Radical Gratitude, Mary Jo Leddy, Maryknoll: Orbis, 2002, 182 pp;
The Gift of Thanks: The Roots, Persistence, and Paradoxical Meanings of a Social Ritual, Margaret Visser, Toronto: HarperCollins, 2010, 458 pp.
These three publications all contain gratitude as central theme.
The first is by an evangelical author, the other two by Catholic authors, one a theologian and activist, the other by a retired Classics professor and full-time author.
Voskamp’s book is sustained lyrical prose, including the very layout. It is mainly a personal journey of discovery of eucharisteo: thanksgiving rooted in charis (grace) and chara (joy) (pp. 32 and 33). The author begins with tragedy: the accidental death of her younger sister when the author was 5 years old. Later we learn of two further deaths from congenital conditions of her in-laws’ newborns.
The book is full of nuggets of wisdom, both from others and from the author. She cites for instance Albert Schweizer: “The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He who has learned this knows what it means to live… He has penetrated the whole mystery of life: giving thanks for everything (p. 34)”. Or “The only real fall of man is his noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world (p. 35).”, citing Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann.
The title comes from a dare by a friend: To name one thousand blessings. She begins. She smiles: “it is sort of like … unwrapping love (p. 45).” And she continues doing so throughout. “Practice, practice, practice (p. 56).” is her watchword. Thanks for all things in each moment, however… whatever…
As in all the books, the author’s is a politics of gratitude too.
Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world (p. 58.)
Who can deny it?