24 January 2011

A theology of Gratitude

I've been reading Ann Voskamp's blog for a long time... before I actually understood what a "blog" was, really. She's an extraordinary presence - immensely gifted, even more humble, passionate and yet also compassionate, wise and still seeking, artistic and also grounded in the literal dirt, sweat, blood, and tears of life. (And, as an aside- is there a more well-read woman in the northern hemisphere?) I've longed to have her spiritual maturity and honest longing for God. I've followed her suggestions at Lent and Advent and dutifully started up a gratitude journal. I've made some embarrassing attempts at emulating her writing style. I've even more embarrassingly read and re-read the comments she left here a few times. :) I've not googled her to find out where she lives, yet, but I could have wondered... :)

Anyway - let's just say - I've been a fan for a long time.

So I don't know why I was surprised.

But I was.

I opened her book and began reading. I expected to be moved, expected to be inspired, but did not expect to be shifted into another universe of thought, did not expect to be fundamentally changed.

This book... oh my...what to say about this book that has taken my breath away and swept me up into her dizzying, gloriously stretching, delightfully revealing journey?

This book... is good. And I don't mean "good" as in "nice, fun, happy". I mean "GOOOOOOD!" I mean, "God looked at his creation and saw that it was GOOD" sort of "good." It's the sort of "good" that can only come about after total emptiness has been filled by the Divine -- complete with all the breaking and burning and molding and shaping and groaning that divine birth involves.

This book is so much more than a practical guide to creating a gratitude list, though one could find that in it. It is more than a memoir, more than a reflection on the intersection of the mundane and the divine, though it is definitely these things, too. What this book is, at its essence is a book of profound contemplations on the desire of a creation to be returned to communion with its Creator. From her opening assertions that the original sin is one of ingratitude, Ann spins the tale of how she runs, dances, stumbles and gropes the path of redemption found in a life of thanksgiving.

What Ann has created is an extraordinarily insightful, nuanced and deeply honest theology of Gratitude. The answer she has found to the meaning of life (living in intentional thanksgiving) appears to be simple. But the answer goes beyond just keeping a numbered list of God's gifts, something I've done without the essential accompanying contemplation of God's very nature, His plan for our restoration, His willingness to enter into our lives. Ann knows that living out the satisfied life is so much more than a sterile list. Ann knows that living eucharisteo is perhaps the most challenging task a mortal, fallen creature can undertake. She treats her exploration with all the raw desire, startling honesty and passionate reverence that such a task deserves. It's amazing.

I really wish I could buy tons of these books to hand out to family and friends and church members. And strangers, for that matter. If people get hold of the concept of a life-lived-in-thanksgiving, well... it could be life-changing. I know it already is changing mine.

Thank you, Ann.


Holly said...

Yes. Yes. Yes.

You've encapsulated many of my thoughts.

I've not read the book yet, April - but just from catching a glimpse of what has been happening and what God has brought about over the years at Ann's blog and in her life - this is what I've seen as well.

I know I don't quite grasp it yet, but I intend to.

I think it is key. I think it is the answer to "the question" of our time. I, too, wish that I could buy armloads of books to pass out - and who knows, over time, I may! :) I have so many friends that I write to and talk with weekly - their lives, my life, would be so different if we could simply understand and come to live this way.

God is definitely doing "a work" thru this book.

You know, I guess what strikes me and I think about all of this is that Ann makes it all look easy, and beautiful, but the truth is, is that her life change and this book came about through much discipline (both spiritual and physical) in her life. Early rising, consistent writing, reading, time regularly in God's word, memorization, set prayer times. She does not watch television, gives up much in order to devote herself to this work God is doing in her life (and thus shares with the world.) I think one of the big lessons for me is...the discipline. Do I have it? Why not? I could...

And yes, humorously, there are a lot of us who have tried to emulate her style. I have too much sarcasm (and too little skill) to ever come close. Still, there are worse people to emulate...


Blessings to you, April.

April said...

Oh, I agree with all of what you wrote, Holly!! I have been impressed and inspired by the discipline, the choices Ann and her family have made - choices that have required much sacrifice. I'm so grateful that they've allowed themselves to be used in all the ways so many of us think are just too hard.

She does inspire, doesn't she?

So do you, you know...

Holly said...

Aw...I only hope so.

So do you!

Oops. Burned biscuits while online. Not so inspiring. :)

hopeforcambodia said...

It doesn't come out here for another two or three months (oh,Amazon, please start shipping to Australia!) but I am so looking forward to this book. There is such healing in giving thanks. It turns the soul from the negative to the truth and brings such solace.

Looking forward to the book.


April said...

So would it be unethical to send you one, Val? I'd be happy to do it!

Anonymous said...

That is very kind, April, though I have a feeling the shipping costs would be more than the book! I had another look at the website of our Christian bookstore and it says 6-8 weeks, so I'm guessing they are waiting for the shipment.

I can't wait for Amazon to start a Australian branch! :)