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Which way to a state of gratitude?

Mapping out Thanksgiving

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Another part may be due to the great anonymity and the equally great distance between us, the recipients, and the sources of our "muchness" in this consumptive world we've made for ourselves, since gratitude is hooked into the idea of "recognition" — recognizing someone or something for that which has been received.

In French, writes Visser, "gratitude" is reconnaissance, which also means "recognition" — so French is one of the rare languages that honours in the etymology of their word for "gratitude" the deep relationship between the two.

We thank the clerk at the cash register for her service of taking our transaction, not for the thing itself. It would feel silly to nod a thank you in the general direction of the store shelf each time we grab our box of cookies or bunch of bananas. Sillier still to leave an offering. So who, exactly, or what do we thank, and how?

Then we have the general absence of God from our post-post-modern world, which also leaves us marooned outside of gratitude and in a fog of gracelessness.

Visser, in her discussion on the frame of mind of gratitude, tells us that, for one, Julian (or Juliana) of Norwich, a 14th century Christian mystic, knew that God himself "takes as great pleasure and delight as if he were indebted to us for all the good we do. And yet it is he who actually does it."

So it was God who, ultimately, did the good, and was traditionally recognized and thanked for it. Now, with godliness in any form for the most missing in action, we are left to wonder how to find our way to a state of gratitude.

I was equally curious to see that in Visser's book Thanksgiving, as we know it, is also largely absent from the 400-plus pages. It is not included in the index, and accounts for a single paragraph under the topic of "votive offerings."

The custom of making votive offerings — objects, often small replicas of humans or animals, intended to be left in a sacred place for religious purposes — to the gods likely begin in the Upper Paleolithic era, before 9000 BCE. Then about seven thousand or so years ago, when the agricultural revolution unfolded in the Middle East and we humans started to produce food for ourselves rather than hunting animals down or gathering up wild vegetation, people started deliberately setting aside some of the crops they had raised — "first-fruits" they were called — and taking them to temples as offerings.

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