session two: saying grace

by Elizabeth de Barros

HOW KINGSOLVER CAN HANG themes together like paper chains on a Christmas tree and make them sing on key is impressive.

Saying Grace begins with her giving pause at the lip of the Grand Canyon, where she and her family went instead of flying cross-country to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with relatives. Their refrain was partly due out of deference to the horrific losses, both national and personal, suffered on 9/11 and as a solemn act of humility. Thus, the backdrop on which the one-woman drama unfolds:

With what I imagine to be a raised hand, Kingsolver lifts her voice to decry embarrassing American wastefulness, echo the cries of the poor, give ode to Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms, and revolt against wartime’s perils past and present.

Wait, she’s not done.

Afterwards, on behalf of the nation and with all due politeness, she requests that we be even more generous than we are and asks for another helping of humility, thank you, please. As though she is dabbing at the corners of her mouth, Kingsolver ends on what sounds more like a mournful prayer:

“A land as broad and green as ours demands of us thanksgiving and a certain breadth of spirit. It invites us to invest our hearts most deeply in invulnerable majesties that can never be brought down in a stroke of anger. If we can agree on anything in difficult times, it must be that we have the resources to behave more generously than we do, and that we are brave enough to rise from the ashes of loss as better citizens of the world than we have ever been. We’ve inherited the grace of the Grand Canyon, the mystery of the Everglades, the fertility of an Iowa plain — we could crown this good with brotherhood. What a vast inheritance for our children that would be, if we were to become a nation humble before our rich birthright, whose graciousness makes us beloved.”

Sounds rather utopian or much like what candidate speeches are made of, but her feet are planted firmly on the ground and she’s not running for President. She’s a daughter. A wife. And a mother. An American citizen who cares about more than just herself and is willing to roll up her sleeves, go to the backyard and figure out how she might feed a small village if need be.

Her point is just that. There be a need. And it’s vast and wide, all-American, like the Grand Canyon — the generosity of God now upturned; an endless cavity created by what she sees as a bully nation’s upraised fist full of pride, careless waste, and the ever-spiraling downward wanton lust for worldly pleasures. Dumpsters across the land reveal the truth of who we are.

To a great degree, she gets it.

I pain over these things too.

However, one question Kingsolver asks caught my eye:

“What is safety in this world, and on what broad stones is that house built?”

I can answer that, but it’s probably not what she’s thinking of.

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A BIBLICAL LENS:  

Certain people have an uncanny ability to see the big picture. They don’t look at the calendar week-by-week or month-to-month, but decade by decade, century to century, looking down the long corridor of history. If old enough, they preside over the better part of a century as if it were a museum in which they are the docent.

But a Christian sees the span of time from Genesis to Revelation, a proper framework from which the BIG picture hangs — more informative, inclusive, and thoroughgoing a calendar than any other.

I like how Kingsolver thinks. She sees something of the big picture, understands how one thing affects another. If I could sit down with the author, I’d pick her brain, get to know her. But first, I’d make sure we were both comfortable and I’d have coffee ready to pour.

Somewhere in the conversation, I’d look for an opening to broach her question, “What is safety in this world, and on what broad stones is that house built?” Then I’d offer to answer.

She would be all ears.

I’d begin by saying that this present world is not all there is. Next, I’d open my Bible to the book of Genesis, talk about God as Creator of heaven and earth, and how He made man in His image. Name some of His attributes. Define sin and man’s fall. Talk about Israel and the covenants, starting with Noah, then Abraham, the patriarch of the faith, the one who was looking forward to a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

At this point, I’d offer her another cuppa and ask if she has any questions.

While pouring, I’d explain how the Law was given through Moses and how kingship came to David. I’d paint in broad strokes, to help her see the big dots on the timeline of redemptive history. Finally, I’d affirm the infallibility and inspiration of Scripture and share the gospel’s promise of salvation as found in none other but Jesus, of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke:

“So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

‘See, I lay in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.'”

Then I’d look at her lovingly square in the eye and say something along these lines: “These are the broad stones — the ‘invulnerable majesties’ — upon which a house of safety is built.”

Then I’d ask her to stay for lunch.

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Next Thursday: What Good Is a Story? with Becky Pliego

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