Saturday, April 22, 2006


I'm reading a little book called Whever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Its subtitle is Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. Regarding generosity, the author states:

I am not talking solely of money or material possessions, although it can be wonderfully growth-enhancing, uplifting, and truly helpful to share material abundance. Rather, what is being suggested here is that you practice sharing the fullness of your being, your best self, your enthusiasm, your vitality, your spirit, your trust, your openness, above all, your presence. Share it with yourself, with your family, and with the world.

I think it's helpful to broaden our perspective on generosity. Our society puts so much emphasis on pairing generosity with money. It will on occasion associate generosity with sharing one's time and energy, e.g., volunteering or working in church activities, but on the whole, the emphasis is placed on money.

This author, though, has broadened the subject even further for me. Sharing your "best self," for instance. That's quite an idea. Sharing the "fullness of your being." Being generous with your "enthusiasm, vitality, and spirit."

Years ago, before Ed went into the pastorate, we were members of a United Methodist church in Memphis. We were also pretty broke most of the time, as Ed had just started recovering from alcoholism, but we attended church faithfully. I always dreaded Pledge Sundays - you know, where they remind you about the upcoming budget, how you need to give, give, give. I dreaded them because we had very little to give in the way of money. And that made me feel oh so guilty. We still talk about one incident that occurred during that period. I was in the choir as usual, and Rachel and Ed were sitting in the congregation up in the balcony. The collection plate was passing. Ed opened his wallet, and saw his one measly little dollar bill nestled in an otherwise empty hole. He took it out and turned to Rachel. "Well," he said, "we only have one dollar left, and we're giving it to God." Rachel gasped and her eyes got wide. She cried, "He'll give it BACK, won't He?!!"

I tried to compensate for our inability to give a lot of money by giving a lot of myself. I sang in the choir, substituted on the pipe organ, helped direct a children's choir, served on committees, and tried to support the church in every other way. I still went home on Pledge Sundays depressed.

Later when we inherited money, we let financial generosity spill over as much as we could. I remembered the sting of not being able to give as I wanted to, and never wanted to feel that way again. We also found the joy in anonymous donations - truly the best kind.

Financial generosity helps the world go 'round - no doubt it about it. I do believe we are called to give sacrificially. I was taught from an early age about giving, when my parents gave so generously to the church and other charities. I remember Dad writing checks to the Goodfellows, a group who provided Christmas gifts for needy children, and to the Cynthia Milk Fund. I also see Mom carry on the tradition of sacrificial giving, even when I worry about her not being able to afford to do so. Through their service to church and community, my parents also tried to serve as generosity examples in a way not tied to money. I learned this latter way of giving, but I always had such a guilty conscience that in my mind, on the ladder of generosity, whatever did not involve exchange of money or material goods was on a low rung.

So I read books like this to remind me of what I already know, somewhere deep inside myself. That giving is giving, no matter what form it takes. That the gifts mentioned above, especially the gift of "your fullness of being," constitutes something more valuable than we know.

The author ends the chapter with this:
At the deepest level, there is no giver, no gift, and no recipient...only the universe rearranging itself.

When it is all said and done, I don't think we will misunderstand generosity if we remember that nobody really owns anything - even your "fullness of being." It is all God's and we are just caretakers. It is "only the universe rearranging itself."

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