Giving and Receiving

“It is more blessed to give than to receive” seems to be the general assumption among those who have relative material prosperity.  It certainly is a joy to give.

On a recent Mother’s Day, my 7-year-old granddaughter persuaded her dad to take her to the store so she could pick out presents for her mother.  She knows what her mother likes, and she enjoys giving gifts.  Giving also can be not in material things but in giving of oneself.  Some share professional knowledge and do helpful things such as developing a system to monitor and maintain precious wells that provide water for communities whose water-needs shape their lives.  Some, as teachers, give their creativity and energy to draw out the best from students.  Some give to others a listening ear and a sense of being loved and important.  There are so many ways to give oneself.

Some people are very willing to give to others, but never acknowledge any need themselves and therefore avoid the experience of receiving.   I think receiving is a gift in itself.  When I took my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education in a local hospital, I was given a badge that included my name and the title of chaplain.  That badge meant that I was received by people and allowed to give the services I already was able to give but had had no place where those gifts could be received.  I was very grateful for the badge.  Both giving and receiving are important.

The ultimate gift we celebrate at Christmas is the birth of Jesus.  We have been given stories about his birth, ministry, death and resurrection.  But unless we are enabled to receive the meaning of these stories, we, like many before us, miss the gift.

Queries:

What is your experience of giving and receiving?  In what way might you be called to do more of one or the other than you have been doing?

Who is Jesus for you?  What is the gift of Christmas for you, if any?

Prayer:

For persons who are homeless, for newborn babies, for young families, for people who are traveling, for peace and goodwill to all we pray.  Let us see the star.  May we receive your gift of love.

For further reflection:

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (See John 4: 1-26).

“Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (See John 16: 24).

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Anticipation

Thinking at this time of year about Mary, the mother of Jesus, I wonder what it was like for a woman to be pregnant in those days.  Would Mary have been fearful, anticipating trouble and even the possibility of dying, or would she have been excited, anticipating the new life and wondering what this baby would be like?  I feel virtually certain she never anticipated watching this expected child die by crucifixion.

Anticipation is a tricky thing.  The free and open delight of anticipation is a joy.  I have a photograph of my then two-year-old son watching for the coming of a fireman’s parade.  His face radiates presence and joy.  He had no particular expectations or attachment to what had to happen.  He was just into it.

On the other hand, we can focus so much on what is to come that we miss what is happening in the present.  We can also anticipate negative things, being fearful and anxious, trying to hold onto control, struggling with perfectionism.  This kind of anticipation steals life and squashes the possibility of joy.  Of course, it can be a fact that hard things will happen.   Yet even in such circumstances one can find a peace that allows one to live in anticipation, not of what is to come, but in each moment with the presence and joy that is possible.

At Christmas time it matters what we anticipate.  Anticipating (maybe expecting) happy children and wonderful presents, or too much to do, family feuds, and food you don’t eat will color the whole season.  What we expect to happen usually misses the mark.  What would it be like if we let go of anticipation characterized by expectations, fears, and controlling, and with openness and wonder anticipated Christ’s coming, within ourselves or around us?

Queries:

What is anticipation like for you?

What is the meaning of Christmas for you?  Does it, or could it, include life-giving anticipation?

Prayer:

Take time in the busyness of this season to reflect on your experience of Christmas and make room for the New One to be born.

For further reflection:

“Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together. . . .” (See Isaiah 40: 3-5.)

“The shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place. . . .” (See Luke 2: 8-20.)

Waiting in Darkness

There are many beautiful and powerful passages in the Bible prophesying or promising God’s full reign on earth.  God will create “new heavens and a new earth.”  “Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more.”  “They shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.”  “God will put God’s law within the people, and write it on their hearts.”  “God will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”

Some of us know the agony of waiting more than others.  A mother longs for her challenged child to be able to overcome his limitations and live a fulfilling life.  But she waits in the darkness, not knowing.  African-Americans wonder how long their dream of true freedom and equality will be deferred.  Waiting so long for the reality of the wellbeing promised, we face a number of temptations.  One is to assume that God simply does not exist, that solving the world’s problems (and ours) is all up to us.  Other responses are hopelessness, despair, anger, and self-righteousness, which tend to be self-destructive.  Instead how can we hold onto the beauty and comfort of these promises and find value in the waiting and darkness?

I believe that living in hope brings a better world than living in hopelessness.  I think we have glimpses or moments of knowing inwardly that the promises are true.  And our lives lived in the glow of those help us live more in the promises, making the world better.

I think our logical thinking does not get us to the world we long for, but rather tends to turn us in wrong directions and selfish pursuits.  I think, rather, that we are spiritually formed in the darkness.  Like a seed.  Spiritual growth comes in letting go and loving God inwardly and outwardly.  The waiting we do provides the time and conditions for this growth in grace and truth, allowing us to peer into the darkness and see the Light that is always there.  In the darkness we learn our true proportion; we cannot push God around.

Queries:

What helps you live in disappointment and unknowing?

What promises are meaningful to you?

Prayer:

Teach me your ways, O Holy One, and keep me on your path.

For further reference:

“The lion shall eat straw like the ox. . . .They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” (See Isaiah 11: 6-9.)

“The kingdom is not coming with things that can be observed. . . For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (See Luke 17: 20-21.)

Wrestling

What is it like to be an academically successful college student wondering if you will be deported before you graduate, sent back to a country you left when you were so young you can’t remember it?   What is it like to be a parent of children you sense won’t have now the chance for success that you had when you were growing up?  Or a parent of children who still suffer the deck-being-stacked-against-them that you lived with years ago?  What about those who study the oceans, fish, and coral reefs, and who are already counting the destruction that is happening?  What about feeling ill but not knowing why, having tests and waiting for the results, fearing the news that might be coming?

Serious worry, fear, anger, hurt—how does one live in these times?  How does one avoid reacting in ways that hurt oneself and maybe others?  Where is hope?

This kind of time may be one in which to wrestle with God, being deeply and rawly engaged—to cry out, complain, be angry.  Faithful wrestling can uncover theological misunderstandings and superficial ideas that may be broken open to allow a stronger and more vibrant faith to emerge.  A quick look at the Psalms will let you know that in your complaint you are in good company:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  “Why must I walk around mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?” “How long, O Lord?”

As a chaplain in oncology there were times when situations were just too hard to bear.  I remember on such occasions finding a place by myself and having a talk with God.  Sometimes I wrote, sometimes I was able to be in my thoughts and feelings at the core, and to give voice to the pain.  (You could say I raged at God.)  I stayed with those feelings until I felt heard and I was finished.  (There certainly was no formula.) And then there came some measure of peace, some comfort or guidance.  Often the situation didn’t change but I did.  Certainly these have been times of spiritual growth.  I learned a lot about prayer and who God is, and I found greater trust.  Most importantly, I was enabled to live the next day, in the love of the Beloved.

Queries:

Think about a time when you felt frightened, angry, or in pain.  How do you handle such times?

Where is God in hard times?  Does Jesus enter your picture?

Prayer:

“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for you, for the living God” (Psalm 42: 1-2a).

For further reflection:

“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” (See Exodus 32: 22-32.)

[Jesus said,] “I am deeply grieved, even to death . . . And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed . . . (See Matthew 26: 36-46).