Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
The sweetest book arrived recently. It took me somewhere between five and ten minutes to read. It didn’t even have page numbers—but I counted 37.
This is my kind of book!
I was told by a friend to watch out for it. At EpicPew.com—you might have heard of my site—we published a short review and promo for the title, but I was unable to review the post before it was sent out. An editor contacted me and asked if it was okay to publish a book that might contain heresy.
With my interest piqued, I asked a little more. “What’s heretical in this book?”
She went on to explain the the book, titled Before I Was Me by Sophia Institute Press, is about a child who spends time with God in heaven before being born on earth. The point of difficulty, of course, was that Catholics reject the idea that the soul is pre-existent.
Understanding this, I helped her understand what is legitimate heresy, and what is, what I might refer to as, inspirational fiction. Heresy is when a believer rejects tenets of the Christian Faith, or when a tenet is corrupted by falsities. The latter may happen involuntarily through ignorance, error in judgment, or imperfect apprehension or comprehension of dogmas.
But this is literature. Literature is a powerful form of art. We can learn so much from its various forms. Nonfiction teaches us facts, histories, science, philosophy and more. But some of the greatest works of literature—even those that teach us or reinforce moral and spiritual truths—are communicated through the various forms of fiction: fantasy, children’s books, crime solving, mystery, and even horror, war, and satire can be extremely useful to depict and emphasize hard truths, while borrowing bits and pieces of nonfiction elements. Just look at this last Christmas’ The Star, or Lord of the Rings.
I think Before I Was Me by Sophia Institute Press is one of these special books. When my friend told me about it, I was thinking it was a novel, like The Shack, but it wasn’t. Like I said, I sat down and read all 37 pages in under ten minutes, and by the end I was almost in tears. It’s a children’s book, and it might be one of the best children’s books I’ve ever read or owned.
Before I Was Me is, yes, about a child who spends time with God before being born. Is that a problem? Can it teach us anything? The opening lines are:
Before I was me,
When I was still with God,
I asked Him,
“Who will I become.”
God’s knowledge is profound. As I wrote at the Register almost two years ago, God has perfect knowledge of all things, excluding nothing. God already knows everything seen, unseen, possible, actual, in the past, in the future, and every combination between. He knows all of us, and all of the “us” that were ever possible. That means he knows all the things that the unborn would have done, could have done, should have done, but didn’t, or haven’t yet, or might, still.
That's where this book takes literary license. It’s in that little wrinkle of God-only knowledge that this little boy exists and has a conversation with God. This boy existed in God’s mind, which is as much as an idea can exist.
Before I Was Me is a sweet book about an unborn child who tells God about all the great things he can do on earth, but is eventually reminded that his most important job is his first: to become a child. Jesus gives us the same command in Luke 18:16-17. If this is a lesson Jesus teaches to adults, how much more important can a book like this be for our children?