteo. The hard discipline to lean into the ugly and whisper thanks for all things at all times because He is all good. The hard discipline to number the griefs as grace because as the surgeon would cut open my son’t finger to heal him, so God chooses to cut into my ungrateful heart to make me whole. All is grace only because all can transfigure.