Human beings seem to come with certain built-in spiritual inclinations, and gratitude is chief among them. Parents and teachers think we have to be taught to say thank you, but maybe it just comes naturally. Gratitude is both accessible and enlivening.

Accessible because it is as easy as paying attention to that which we might otherwise take for granted. So when our lover holds our hand for the umpteenth time it feels like it’s the first time and we’re grateful for them all over again. Or when we sit down to a plate of something humble and home-cooked it suddenly transports us to all those other meals in all those other places where we felt loved, accepted, welcomed.

Enlivening because once we pay attention to one thing, and we’re thankful for it, we can’t help but be thankful for this other thing, and that other thing. Allowing for even a speck of gratitude can set off a chain reaction that bursts our complacency bubbles, leaving us exposed to a fresh and immediate awareness of all the good that is, and that we might be and do.

Though gratitude is built-in and doesn’t necessarily need to be taught, like any spiritual inclination it can be cultivated into a more fulsome flowering. How appropriate, then, that someone as experienced at gardening as she is at spiritual practices would offer us a guide to nurturing this part of us.

What makes Donna Schaper’s book Grace at Table so delicious is that it is both accessible and enlivening, like what it seeks to nurture.

Donna’s stories draw the reader into the interesting, everyday moments she’s describing. They are like rooms we enter in which we’re shown something quite wonderful…and then, in the short and sweet prayers at the end of each chapter, we find little doorways leading back into our own lives, to moments that feel just like that. Moments past and moments yet to come, that we are newly equipped to notice and invite and share.

What starts out around the table takes us out to the garden, into politics, down into the Grand Canyon and up into New Hampshire; from the joys of fresh tomatoes to the necessity of Tupperware; from parenting to panhandling. It’s a whirlwind tour without the whirl or the wind, just moving like the breeze from one part of life to another until it seems to have been covered from every angle in simple prayers that are like those too-good-to-be-true light green new leaves that shoot out everywhere on a tree in springtime.

It isn’t just gratitude that Donna is nurturing in her gentle, robust way, but also comfort with our own vulnerability, the ability to stop and be in the midst of doing and a profound yet simple generosity towards others and the world. Whether or not these things come naturally to human beings, being human in our world today makes them necessary.

How lucky we are that Donna makes them accessible, in such enlivening ways.

Jana Norman is a food sustainability activist, permaculture designer, and former cook at the Abbey on the Isle of Iona in Scotland.

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