Which books matter most in your life? That’s the question we asked Vanderbilt Provost Richard McCarty and Vanderbilt women’s basketball star Christina Wirth. Both are avid readers. Even in the era of iPods, blogs, podcasts and satellite radio, a book you can hold in your hand still has the power to influence lives. Yes, books still matter.
Star senior forward Christina Wirth is, of course, accustomed to her teammates passing around the basketball with purpose and passion as they pursue glory for the Vanderbilt women’s basketball team.
Off court, they occasionally pass around other priceless cargo—books—to share with each other. Three years ago, one ended up in Wirth’s hands that soon had a profound effect on her view of life.
Two other teammates had read the novel Redeeming Love when they sent it her way after her freshman year. The fictional work by Francine Rivers turned out to be a page-turner that dramatized religious truth like no novel Wirth had encountered before.
“You don’t hear of a story like Redeeming Love very often,” she says. “And the message is powerful: There’s nothing you can do to make God stop loving you. Half the team has read it by now.”
Redeeming Love retells a turbulent story of romance and faith based on the Book of Hosea in the Old Testament. Author Rivers takes the biblical story and shifts it to the rough-and-tumble pioneer days of mid-19th century America, with a Christian emphasis. Her novel depicts the difficult life of Angel, a girl sold into prostitution who struggles to cope with the terrible damage done to her life, including an embittered distrust of men, before she encounters (reluctantly at first) the healing, redeeming love of the upright, persistent Michael Hosea.
“The book starts off depressing—this girl can’t catch a break!” Wirth says. “But you keep going, and by page 100 you can’t put it down.”
Wirth, an Arizona native and Roman Catholic, found the story to embody theological truths about God’s unconditional love.
The novel’s original biblical roots led Wirth to pick up the Book of Hosea itself, written in the eighth century B.C. by one of the latter Hebrew prophets.
“In the Old Testament, the characters aren’t so developed as in a novel, but that’s what is interesting about it,” Wirth says. “It’s not a made-up story; it’s the word of God.”
Wirth, a senior in Peabody’s human and organizational development program, is an enthusiastic reader who was named SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year in women’s basketball and also earned a spot on the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American third team. She keeps stacks of books near at hand as an end-of-day break from studying—novels and biographies mostly.
“I have always loved reading, and that love for reading has continued to grow over time,” she says. “As a student, I read all kinds of books for academic purposes, but nothing beats opening up a good book during my free time and just getting lost in it. I am always amazed at how books have a way of speaking to me. Whether I am reading a book for the first time or re-reading a favorite book for the fifth time, I always come away with an insight that seems to open up my eyes to something I hadn’t noticed before.”
In the case of Redeeming Love , she can thank some Vanderbilt teamwork for scoring a memorable read.
photo credit: Steve Green