Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Not from comfort but from affliction"

Roger Scruton on "Gratitude and Grace":
.... The term (Latin gratia) translates a variety of words in Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, and Sanskrit, but all the sacred texts seem to point in the same direction, affirming that God's relation to the world as a whole, and to each of us in particular, is one of giving. The beseeching of God's grace is the central feature of the Anglican liturgy. The great prayer of the Catholic Church, based on a poem in the New Testament, greets the Virgin Mary with the words "Hail Mary, full of Grace, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus." The Koran opens with the verse that forms a refrain in the life of all Muslims: bism illah il-rahman il-rahim, in the name of God, full of grace, full of graciousness, as Mohamed Asad translates it, and the root rhm is shared with Hebrew, used often in the Old Testament to denote God's concern for us, His recognition of our weakness, and His abundance of gifts. The idea that the world is sustained by gift is second nature to religious people, who believe that they should be givers in their turn, if they are to receive the gift on which they depend for their salvation. ....

Gift supposes ownership: I cannot give you a thing unless that thing is mine. In giving it to you I relinquish ownership, while demanding nothing in exchange. Gratitude is your acknowledgment of this: your recognition that I have deliberately incurred a loss, in order that you should receive a benefit. And we normally expect the relation between us to be changed by this. We assume that you will bear in mind the good that I have done you, and be prepared, in the right circumstances, to reciprocate. Of course, the opportunity to reciprocate may never arise, and the truly generous person, the one who takes pleasure in giving and who regards giving as a good in itself, will not think that he is, through his giving, securing some future benefit. ....

Everyone who has suffered some major calamity, be it illness, loss, or some sudden reversal of fortune, feels, on pulling through, a great surge of gratitude. And gratitude comes in two forms. First, you are grateful for pulling through — you are still alive, still functioning, still able to love. Secondly, you are grateful for the experience itself. Here again the religious person would be disposed to speak of the workings of Grace. You can be grateful for something bad: grateful for the affliction that awoke you to the truth about yourself, that enabled you to confront it, to overcome it, to understand. You are grateful to have learned that life is a gift, and that to receive it fully you must give in turn. As William Law expressed the point, in his A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, "whatever seeming calamity befalls you, if you can thank and praise God for it, you turn it into a blessing." It seems to me that this is the way we learn gratitude — not from abundance, but from dearth, not from comfort but from affliction. [more]
Much of the essay is about the disappearance of the charitable impulse and why gratitude is being replaced by envy and resentment.

The American Spectator : Gratitude and Grace