Saturday, July 21, 2012

One Thousand Gifts, chapter 4

Before reading this book, I asked quite a few people for their impressions of it. They seemed to remember two chapters best: the last chapter when she flies to Paris, and the "bubbles in dish water" chapter. My impression from them was that Voskamp spent an entire chapter describing the beauty of soap suds.

Perhaps they meant chapter 4. I don't know. She does spend some time describing soap suds, but that's not all that happens in this chapter. Truthfully, this is a chapter in which she decides to rescue her life from the tyranny of hurry. She wants to redeem her time. Or as she says so aptly, "I have lived the runner, panting ahead in worry, pounding back in regrets ...." (p. 69)

Ann is a photographer, and she slows her life by taking snap-shots. Each item on her Eucharisteo List is a snapshot of beauty. When she stares at a ballooning soap bubble, shimmering in her hand, and refuses to be rushed into scrubbing the dishes, she is capturing a moment of beauty, elongating it. Slowing time.

In this chapter, Ann finds another way that Eucharisteo -- her List of Thanks -- works miracle in her life. It forces her to focus, to slow, to stay in the present. She is thankful for now, not for past and not for future. She's refusing to be mastered by either regret or worry (don't we all know those two ogres!!) as she was before. The List seems to do this for her effectively.

She notes the power of The List several times. "Is this eucharisteo the way to that elusive fullest life, the one that lives in the moment?" she asks. Later, it's a statement: "Eucharisteo always, always precedes the miracle." (That's quite an assumption. Hmm.) She realizes that she doesn't lack time, she lacks thanksgiving. She sees that being thankful to God (and not only in heart, but on paper) precedes miracles, re-awakenings, in her life.

I identify deeply with this topic because I too have been dominated by the dual sentinels of regret and worry, standing like frowning headmasters in my school of life. I will contort a situation in amazing ways, simply to ensure that I will never, never have regret. And the worry ... oh, the worry! Not much one can do about that. Is there? Ann found something. For her, just listing off beautiful moments in life and whispering "thank you!" to God, is enough to keep regret and worry at bay. I agree with her that that discovery is a monumental miracle in life -- a huge thank-you in itself! I have worked on this sin in my life (she doesn't call it sin) with some success in later years. My approach is more to remind myself to slow down, enjoy the moment, remember that children grow, friends move, loved-ones die, and my life is well past half-way over itself. It's just common sense: If I focus on yesterday and tomorrow, I will thoroughly waste today.  I've mellowed, become a better wife, a more patient mother, a more listening friend.

I never made The List.

The List is one way, but it's not the only way, to learn to savor time. Voskamp seems to think (and she's indicated this before) that saying thank-you is some sort of magic wand. Oh, I don't mean to be trite. She sees the power of the miracles that occur in Scripture as happening because someone gives thanks.  As I quoted her before: "Eucharisteo always, always precedes the miracle." In the feeding of the 5000, she says this of the Lord, "Jesus embraces His not enough ... He gives thanks ... and there is more than enough." (p. 72) She calls his thank-you "the crossing over that took the not enough and made it enough." She posits that because Jesus thanked the Father for the meal, the fish and loaves multiplied.

She does it again later, on p. 76, in describing the events around the Road to Emmaus.  "... think of the strangers walking briskly, blithely along to Emmaus, oblivious to the God-skin before their eyes. Only in the slowing, the sitting down at the table, when His hands held the bread and the thanks fell from His tongue, do the open-eyed, the wide-eyed, see the Face ...." I will take issue with her treatment of the Scriptures here. Nowhere in the Luke 24 passage does it indicate that the two men "walked briskly." She inserts their hurry into the passage herself. (In fact, they actually hurry later -- when they return to Jerusalem in their excitement from seeing the Lord!) And far from blithe, Scripture says, "they stood still, looking sad," when Jesus addressed them. The passage does not say that Jesus's prayer over the food somehow opened their eyes to recognize Him. Peter, however, preaching in Acts 10:40, gives us a clue. "God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with him after He arose from the dead."

Why did the two men at Emmaus suddenly recognize Jesus? Because He thanked God for food? No, because God had chosen and granted to certain people to recognize Jesus at certain times. It is the mighty power of God, not the mystical power of a particular prayer. Peter seems to say that eating and drinking with Jesus were also important -- the breaking of the bread. The breaking of bread, the supper of the Lord, the great marriage feast of the Lamb:  all this is of a piece. Eating is communion, i.e., taking one large piece of food, breaking it into portions, distributing it to those who love each other, and when they eat it, and it becomes part of their very bodies, they are unified in that food, which was (moments before) a unity. It's a simple enough picture, but a wonderful one. God eats with us, shares food with us, makes us part of His family at His table.

Anyway, exciting as daily thanksgiving is, I still think Voskamp is giving it a power in Scripture which Scripture itself doesn't indicate. After one Bible quote on p. 71 where she put "gave thanks" in italics, she had to add afterward, "emphasis added."  Exactly.

Thanksgiving is always good, always welcome, always an appropriate response to God. Always. But it does not always produce a miracle. I won't tire you with dozens of examples from Scripture of miracles that are not preceded by a word of thanks. Perhaps Voskamp became enthusiastic, and had a slip of the tongue. Thanksgiving can precede miracles, and sometimes does. Do miracles happen more readily to people who have hearts full of thanks? That may be. But it is not a cause/effect relationship.

Other than those exceptions, however, I found this a charming chapter, and I was not turned off by the dwelling on the soap bubbles, because I do things like that myself. And I was particularly struck by Voskamp's wonderful understanding of time and eternity here -- I wish she'd dwelt more on it. I love this quote: "But time is not running out. This day is not a sieve, losing time.  With each passing minute, each passing year, there's this deepening awareness that I am filling, gaining time. We stand on the brink of eternity." (p. 77)  Yes! Yes and yes! My heart is very full of this. Each moment here we choose to add to our treasure trove of joy in heaven, or deduct from it. Each kind word, loving touch, each choice to be supple instead of stiff and cold, each time we think of eternity and know that it's already started ... that is redeeming the time.  I appreciated this reminder from Ann to focus on today, not because we're scared of our pasts or our futures, but because today is the day -- "as long as it is called today!" -- to encourage one another and demonstrate our hope for eternity.


  1. I have been trying not to spend money on books, though having a Kindle in a Wifi holiday house wrecked that! Could I read this on Kindle, do you think? Or do you need to hold it and savour it and be in the photos??! Myabe in the year of living small I should check eBay!

  2. Mags, although Ann is clearly a dedicated photographer, there are not photos in her book. Just text. I suppose it depends on your preference, but if you can enjoy an ebook, I'd think this one would be fine on a Kindle. Probably cheaper too. I guess it's available on Kindle?

  3. The Kindle version at Amazon is ten dollars, but they also have used copies for sale, about $8. If you ordered enough stuff to get the free shipping, that's not a bad deal. Could you ask your local library to get it? If they don't already have it, sometimes libraries here will buy a copy of a popular book, and this one was a NYTimes best-seller, I think.


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