Thursday, November 27, 2008

Generosity in an Age of Uncertainty

(I wrote this for the December 2008 newsletter of my church, Plymouth UCC.)

I have everything

Nothing do I lack
All I give comes back
--sung to the tune of “Ego Sum Pauper”

I learned these alternative lyrics from a woman steeped in feminist, Earth-centered spirituality. I sing it to myself as a reminder of our interconnection and interdependence with other beings. I sing it to remember that nothing is ever lost or gained, but part of an infinite cycle of regeneration.

But do I really believe it? Can I truly give as the Earth does, ever recycling and renewing? Can I give as Jesus does, confident that there will be enough loaves and fishes for all? Can I give as Jesus asks us to in Matthew 25: clothing, feeding, and nurturing all those in need?

Too often, I proceed from a sense of scarcity rather than abundance. I want to hunker down and protect my own rather than share my resources. After all, how can I be sure my own needs and the needs of my family will be met if I don’t hoard and scrimp? Can I continue to pledge to the church, keep up community donations, and do volunteer work? Perhaps this is the year to cut back on both spending money and giving time.

I pray that, in economically troubled times like these, God will imbue me with the assurance that I can indeed give. I pray for a security that goes deeper than human ability.

Some part of me recognizes that operating from a paradigm of lack only reinforces it. After all, money is meant to circulate—that’s why it’s called currency. It’s meant to flow through me, into action, into the world. What happens if I build a dam of fear instead?

In these times, we are tested in our resolve and faith. The urge to clutch is the signal to let go. I remind myself that generosity is a description of generating, of creating. What can I create if I am tight-fisted? What garden can I grow, what poem can I write, whom can I befriend without a spirit of sharing? “Closed hands: closed minds,” observes my yoga teacher in India, Geeta Iyengar. Closed hearts, as well.

Sometimes I will not have the money to give. But what other resources do I have? An extra room to house someone? Extra clothes? Can I still give my time and energy? Perhaps these gestures mean even more than money. Can I act in a spirit of abundance and share my small loaf of bread and can of tuna?

Divine security manifests as a beloved community. If we recognize our interconnection, giving to another is equivalent to giving to ourselves. Generosity results from the assurance that I will be cared for just as I care for others. Perhaps most importantly, a practice of generosity teaches us how to be gracious recipients. May we all give and receive generously.