2 Stars Out Of 5
"God-Gifts": here, there and everywhere
February 8, 2015
The Scriptures tell us that every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights (James 1). God is the greatest gift-giver. Unlike us, he never stresses about what to give us, is never short on resources, and always gives us just what we need, even if we dont realize it at the time. And He never gives out of duty or obligation, but of His own good pleasure and free will, with grace and love. In fact, every day all year long we receive gifts from God, many of which we never notice, acknowledge, or thank Him for.
When we recognize simple every day blessings as gifts from God, we are expressing our thanks to the source, the Giver of all good gifts. Rather than expecting, demanding, and reaching for what we think we want and need from God, Ann Voskamp explains that joy comes when we allow ourselves to be surprised by whatever He gives and to humbly accept whatever comes from His hand as a gift. Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we arent satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other, says Voskamp.
I have a confession to make I have somewhat mixed feelings about Ann Voskamps book, One Thousand Gifts. It has raised a bit of a stir and has been rather controversial, in spite of its popularity in some circles. While I cant say that I recommend it, but theres actually some good to be carefully filtered out of Voskamps book. However, her book takes some effort to push through, at least it did for me, and requires discernment.
In One Thousand Gifts, Voskamp explores the concept of eucharisteo, which means thanksgiving, a term which she uses over and over, ad nauseum, throughout the book. She describes how she came to realize that in order to live out her salvation and faith more fully, she needed to see God in everything and to express her gratitude to Him every day in everything. Based on a number of examples she saw in Scripture, she observes, Eucharisteo thanksgivingalways precedes the miracle.
Voskamp observes that joy and contentment are derived through thanksgiving. She makes the connection between gratitude, grace, and joy, reminding us that the best way to defeat fear, guilt, worry, or a critical or complaining spirit is to give thanks. As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible, she says. Of course this isnt a new concept, but it is one which many of us need to be reminded of often. Voskamp acknowledges that gratitude often doesnt come naturally but is a learned habit that takes work to develop. The habit of discontentment can only be driven out by hammering in one iron sharper. The sleek pin of gratitude. And to combat her own negative attitudes and replace ingratitude with gratitude, Voskamp decided to start making a list of things she saw as gifts, simple, common everyday things she already has as gifts from God that show His love. She keeps a notebook in which she records things like:
Brown eggs fresh from the henhouse
Hair bows holding back curls
Boys jiggling blue Jell-O
The practice becomes almost an obsession for Ann, as she notices things she never had before, because, she explains, that list of one thousand gifts has me always on the hunt for one moreand one moreto behold one more moment pregnant with wonder. Before long, writing a list evolves into taking photos as well.
But how do we see the wonder and the beauty in the world here and now amidst our tedium, struggles, disappointments, even grief? How do we live fully and in the moment? Voskamp believes that the answer is giving thanks. And what about the hard, difficult, painful things that come into our lives? When tragedy strikes, the natural human reaction is to ask the questions, Where was God? and Is He good? Ann Voskamp observes that trouble started in the Garden of Eden as a result of Adam and Eves doubt of Gods good intentions and their discontent with what He had provided. As Voskamp explains it,
"We look at the fruit and see only the material means to fill our emptiness. We dont see the material world for what it is meant to be: as a means to communion with GodThat which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave."
While Voskamp quotes scripture throughout her book, she also quotes a lot of other sources, not all of which I would recommend or agree with. For example, Voskamp shares the following statement from the 14th century English mystic Julian of Norwich:
"The highest form of prayer is to the goodness of GodGod only desires that our soul cling to him with all of its strength, in particular, that it clings to his goodness. For of all the things our minds can think about God, it is thinking upon his goodness that pleases him most and brings the most profit to our soul."
Ann seems to buy into this statement whole-heartedly, while I have to disagree. While thinking on Gods goodness may certainly encourage us and make us feel good and secure, I believe Gods preeminent attribute is His holiness. Its the quality of God that is most emphasized in Scripture and its by reflecting on the holiness of God that we see who we truly are as sinners, and are humbled and brought to repentance.
Anns writings are much more mystical and experiential in tone than theological, and I believe this always requires handling with caution. In fact, the name of her blog is A Holy Experience. I have other concerns regarding One Thousand Gifts as well, which have been discussed by other reviewers. For example, the last chapter opens with the statement, I fly to Paris and discover how to make love to God. In this final chapter, Voskamp explores the idea of knowing and communing intimately with God, and she uses sexual language and imagery in doing so. I found it rather disturbing and it made me very uncomfortable. Yes, the Bible talks about the Church as the Bride of Christ, but Jesus is not my personal lover, and I feel its inappropriate to present our relationship to God in those terms.
Content aside, I have to say I dont enjoy Ann Voskamps style of writing in fact, it downright got on my nerves at times (especially since I tend to be a grammar nazi), and I would just have to set the book aside. She likes to leave out articles (dishes in sink), use sentence fragments and run-ons, place adjectives after nouns (plate of cheese grated), and use adverbs incorrectly (I brush his cheek soft). Throughout the book, Voskamp uses odd metaphors and analogies (I hang the socks. Across the rack, white flags of surrender.) She insists on referring to her husband and children using cutesy epithets (The Farmer, Little-One, Hope-Girl, Boy-Man).
Voskamps writing, in my opinion, is over-the-top and pretentious. Its as though shes trying really hard to be poetic and creative in the way she says things, and she goes on and on describing a single incident that I found myself just skimming to get through some passages. For example, she spends 17 pages most of one chapter describing an incident where she chases the moon in an effort to not only see and capture the beauty of it, but to see and worship the One who created it:
"The moon has all my gaze, God-glory heavy and mounting. I kneel here, needing to know how a hung rock radiates ethereal? This beauty is not natural, not of nature. This beauty is not merely form and color but Gods shining garments hemBeauty Himself completes."
A little later she continues,
"Whether I am conscious of it or not, any created thing of which I am amazed, it is the glimpse of His face to which I bow down. Do I have eyes to see its Him and not the thing?...A pantheists god is a passive god, but omnipresent God is Beauty who demands worship, passion, and the sacrifice of a life, for He owns it. Do I have eyes to see His face in all things so Im not merely dazzled by the trinket?"
So this gives you a little taste of what her writing style is like not really my cup of tea.
Im sure there are people who were inspired by reading One Thousand Gifts, have decided to follow Anns example of recording "God's gifts", and thats great for them. Keeping a gratitude journal isnt a new concept; Ive done it to some extent myself off and on over the years, but Ive never really taken to the habit of writing in a journal on a daily or regular basis. But, forgive me if I sound cynical, it seems to me that stopping in the middle of activities throughout ones day to write down the most trivial of things for which to thank God is a bit unrealistic and impractical. Starting or ending the day by adding to an ongoing list of things for which one is thankful seems to be a reasonable alternative to Anns moment-by-moment approach.