I recently began reading a book by Ann Voskamp called One Thousand Gifts. Voskamp’s work could best be described as a kind of devotional memoir; her style is often poetic in its syntax and diction, and her tone evokes conversational contemplation. Due, in part, to this format, I have found Voskamp to be a kindred spirit giving voice to the often secret struggles and hopes of my own heart and mind. This week, the sleeping beast of discontentment that has been quietly stirring my spirit these last few months suddenly awoke with anger and sadness when I found myself bombarded with images and examples of bitterness, heartbreak, and intentional mean-spiritedness. Little seemed to be right with the world. I felt lost, defeated, insignificant. My faith in humanity and in myself was shaken. I wanted to run away, escape what Voskamp calls
the days of walking lifeless, the years calloused and simply going through the motions, the self-protecting by self-distracting, the body never waking, that’s lost all capacity to fully feel–this is the life in between that makes us the wild walking dead (27).
I have no answers and there are still more moments when I feel like the “wild walking dead,” but Voskamp’s own process of confronting this “in between” has given me a new starting point for engaging in a world that doesn’t always make sense.
The starting point: Eucharisteo.
In her attempts to find grandeur and wonder in what was her own walking dead existence, Voskamp examines the Last Supper passage found in the book of Luke when Jesus gives thanks for the bread and wine. Hours before his death, Jesus gives thanks. He is certainly within a moment of the walking dead, and yet he gives thanks. Eucharisteo, the original term used, means thanksgiving; however, Voskamp also examines the root words within eucharisteo: charis meaning grace and chara meaning joy. Voskamp sees these as three strands that may help her find meaning, “offer a way to the fullest life:” Grace, Thanksgiving, and Joy. One of her conclusions is this:
That is what scraped me raw: ungratefulness. Then to find Eden, the abundance of Paradise [Joy], I’d need to forsake my non-eucharisteo, my bruised and bloodied ungrateful life, and grab hold to eucharisteo, a lifestyle of thanksgiving (35).
Voskamp then explores the trail of eucharisteo throughout scripture, finding those places where thanksgiving moves someone away from the walking dead and into abundant joy. One example that was particularly impacting to me was from Luke 17 when Jesus heals ten men and only one, a Samaritan, returns to thank him. Jesus says to the man in verse 19, “your faith has made you well.” Voskamp notes that this man had already been physically healed with the others prior to his return with thanksgiving. She looks again to the Greek translation and finds that the word ‘well’ is a translation of the Greek word ‘sozo,’ or salvation, wholeness. Voskamp says, “I would never experience the fullness of my salvation until I expressed the fullness of my thanks every day” (40).
Thanksgiving. This is not a new idea. I began this blog in an attempt to find the gratitude in the sermons that come from the stones of my life. Over the years I’ve poured over scripture, over writers like Chesterton and Lewis who call upon a life of gratitude in the midst of challenge. However, it is obviously something I still haven’t grasped, a lesson I am still learning. So I find myself at a new starting point. It is, perhaps, not one of recognizing gratitude but living that gratitude, living eucharisteo.
Let’s get started…