Tuesday, July 31, 2012

One Thousand Gifts, chapter 6

This may be rather long. Just warning you.

In chapter six, Voskamp seems to shift to a new theme. She's been pounding thankfulness. Now she moves on to seeing. The events of this chapter occur on a chaotic day that all mothers recognize. She is overwhelmed, grumpy, weary at suppertime. Then she is called outside to see the moonrise. Voskamp spends the entire chapter describing her new discoveries about herself, while watching the moonrise. She is overcome with beauty, glory, humbleness and the presence of God.

It sounds so ordinary to say it that way. Voskamp rarely uses ordinary terminology, and that's part of what makes her rather ordinary cathartic moments sound very extraordinary. She does a good job of describing the occasional senses of wonder and bliss that we experience with God, that we often cannot describe ourselves.

I mentioned before, in my "Ann Voskamp Revisited" post, that two pastors had reviewed Ann's book. Both men criticized her mystical approach to her faith. I imagine their "mystic radar" started humming when they read chapter six. One pastor has removed his review, and has since put up a sort of apology to Voskamp. (He doesn't apologize for critiquing her book, nor for the content of his review, but for the lack of love in his tone.) The other review by DeWaay is more academic and detailed. The first area of concern he addresses is Voskamp's panentheism.

Panentheism. A word that is not in my 1962 Oxford English Dictionary. Nor is it found in my 1980 Webster's. Hmm. Online, I find this: Pantheism is the belief that God is the universe. Panentheism is the belief that God is in the entire universe. It goes beyond mere omnipresence, which states that God is not limited spatially -- He is a spirit, and His spirit is not limited by space. Panentheism sees the world as existing in God, and God existing in the world. It seeks to avoid the concept of transcendence, which places God distinct from His creation. Panentheism goes beyond merely seeing God's glory in creation, or hearing His praise in creation. It goes beyond simple General Revelation, which states that man may look objectively at the created order and infer the existence of God and traits about Him.  Many believers see Panentheism as a Biblical concept. They refer to verses like Romans 8:36: "For from him, and through him and to him are all things," or Ephesians 4:6: "There is one God who is father of all, over all, through all and within all."

It all boils down to one concept: Unity. Christians have unity with Christ; we are "one with Him." This unity is what Voskamp longs for, in chapter six. "I long to merge with Beauty," she says. In her terminology, she "aches" for this union. We speak of "knowing God and being known by Him."  For Voskamp, this union is preceded by seeing God rightly -- her perception being changed to realize that God is "all Eye,"  that He is seeing her. Remember the Eye of Mordor from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings?  Well, imagine a good version of that -- an eye that always sees you, no matter where you are, that knows every part of your thinking and loves you. The Eye that lays you bear. Voskamp says God's Eye "leaves the soul disrobed. I am naked and I am right ashamed. I know how monstrously inhumane I can be" (116).
But unity comes when she is willing to look back at the Eye, to look God full in the face (well, not really -- she's looking at the moon) and not be afraid. Voskamp harkens back a couple of times to Jacob's encounters with God, the nights he saw the ladder and wrestled with God. Only ... God literally spoke to Jacob in a dream the first time, and the second time, Jacob physically wrestled with the flesh-and-blood body of the second person of the Godhead. He wasn't interacting with the moon, nor was the moon some sort of Beauty Symbol for God. Voskamp does know the difference. "Is worship why I've run for the moon? Not for lunar worship, but for True Beauty worship .... I do not deify the wind in the pines, the snow falling on hemlocks, the moon over harvested wheat. Pantheism, seeing the natural world as divine, is a very different thing than seeing divine God present in all things .... nature is not God but God revealing the weight of Himself, all His glory, through the looking glass of nature" (110). I do hope her goal, and ours, is to see God as He is, and not through a looking glass at all.

You cannot say that Voskamp is a panentheist simply because she sees the glory of God in nature. David saw the same, and wrote many psalms about it. If Voskamp hears God's praises exclaimed in the moon or the wheat fields or the ocean, she's only hearing what Scripture tells us we should be hearing. This is not news, friends. And just because she uses somewhat bizarre, flowery, poetic language doesn't make her heretical. Pastor DeWaay quotes often from this chapter, in his accusation that Voskamp is a panentheist. First he claims that panentheism does violence to the person of Christ: "If God in His essence and essential being is found in everything, then there is nothing unique about Christ. Biblically, Christ reveals God and His glory in a way nature does not." He is right, but I'm not sure Voskamp errs this way. Of equal concern is his statement that Voskamp finds her experiences in nature to be salvific. "Voskamp describes an experience where she finds salvation by gazing at a full moon in a harvested wheat field."

Panentheism seems to be a moving target. I'm not exactly sure what it means, and I'm not exactly sure if Voskamp espouses it. Does she claim to find her salvation in an experience with Nature? I don't think so. She happens to be in a natural location, in a wheat field, with the moon. But the important thing is that God is there. The presence of God's glory, His beauty, His eye, her longing and awareness -- these are the crucial elements. And the salvation she experiences is not the initial saving of her soul; she's already a Christian. She is, however, saved from a former darkness and ignorance and unwillingness to see and embrace and cry out for the God who loves her. So her experience in the wheat field is one of those wonderful moments that occur in the Christian's life, when she sees something new. Voskamp is certainly not telling the unbeliever, "Go look at some beautiful element of the natural world, feel united to it, and it will save your soul." DeWaay, in my opinion, has been hasty in his criticism.

And I ask, "Why?" Why doesn't he get it? Has he never, ever lain on the sand by the roaring ocean at night, opened his eyes wide to a sky full of meteorites, and been overwhelmed by what God does? Has he never been lost in a cool forest full of old trees and felt in his soul that there was more present than just trees and him? Is he such a calculating academic that he knows nothing of such wonder? I doubt it. Most Christians experience at least a little of this. Ann experiences it a lot. I have too, more when I was younger. Some Christians experience actual miracles. Oh how we long for moments in this fallen life when God is so obviously near! It's merely a longing for heaven.

Did I like this chapter? Oh, I don't know. I can't say I've really liked the book. I find the writing a little disorganized and meandering, so it doesn't work for my particular brain. It does for some. I think Voskamp sees the order in it, but the key is to be able to communicate it to others. What is a moment of euphoria for her, is something interesting to read about to the rest of us.  I do find it a good reminder of the childlike wonder and joy we have in the presence of the Father. How long since you've felt that way? Ann twirls in her skirt as she returns to her house with her children in the growing dark. She has the joy of a girl. Never lose that.

A few loose ends in this chapter before we leave it:
1) Voskamp is prepping us for her "cathedral imagery." She says she is "struggling to make a cathedral of the moment, to hallow it with the holy all here" (102).  She comes close to "desecrating the space" with an inappropriate response (103). She seeks "even one thousand more gifts, sanctuaries in moments" (105). And, "How do you open the eyes to see how to take the daily, domestic, workday vortex and invert it into the dome of an everyday cathedral?" (121).  I believe this is where she's headed. It's one thing to run out of the house just before supper and spend an hour kneeling before the moon. Wouldn't it be better to find the Beauty in your house, in the kitchen, at the sink, where the mess is? This is her struggle -- to find it there.
2) She begins the sexual imagery in this chapter, and I am first uncomfortable with it here. She describes "the great-bellied moon, it all heaves, heavy with the glory" (106). It's the "harvest moon aching ... womb swelling round with glory" (105). That's a fairly familiar, if rather personal, image. On p. 111, however, she sits in the shorn wheat field with her camera, looking up at the moon through a few remaining wheat stalks. "It is still, stalk still. One lone stem of wheat bows its head before me. Behind it, the perfect backdrop of pure moon full, pregnant with the grandeur. I reach out my hand, run my finger up its silk slender shank. This is how. I learn how to say thank you from a laid-low head of wheat."

Hmm. Perhaps the pregnant womb of moon is too much when combined with the phallic symbol of the wheat stalk, together with her stroking it. I apologize for any offense. But this is exactly what I've bought into, reviewing this book; this is exactly the imagery I've promised to address, much as I'd like to avoid it.  Why am I uncomfortable? Am I a prude? No. Do I think Scripture does not use marital imagery? Of course it does. I'd just prefer that Voskamp not go beyond what Scripture does. The Bible uses the picture of husband and wife to show God's relationship with His people -- Israel, or later, His church. The church is the bride, not just little ole individual me. There's a big difference. The familial relationship that Scripture repeatedly uses to describe God's relationship with me, is that of father and child, not husband and wife. Even the most familiar passage from Isa. 54 is in reference to Zion, when the prophet says, "Your husband is your Maker." The "wife" is a city with battlements, foundations, walls, and gates.

Keeping things clear, enumerated, distinct -- this is not usually the mystic's gift. God is my Father, both literally and metaphorically. He is not my sexual partner, in any sense. I wish she would clarify these roles, but mystics don't clarify much. Is Ann Voskamp a mystic? She says no. Here's a good definition of a mystic: " a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect." What do you think?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Soap Pouches

I've been adding to my "line," and crocheting pouches for soaps. It started with a need for something to put all the little leftover shards of soap slivers in, to keep from wasting them. But people kept asking for a palm-sized pouch to put a full bar in, so I made some.
The wash cloths are in the back, but these pouches are more popular. The draw string means you can put a new bar in when the old one is done. And they're 100% cotton, so fully washable and absorbent.
Aren't they cute? I sold out last Saturday,  so I'm making a bunch for this weekend's market.
Here are some little 1-ounce soaps in cute shapes that I sell too.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Such Endless Sky

We went to some friends' house for dinner. On the drive home, Julia noted these brilliant clouds with an outline of sun. When the golden orb dropped under them, grazing the treetops, I stopped the car and took a picture.

I love the sky here. Last night we were right on the bank of the Neuse River with other friends. Spattering rain began, and we went inside to eat. I sat by the window, and during our conversations I kept glancing over, out the window at the river. It's six miles across the water, and the wind made the water choppy. A thin line of bright sky separated the far line of trees on the other side of the river from the clouds above. The clouds darkened, and then from the south a grayness spread quickly through that bright sky, gradually obscuring everything. In a few moments we could only see the closest water, and it was driven along in circles, as if a helicopter were hovering just over the sand. At last the storm passed. Then someone said, "Look at that end of a rainbow!" We all walked outside to the little boardwalk out to the river. As we stood there, the rainbow grew, as they do. First it was just the two ends near the earth -- extremely vivid colors. As we watched, the arch spread up and then at last it shone out in its entirety, and a faint second bow appeared outside it. The first bow grew brighter. At one point, after gazing at its brilliant base, I closed my eyes, and when I reopened them and looked at the sky, my eyes produced a faint copy of the bow, as if it had burned itself into my vision with its intensity.

The most glorious rainbow I've ever seen spanned across the river. I'll never forget it. The glory of the Lord.

The Birthday Girl

Julia enjoyed her birthday. She asked for an ice cream cake again. This is made in a casserole, with layers of chocolate chip cookies, vanilla ice cream, and homemade chocolate sauce. It was excellent.
A wish and a blow!
We also went to eat at Little Italy's. I found my camera too late to capture the massive pizzas we ordered, but here's Julia, posing in front of their pretend juke box, holding her golf ball and club. The restaurant has a small putt-putt golf course out front.
Julia and Jordan goofing off, as only this age child can do!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Julia's New Stuff

Julia decided to go shopping with her birthday money -- a sure sign of teenagehood coming on! She wishes to thank her grandparents' for the birthday money they sent, so that she could buy new items for her room - THANK YOU!!!
She bought a new comforter. Her old bed was a twin, and this is Anna's old bed, a full size. So she needed a comforter that would cover it. I like the floral pattern. She also bought two pillow cases (leopard zebra print) and the fuzzy blanket in the same pattern you see at the foot of the bed.
She bought the fuzzy purple pillow. She claims that purple is still the dominant color theme, but there's less of it than there used to be! She keeps these four friend on her bed: Mama Cawcaw, Mrs. Murphy, Maggie, and Lullaby.
The comforter pattern and the leopard zebra print:   (heehee -- I got corrected on my exotic animal prints!)
She said she was in desperate need of a clock in her room. I agreed. Now she can't tell herself she's only been reading for 10 minutes, when it's actually been 45 minutes.
And a bedside lamp for reading. It's really all about the reading :)
Thanks again, grandparents! She loves her room!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

One Thousand Gifts, chapter 5

In Chapter 5, Voskamp steps into deeper waters: Can I thank God for the bad as well as the good? Can I thank Him when evil steps into my life?

She approaches the question through her son's farm accident, in which he injures his hand. Unlike the lovely snippets of sunlight on her List, she calls events like this "the hard eucharisteo." The hard thanks. Joni Tada calls it (as Scripture does) "the sacrifice of praise" -- praising God through tears, when you can barely breathe, and just assenting to Him is a sacrifice of your soul. Hard days. I've had those.

Voskamp notes early on that light can emerge after darkness; she uses the example of an amaryllis given to her by her mother-in-law. The bulb was the 1000th item on her List, just before her mother-in-law died. After death comes resurrection. After burial in the dirt comes a glorious bloom. After desolation comes wisdom and relief. Perhaps the best writer on this subject is Elisabeth Elliot, in her excellent book A Path Through Suffering.

Voskamp clearly struggles hard with suffering. She asks bold questions. "Life is loss," she says. "What will I lose?"  And I want to answer her, 'Nothing! All is returned, and more, in the New Earth!' She asks, "When will I lose?" And I want to answer, 'Never! That's what eternity is all about -- never losing anything good.'  She then asks, "Who will I lose?" And my reply is, 'No one!' All your brothers and sisters in the Lord will be with you there.'

She asks, "What in the world, in a world of certain loss, is grace?"  And my answer of course: 'Certain gain! We have a hope that is secured in the heavens. This life on this earth is a pig sty compared to the New Earth awaiting us.'

She can't hear my replies, and I suppose she knows these answers anyway. But she doesn't mention the Christian's great hope. This chapter focuses on despair and dealing with it somehow here. Some days we are living in the pain. Ann is looking for the right glasses to use, the right perspective to use, when examining suffering and evil. On p. 86/87, she finds the perfect lens through which to look:  The Word. I was excited to read those pages.

On p. 88, she drifts into deeper waters yet. She ruminates on the nature of evil, a subject that hefty theologians like Augustine and Edwards have wrestled with and not mastered. Voskamp compares evil to a shadow, an absence of light. This is, I think, Augustine's view. She says: "That is what a shadow is, an empty space, a hole in the light. Evil is that -- a hole in the goodness of God." I was stunned at that sentence, at the idea that God's goodness could even have a hole, a lack, a break or an imperfection. And if God's goodness could have a gash in it, I would never imagine it to be filled with ... Evil. I'm really uncertain of what she means there. I don't want her words to mean what they actually say, so I'm hoping she just did a bad job of expressing herself. Regardless, it's important to note what she's saying: Evil is an absence of good; Evil is not a thing in and of itself.

Quickly, she leaps into the real message of this chapter. Her theme is that all bad things are transfigured into good things. "So God transfigures all the world? Darkness transfigures into light, bad transfigures into good, grief transfigures into grace, empty transfigures into full." (p. 97) That's another passage I stumbled over; my mind snagged on it. It just doesn't sound right to me. Shocking, yes. Right, no.

I agree with so much that she's dancing around -- that God allows grief and pain, that He then uses it in our lives for our gain and His glory. We all know this. I posted this just days ago, in the video by Steve Saint. If you didn't watch that, you need to. He offers such profound, mature understanding of this subject! The mature Christian understands that the blows of this life are the chippings away from the Sculptor's hand. Only He -- only He! -- can do such miracles with fallen men and fallen events! Another thrilling example happened just this past week in Colorado. Did you hear about Petra, a victim in the Aurora shootings? A bullet was shot into her head, entering her nose and passing through her brain to the back of her scull. Yet her brain was virtually uninjured. Why? Because from birth she'd had a defect (a defect!)  in her brain, a channel of fluid running (you guessed it) from her nose through her brain. Only a CAT scan would have ever revealed it. The bullet went in at one end of that channel and traveled, like a pea through a straw, through her brain. I'm sure such an event could not have been replicated, not if one tried again and again.

Clearly a miracle. God's glory and power shown. And what were His tools? A brain defect. A demented shooter. A bullet. A surgery. Those are all fallen things. He uses them.

But they're still fallen. It's important to remember that. Violence and hate and illness and injury and death -- they are all evil things. They do not get renamed or remade. Or transfigured. Oh how important it is that we not fall into the mistake, in our desperation of understanding Evil, to somehow call it Good. "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter." (Isa. 5:20)

We must keep these eternal issues straight.

You see, Ann ponders, and she wonders, "That which seems evil, is it a cloud to bring rain, to bring a greater good to the whole of the world?" And later she asks, "What if that which feels like trouble, gravel in the mouth, is only that -- feeling? What if faith says all is . . . " (95)

Yes. God can use it all. Even the evil things of this world are tools in His hands, and He manipulates them as He wishes. Without illness we could not know healing; without loss, gain; without weariness, rest; without death, resurrection. 

But it is one thing to say that God uses the bad in order to bring forth the good for us. It is quite another to rename the bad, and call it good. When Ann says, "What which seems evil," or "that which feels like trouble," I'm perturbed at her words. When she states that "bad transfigures into good," I do not think I can agree with her.

We knew a man whose wife died, and in his deep grief and trouble, he struggled with how to define Death. Scripture clearly tells us that Death is our enemy. It is of the fall, it is conquered by Christ, and it has no place in God's Kingdom. Death will not exist on His New Earth. But this man, as he groped for a way to understand his loss, came to the conclusion that Death is a friend -- the friend who takes our hand, removes us from this place of toil and sickness, and leads us into heaven. Death is our Friend -- see, that's so wrong! Just because we're struggling to understand deep issues, doesn't mean we can begin redefining terms.

I'm afraid that Voskamp may well be doing that in this chapter, and I can't go there with her. She asks, "Is there anything in this world that is truly ugly? That is curse?"  Her answer to that question is "no."

No curse? On this planet? Yes, the curse is here. When my precious friend held her dead baby, only a day after his birth, that is the curse. I will not tell her, "Actually, friend, this is a good thing. Death is your friend." When I hear of a child abused for a decade, chained to a potty chair, starved and beaten, that's the Curse. When I read of Treblinka, that's the Curse. The Curse is definitely here. And just because I have a God who can rescue and use evil for His own ends, doesn't mean that Evil isn't still ... Evil.

I would like to think I'm misunderstanding Voskamp here. I don't think I am. So much of what she says is very good, very useful. There's just a slice of it, a significant slice running straight through the middle, that I must cut out with a scalpel, if I am to do her book justice.

"Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Julia and I went for a bike ride this evening (which ride was a fiasco. But I digress.) I always take along my camera. So I said to Julia, "Hey. Let's do a little photo shoot of you. You don't even have to look at me." (You never know when a kid might say yes.) It's a testament to her maturing that she no longer screams and runs, when I pull out the camera.
She has some great features. She'll be 13 very soon.
The bike situation -- my bike's seat broke, so she rode it home, since she can stand up and ride, and I rode her bike home, which nearly killed me!
Sitting by the town dinghy dock
I think she's getting the coastal look down pat, don't you?
This is the classic Julia look. Inquisitive, smart, hesitant, independent.
On the way home, we happened upon this cool car, with the owner standing beside it. They only bought it yesterday. I forgot to ask the year.
She let Julia sit inside.
Oriental -- a town of constant everyday wonders.  Here's another "dragon egg."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Beach Wreath

My precious friend Vivian sent me a fabulous house-warming gift! Can you feel my excitement through your computer screen? Just look at what she made for me!!
Isn't it gorgeous? I love, love, love it. I love all things to do with anything at the beach. (Which she knew) I can't even begin to tell you what a huge help, encouragement and blessing she and her husband were to us, when we were candidating and moving here. Words cannot describe, but  in heaven someday I'll perhaps be able to hug her adequately enough to say, "thank you."
She sent a cute flip-flop wreath too. Isn't it great? What a cute idea! This is the "back-door" wreath, but it might just end up on Julia's door. She's absolutely a total flip-flop kind of girl.
Here are some close-ups of items on the beach wreath. I love all of it.
Here's a delicate sand dollar:
Elegant starfish:
A cluster of shells at the bow:
Thank you, Vivian! I will enjoy them for years to come!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sandy Plays Football

A few nights ago we went to the park, and since I have nothing else interesting to post tonight, here are a few pics of Philip, throwing the little nerf football for the doggie. The river was very active that evening. Little cat paws were breaking all across the water, and small waves were breaking near the rocks.
"Throw the ball, Philip!"
"Here it is! I have it! I'm bringing it!"
"I'm ready. I'm so ready. Philip?"
"Oh boy!!! He's got the ball. Look at that ball. I love that ball. He's gonna ... he's gonna ... "
"Throw it! Please throw it!"
And all over again :)
Quite a river

Crocheting in July

Someone asked recently what I've been crocheting. I haven't really shown you lately, have I? Here goes ....
I finished the yellow prayer shawl, at last. The pattern is lovely. I still need to put tassels on the bottom edge.
I was weary of this pattern toward the end, but the finished effect is so nice.
Next prayer shawl! I chose a very different yarn -- warm and autumnal.
I wanted to try the "wave pattern" (my name for it). This is knitting, so it's slow for me. I'm such a mediocre knitter. And I knit continental method, instead of regular. And I loop my yarn around the wrong way on both my knit and purl stitches! I had to correct that this past week, because it simply wasn't working with the yarn-over stitch. Sigh.
I've been selling washcloths steadily. Here are the ones I have left.
The blue is the running favorite with customers. I like the edging I've been adding.
(Dark photo - sorry) These are 3 hairbands. I've sold a few of these.
This is just a braided band, using chunky felted yarn.
This is the light brown. It looks a little green here, but it's not.
Now ... I must show you this bizarre creature. A friend pinned this over on Pinterest. It's called the "crocodile pattern." It's a crochet pattern of overlapping round "scales." It's a very complicated pattern to do, probably the hardest crochet I've ever done. I only completed four rows. My brain hurt :)
Here's a link to the site with the pattern instructions. The crocheter there is a genius, I must say! But I did have difficulty following her tutorial videos. It might just have been due to the challenging nature of this pattern though. Or my dull mind!
I need to do this pattern in a solid color, so you can see the layers of scales better. Also, it is too thick to be used to make a scarf or a shawl. But it would work well as the front flap of a small clutch purse, or a cute little purse on a long strap. I may use it for that purpose, and if I finish that project, I'll show you how it turns out.