Thursday, June 30, 2011

Friendship

Laura is leaving for India on the 6th, and tonight we had a going away party for her. She is such a precious friend, and I pray God's blessings on her in this new phase of life!

16. Laura's determined and joyful spirit, and most of all for her tight hugs :)
17. Her faithful friendship all these years, and particularly her honesty when I've needed someone to be frank with me
18. The fellowship and prayer time tonight, esp. with those I had not seen in some time. I can always be myself when I come back to FBF
19. Hummus and peppers
20. Driving down a back country road (it turned out to be the WRONG country road) with my sisters at 11:00 at night, looking for their friend's house. Lots of deer and lots of laughs (at ourselves).

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

One Thousand Gifts: An Introduction

"In reading great literature,” C.S. Lewis writes at the end of An Experiment in Criticism, “I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action and in knowing, I transcend myself, and am never more myself than when I do." The truths Lewis glimpsed through literature became a crucial part of his identity even as they remained large and outside of himself. Such is the power of the written word as Lewis recognized it: it shapes who we are, and it can cultivate truth or lies in our lives. The books I’ve read have enabled me to “see what face things present to a mouse or a bee” as they’ve strengthened my vision of the world around me.

As an English major (and now an English teacher), I’ve often recognized the influence the written word has had in my life. Recently, however, I was given a precious gift, Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, and I realized that I’ve only recognized part of the story. For if reading the words of others has challenged and blessed me, my response should be one of articulating my thankfulness to the Giver of all good gifts. I ought to respond to the beauty around me, of which I often become more fully aware through the language of others, through language of my own. Voskamp notes that in Luke 17 when the leper returns to give thanks to Christ for his healing, Christ responds by saying to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” She wonders, “Hadn’t Jesus already completely healed him?” As Voskamp sought the answer to her question, she learned that “saved thee” is “sozo in Greek. Many translations render sozo as being made ‘well’ or ‘whole,’ but its literal meaning, I read it--‘to save.’ Sozo means salvation. It means true wellness, complete wholeness. To live sozo is to live the full life. Jesus came that we might live life to the full; He came to give us sozo. And when did the leper receive sozo—the saving to the full, whole life? When he returned and gave thanks” (38-39). For Voskamp, the power of eucharisteo (thanksgiving) inspired her to begin a written list of one thousand gifts.

I want to do the same. Too often, I think, I passively absorb the written word but avoid articulating truths in writing for myself. (This may seem silly coming from someone who has recently completed a Master’s thesis, but it is oh-too-true. I have recognized this in my teaching more than I’d like to admit, too. I am aware of much that is going on around me, but it’s so much easier to pretend I don’t notice if I'm unsure how to respond. I wonder if I overlook many of God’s gifts in the same way, in a prideful attempt to dodge the praise—the response--the recognition of such gifts demands.) I know that, on the one hand, I should spend far more time listening to the thoughts of others, especially the great authors, than articulating my own thoughts. But I’ve too often allowed passivity to keep me from deliberately giving thanks.

Naming God’s gifts and giving voice to my gratitude can shape my identity as much as do the words of others. For, as John Piper recognizes, “there are eyes in pencils and pens.” Voskamp writes, “Naming is Edenic. I name gifts and go back to the Garden and God in the beginning who first speaks a name and lets what is come into existence.... Adam completes creation with his Maker through the act of naming creatures, releasing the land from chaos, from the teeming, indefinable mass .... [N]aming offers the gift of recognition. When I name moments—string out laundry and name-pray, thank You, Lord, for bedsheets in billowing winds for fluff of sparrow landing on line, sun winter warm, and one last leaf still hanging in the orchard—I am Adam and I discover my meaning and God’s, and to name is to learn the language of Paradise. This naming work never ends for all the children of Adam. Naming to find an identity, our identity, God’s” (53). When I give voice to the gifts around me—speak them into recognition—perspective turns to gratitude.

The wholeness Christ promises, although not fully attainable in this life, is contingent in large part on my thankfulness. If I refuse to recognize the source of all the gifts I am given, or, even more fundamentally, if I refuse to recognize things great and small as gifts, I rob myself of the wholeness he promises. And I’ve done this. Time and again. Failed to recognize gifts or rejected them outright. And complained and become self-absorbed and depressed. I’ve sundered that which Christ came to make whole. Voskamp continues, “Thanksgiving—giving thanks in everything—is what prepares the way for salvation’s whole restoration. Our salvation in Christ is real, yet the completeness of that salvation is not fully realized in a life until that life realizes the need to give thanks” (40). Another dear author-friend, Madeleine L’Engle, articulates the same truth in her book Walking on Water: “Stories are able to help us to become more whole, to become Named. And Naming is one of the impulses behind all art; to give a name to the cosmos we see despite the chaos” (45). According to L’Engle, literature, like other forms of art, “points . . . to a wholeness, a wholeness of body, mind, and spirit, which we seldom glimpse, but which we are intended to know. It is no coincidence that the root word of whole, health, heal, holy is hale . . . If we are healed, we become whole” (60).

Voskamp describes the effects of her own list even in the beginning stages: “I can’t believe how I smile. I mean, they are just the common things and maybe I don’t even know they are gifts until I write them down and that is really what they look like. Gifts He bestows. This writing it down—it is sort of like...unwrapping love” (45). She continues, “Gratitude for the seemingly insignificant—a seed—this plants the giant miracle. The miracle of eucharisteo [thanksgiving], like the Last Supper, is in the eating of crumbs, the swallowing down one mouthful. Do not disdain the small. The whole of life—even the hard—is made up of minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole” (57). I too often stay in the abstract and deal in generalities, so I want to practice putting into words very specific things for which I am thankful as often as I can. And consciously look for the gifts in the seeds and crumbs, articulate them, and perhaps intersperse it all with some links and thoughts on other things I’ve been reading.

In the past couple of weeks, as I’ve had the idea for this blog in the back of my head, I’ve jotted a few things down to begin my list. It began on a napkin, at my aunt’s house, when I didn’t have any paper:

1. the perfect love that drives out fear
2. that I am held by the everlasting arms (Deut. 33:27)
3. that he has given me a spirit of love, power, and self-discipline
4. that he dances over me when I am unaware
5. raindrops in the headlights late at night
6. a younger sister who had a superb idea for a father’s day gift—and early enough to allow for plenty of time to get the gift!
7. a great landlord who put a railing around our back porch that has kept the deer from eating my tomatoes and peppers (our landlord has been such a blessing after the foreclosure scare!)
8. fresh berries leftover after Heidi’s reception :)
9. a good trip to Baltimore, which included some excellent sessions at the SCL conference, lots of fish-eating, some lovely gardens, Edgar Allan Poe’s grave, the aquarium and museum, a re-awakened desire to travel, and lots of helpful info for the next school year
10. swimming in a saltwater pool with my sisters on a beautiful day
11. lovely conversation and breakfast this morning at Panera
12. encouraging and thought-provoking conversation about education with Tracie after church Sunday night (I didn’t know her much before!)
13. laughing with my roommates about ... all sorts of stupid stuff (or is it the simple things?)
14. a gift certificate to Givens books
15. new summer dresses (and great sales!)

Voskamp writes, “In naming that which is right before me, that which I’d otherwise miss, the invisible become visible ... God is in the details; God is in the moment. God is in all that blurs by in a life—even hurts in a life. GOD! How can I not name? Naming these moments may change the ugly names I call myself. I put a pen to a journal...” (54).

In A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle writes, “If I thought I had to say it better than anyone else, I'd never start. Better or worse is immaterial. The thing is that it has to be said; by me; ontologically. We each have to say it, to say it in our own way. Not of our own will, but as it comes through us. Good or bad, great or little: that isn't what human creation is about. It is that we have to try; to put it down in pigment, or words, or musical notations, or we die.”

I think it is the same with giving thanks. Millions of people have been thankful for the rain, for provision, for safety, for comfort. But I must express thanksgiving myself. I want to give voice to the gifts around me until it becomes a habit—and then keep on doing so. So here begins my record of thanks.