Losing our Language by Ann Voskamp

When they said they were boarding Group 2 now for Quito, he turned to me and said he didn’t know a word of Spanish.

It doesn’t matter, that’s what I said to my husband. Gratitude is a language you speak with your hands, the way you form the vowels and spaces of your life and we could all learn it together.

We’d just fly straight into the dark, fly high on health and all this grace and our bags right full and we’d speak love and isn’t love always what’s understood? It isn’t. The man I married, he knew that, but he nodded anyways and opened his passport to his unsmiling mug. The flight attendant approved. We flew.

Outside of Quito, our translator with Compassion International, he takes us to Bianca’s house. She waves for us to come in, sit down. The translator doesn’t have to translate the look in her eyes. We sit in her 2-room cement block house with a dirt floor. The one sleeping room, with its two beds for six people, it has a hole covered with plastic to let in the light. The living room, it has the open door. When the translator asks about bathroom facilities, Pedro points up the hill.

We want these kids to have a better life than us, Bianca tells us this. The translator passes on her lines, bits of her throbbing heart. They need to get a real education and be professionals and not live like this. She waves her hand and sometimes you can almost taste the scent of it in your mouth, the thick desperation on a woman, a cheap and heavy perfume.

Their oldest, Damian, he sits on the edge of the bed. He says he wants be a lawyer. He says it, his face turned towards that plastic patch of light in the concrete. I’m a bit wild to hand him hope. What I’ve got is a Spanish Children’s Bible. I smile, nod yes, I believe, ask if he could he read a few pages for us? He gropes hard along the lines, the letters losing him. My throat’s burning with the smothering scent of this place.

Pedro says it quiet, that Damian’s failed a few years. But he’ll have Damian try to read a few of the glossy pages to them every night. It will have to be Damian because I can’t read, Pedro points to his chest. The man can’t read. Yes, I say, watching how Pedro clutches the Bible to his chest. Yes. Learning a language, this can be unspeakably hard.

I don’t know how many years I have been trying to learn “eucharisteo.

It’s only one word.

It means thanksgiving in Greek. My life’s struggling to pronounce it, that word that’s set like the unexpected crown jewel in the center of Christianity, right there at the Last Supper before the apex of the Cross. When Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks for it, that’s the word for his giving thanks: eucharisteo. It’s like a language lesson: in that word for thanksgiving, eucharisteo, are the roots of charis, grace, and chara, joy. If you can take all as grace, give thanks for it, therein is always joy. Eucharisteo – grace, gratitude, joy – one word that God in flesh acted out when he took the cup.

Just one Greek that may decode the essence of really living – but who reads this world eucharistically?

Are the people of God losing our ability to speak eucharisteo, speak thanks in all things, live eucharistically for all things?

What happens to a culture of Christians if we don’t speak the tongue taught by God when He took the bread of suffering? If we lose our language, relegate it to one day, a short season – we, the people commanded to give thanks for all things, won’t we lose who we are?

Gratitude, this isn’t a one-day-a-year language, but the mother-tongue of the people saved by their Father. Yet in a world that’s captivated by bad news not The Good News, that sees the wrong in everything, who daily braves the language of eucharisteo, the dialect of doxology?

Who shrugs off the mislabel of Pollyanna and picks up their cross and counts their blessings, counts the cost and counts it all joy?

Forget that making thanksgiving more than a holiday but a way of life by keeping a gratitude list is scientifically proven to decrease anxiety, enrich relationships and make you 25% happier. (Instead of buying ourselves more things we think we have to have to be happy, why wouldn’t we write down thanks for things we already have – which guarantees us to be 25% happier? Why is it easier to seemingly buy our joy than to give thanks to God who is our Joy? Pens and grateful perspectives are a lot cheaper – and guaranteed.) True, you can just forget the overwhelming science behind the daily, intentional giving thanks. But does that mean we are forgetting the God behind it – who has given us everything?

Before we leave their home, we ask to take photos with Pedro, Bianca, the children. We have to step outside, find enough light. We stand close together, in solidarity, and the photographer gets us all in the frame. In all the photos, Pedro clutches the children’s Bible to his chest. A man who can’t read, who treasures what he doesn’t understand. Pedro stands with that Bible like a man pledging allegiance.

I look over at Pedro. And I’m the one pledging – that I will not forget the dirt floors and the plastic windows and the ordinary extravagance of food and how one mother longed to get what I took for granted. I pledge to learn eucharisteo and thank God even when grace speaks a language I can’t decipher and I vow not to further the wounds of the world by neglecting to give thanks for every grain of goodness, for every grace that falls, for every gift bestowed. I pledge allegiance to God and to my Father-tongue of gratitude and to giving, for this is what those who give thanks do, they do thanks because it’s a verb, and thanksgiving in Hebrew, towdah, it literally means an extension of the hand.

I can’t turn away from Pedro with his 2 beds and a bench and 4 kids and a wife and his arms around the Word of God and we will do war with the dark by never ceasing to count the blessings of the Cross and of the enough and of determined love, never ceasing to unleash lips again and again and again in full-bodied thanksgiving, and gratitude it can step straight out of the shadows of little to enlighten us to how much we really have.

We fly home. And the good man I married, he turns to me as we deplane and says it quiet, that he learned only one word in the four days with families and drivers and translators.

“Gracias. That’s the only word I learned. Gracias.”

He says it with his hands, says it like Pedro said it the end when he held the Bible and shook our hands goodbye, Gracias. Like Christ said it at the Last Supper, eucharisteo.

“Is it the only word we need to know?”

He nods, our lives learning the language of grace, the way the body bends and says yes and thanks and amen.