Updated: Nov 3
Before I began my deep dive into this month’s congregational theme, The Gift of GENEROSITY, I naively thought this topic would be about being kind to others-in-need by digging into my wallet to make end-of-year donations to the non-profit organizations I support. After all, we are approaching the end of yet another year – where does the time go? – and if your mailbox is anything like mine, you are swamped with solicitations right now.
But I soon discovered that Generosity is so much bigger than just being nice. The folks at Soul Matters say that an understanding of Generosity goes far beyond “niceness” if we are going to understand it as a spiritual Gift. True Generosity, they explain in this month’s Overview, transforms, connects, and challenges.
Generosity can indeed be transformative. “...[L]ife can harden us,” Soul Matters suggests. “…[W]e can’t be blamed for viewing it as a threat…where the winners take all and the rest of us are thrown to the bottom.” But then suddenly, a spark of grace appears unexpectedly; a hand extends to offer assistance just when we need someone to lean on. That generous gesture is transformational, when the “winner-take-all view of life gives way to something softer…as though life itself is trying to help.”
Viewing Generosity as connective requires us to understand that “giving” and “giving generously” are two different things. When we simply give, we are sharing the extras, our loose change. When we give generously, we are giving what is essential to our Selves. “...[W]hen you hand over a part of you to someone else, you are tethered,” says Soul Matters. "Your vulnerability meets their vulnerability. … Both of you feel seen. And less alone.” Giving generously creates true connection.
A third aspect of generosity is that it challenges us to call out those who have a lot, but are hoarding what they have. Generosity “invites justice in…[asking] us to question why some have so much more than others,” and challenges us to transform that equation.
Once again, the Spiritual Exercises in this month’s Ministry Packet (starting on page 2) provide a variety of ways to dig deeply into our theme. Here are summaries of several exercises:
Option A, Life’s Generosity on a Scale of 1-10, suggests you look at the Generosity by rating your own life’s gifts and challenges on a spectrum, from scarcity to abundance. (This exercise produced surprising results for me, from not being fully appreciative of life’s abundance, to unveiling the places where I experience scarcity.)
Option B, Lend Life a Hand, challenges you to be both the giver and receiver by finding a way to bring generosity to someone else’s life but not letting them know you are involved. The gift we receive is in giving anonymously.
Option C, Give Generosity to Receive It!, suggests – seemingly counterintuitively – that if there is something you want, you can get it by giving that same thing to others. If you hunger for someone to listen to you, for example, you can be generous in listening to others.
When we are feeling the poorest, that’s the time to give a gift.
– Dhyani Ywahoo, founder and spiritual director, Sunray Meditation Society.
I have only just begun to explore The Gift of GENEROSITY, but I am already deeply engaged in some of my notions about this theme that need deeper consideration. Here are some examples.
I am trying to downsize by giving away many of the items I’ve accumulated through the years that no longer serve me. I am using the Buy Nothing / San Mateo Facebook page, which lets members post items as Gifts for others (or Asks, if someone has a need); and dropping off bags and boxes of my "stuff" at my local Goodwill. Such actions are ways to be generous toward others while doing myself the favor of treading more lightly on our planet. Despite my best efforts, however, I keep hitting roadblocks in giving away some things that have memories attached to them, and those memories are laden with emotion. Another roadblock is having had parents who went through the Great Depression and taught their children to “keep it, you may need it, it’s still useful!”
Coming from a place of scarcity is yet another roadblock. “I am astonished at how readily I believe that something I need is in short supply," says renowned author/educator Parker Palmer. "If I hoard possessions, it is because I believe that there are not enough to go around. … The irony…is that by embracing the scarcity assumption, we create the very scarcities we fear.” [emphasis added] The corollary to scarcity is to come from a place of abundance. In my own life, I have discovered that holding on tight to my financial resources actually makes me feel as if I don’t have enough, but when I open myself up to being more generous, there actually seems to be more of everything, particularly money.
And finally, this season of gifting makes me think a lot more about both giving and receiving. Gift-giving is emotionally difficult for me: it's not easy to find just-the-right gift that will make anOther's heart sing. But far more difficult than gift-giving is being on the receiving end of someone’s gift to me. “Gracious acceptance is an art – an art which most never bother to cultivate,” says prolific British author Alexander McCall Smith. “...[A]ccepting things...can be much harder than giving…. Accepting another person’s gift is allowing them to express their feelings for you.” Lately, I have been the recipient of “unearned” gifts coming from friends. Accepting another’s generosity toward me is an intimate experience, one I often find challenging because I question whether I deserve such beneficence.
Clearly, Generosity is a very deep subject! What will your challenges be this month, as we explore The Gift of GENEROSITY together?
Seeking more inspiration and wisdom about The Gift of GENEROSITY?