Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 4, 2002
Book examines spirituality in shadow of American Empire
Radical Gratitude, by Mary Jo Leddy. Orbis Books: Maryknoll, N.Y. 2002. 192 pages. Papercover.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
Mary Jo Leddy is a woman of integrity. She is a remarkable witness, in the way she lives her life, to what it means to be a person of Radical Gratitude, the title of her latest book.
Leddy teaches theology at Regis College and for the past 12 years she has worked with refugees in the Romero House community of Toronto.
This faithful dissident is an intriguing combination of persistent commitment to change with a concomitant acceptance of the way things are. For decades she has been engaged in a vocation of fermentive reflection and action.
At the same time she remains a faithfully nurtured and nurturing Roman Catholic. That is the tradition within which she was born and raised and wherein she continues to find her spiritual home. For all the Church's flaws it is difficult for her to consider either leaving or retreating into a comfortable ecclesial enclave. "It keeps me real," she says.
The root of "radical" is "radix." One of its meanings is "getting to the fundamentals of the matter." "Gratitude," on the other hand, means "a feeling of appreciation for a kindness or favour received."
Leddy writes as a Canadian but views her country as a colony of the American Empire. She believes that we affirm essentially the same values.
"This is a book about ordinary grace," she writes at the beginning, "which is here for the asking. For free. And it is because such ordinary grace can neither be bought nor sold that it is so promising in a time and a place defined by what has been called 'the triumph of American materialism.'"
Radical Gratitude is about "living an alternative to a driven, consumed or consuming existence. . . . It is about liberation in a culture that is supposed to be the most liberated in the world, that is given over to the pursuit of happiness and is, nonetheless, chronically dissatisfied. It is . . . for people who seem to live in the most powerful culture in the world but nevertheless can feel quite powerless over many aspects of their lives."
"This is not a book about the 'spirituality' of gratitude in the trendiest sense of that term," she states, "although it is an attempt to recover some of the ancient wisdom about gratitude. . . . Instead, . . . it is an invitation to ponder gratitude as the most radical attitude to life."
Stories help to focus attention on revisioned truths the author wishes to share. One involves an African teenage resident at Romero House who looks out the back window and in broken English points to a garage and asks, "Who lives there?" Leddy responds that no one does. "It is a house for a car." This set her and the community thinking. Given a housing crisis in the city, they decided to turn the house for a car into a room for a person.
The book is filled with striking themes prompting reflection and re-evaluation.
Radical Gratitude is not a game plan for revising the underlying values of modern life and restructuring the American economy. It is much more insidious than that. It speaks to the heart, quietly and unobtrusively, but poignantly. Much of this can be mulled over in small groups. Before long, significant changes in the way the world works might actually occur.
(Wayne Holst is a writer who has taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary.)