Book Review: Finding joy in thankfulness, gratitude

By J.E. Helm
The Sooner Catholic

Finding a book about Thanksgiving – which really should be a book about giving thanks – is not easy. Most of the books available are children’s books and the rest seem to be adult coloring books. One gem of a book, however, is “The Way of Gratitude: Readings for a Joyful Life.”

This is a beautiful book, inside and out. The book is actually a collection of short writings intermixed with poems, prayers and short quotations. Featured are works by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Denise Levertov, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, J.K. Rowling, e.e. cummings and many more less widely known but equally gifted writers.

The editors, Michael Leach, James T. Keane and Doris Goodnough, have divided the writings into two sections. Part 1 is “The Meaning of Gratitude,” and Part 2 is “The Practice of Gratitude.”

In the introduction, the editors explain that “Thankfulness, appreciation, gratitude – these are modes of being that guarantee us joy.” This is one of the most important points of the whole book: gratitude comes first; joy follows.

We experience being joyful after we have brought ourselves to being grateful. This “joy is deeper than happiness,” Father James Martin, S.J., says; “Joy is happiness in God.” David Brooks comes forward to tell us that “people with dispositional gratitude … are thankful practically all of the time.” Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that “If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere.”

The chapters are delightfully interspersed with poems. Several pages of the book are titled “Thank Yous” and include two or three short comments by various writers. Radio host Garrison Keillor writes, “Thank you, God, for this good life and forgive us if we do not love it enough.”

With appetites aroused for this beautiful virtue of thankfulness, readers move on to Part 2, “The Practice of Gratitude.” Beneath this title are lines from Shakespeare: “I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks.”

The first entry in Part 2 features lines by poet e.e. cummings: “I thank You God for most this amazing/ day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees / and a blue true dream of a sky; and for everything / which is natural which is infinite which is yes.

In this section of the book, several authors present how-to lists for learning the way of gratitude.

Kelli Wheeler gives us five steps “to kick start your gratitude.” The ideas are drawn from the words of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and the second step is “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”

A young girl writes to J. K. Rowling to thank her for writing the Harry Potter books. Sacea Flowers is a 16-year-old girl whose drug-addicted parents were murdered and who found happiness and friendship in the character of Harry Potter.

In a second selection by Father Martin, he explains the emphasis Ignatius of Loyola place on holy gratitude. By being grateful at day’s end for “the surprising sight of sunlight on the pavement in the middle of a bleak midwinter’s day,” we learn to “relish” or “savor” life’s moments, and this “savoring is an antidote to our increasingly rushed lives.”

Another page of “Thank Yous” gives us Irving Berlin singing, “Got not checkbook, got no banks. Still I’d like to express my thanks – I got the sun in the mornin’ and the moon at night.” Later we hear Bob Hope’s familiar refrain, “Thanks for the memory.”

Anne Lamott writes about why saying grace is a part of the Thanksgiving Day tradition. Raised in an atheist household, she and her two brothers “grew up to be middle-age believers,” and so “now someone at our holiday tables always ends up saying grace.”

“We’re in it for the pause,” she writes, “the quiet thanks for love and for our blessings. This food didn’t just magically appear: Someone grew it, ground it, bought it, baked it; wow. We savor these moments out of time, when we are conscious of love’s presence, of someone’s great abiding generosity to our dear and motley family, these holy moments of gratitude. And that is grace.”

J.E. Helm is freelance writer for the Sooner Catholic.