Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Gratitude Revisited

I have written before about the importance of gratefulness and about how many people have difficulty saying "thank you."

I've now, thankfully, begun The Gift of Thanks by Margaret Visser. She helps me understand that saying thanks is not natural and must be learned. And it is not easy to learn, unlike the "hi" and "bye" that young kids pick up quickly. Being grateful involves the complexities of remembering and interacting with others.

Kids say thanks, she says, before they understand what it means to feel gratitude. There is a history of gratitude, which "creates and sustains memories" while driving our stories and myths. Giving thanks involves intentionality, relationship, understanding, and recognition as well as memory. Clearly, it involves us in history and philosophy as well as psychology and religion.

Visser is an excellent guide to such matters. A British classicist and Catholic who lives in Canada and France and who enjoys giving the Latin or Greek derivate of important words along with historical digressions, usually of great interest, she focuses her research and writing on a seemingly limited topic that ends up opening many new doors.

She showed this gift in a book of hers I have just completed, the study of an ancient Roman church, The Geometry of Love. This may not be an ideal title, but this is a book that has great appeal to people like me who appreciate the ability to use specifics from the material world to illuminate the spiritual. This book is for Christians who want to understand the symbolism of church architecture. Some readers may get overwhelmed by the details Visser provides, impressive though they are; but anyone reading it, and her more recent book on gratitude, will be struck by her thoroughness and originality.

I am reminded as I read Margaret Visser of a remark by Aby Warburg, the art historian: "Truth lies buried in the detail."

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