With Thanksgiving tomorrow, I thought it best to re-post here a blog I wrote last Thanksgiving about what Haitian Catholics taught me about gratitude. The blog original appeared at the University of Notre Dame’s Contending Modernities blog.
It is appropriate that Anne Barnard’s front-page New York Times piece on Haitian Catholicism, entitled “Suffering, Haitians Turn to Charismatic Prayer” appeared on Thanksgiving Day (2010), for one of the strongest themes of the Haitian Catholic Charismatic movement is gratitude. During the nearly two years of fieldwork I conducted in Haiti and among the Haitian Catholic communities of Miami, Montreal and Paris for my book Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving in the Haitian Diaspora, I was also struck by how often Haitian Catholics thanked God for such blessings as food (however meager), life (however difficult) and faith (however severely challenged).
The modern ideal of autonomy—and its discontents
Many U.S. observers have been confounded over the decades by the resilience of Haitians’ faith in the face of poverty, dictatorship and—in January 2010—the worst natural disaster in the country’s history. Perhaps their joy in the midst of suffering confuses us because we moderns so often seek security in our homes, cars, neighborhoods, jobs, and health. We believe that we can hide out from human frailty in a fortress of material comforts. A modern narrative of autonomy and self-fulfillment so common in the U.S. leads us to believe that our happiness depends fundamentally on ourselves. To suffer, then, seems a moral failure—a failure to fulfill our characteristically modern aspiration to self-sufficient success.
True, human beings are made for happiness and fulfillment. But to find them, we need relationships. And relationships demand [Read more...]