Saturday after Ash Wednesday
True giving is a rare achievement. Usually, we give with “invisible strings” attached. We may expect something in return – another gift, recognition, reward, gratitude – or we want to simply enjoy the feeling that we are generous and nice people. Sometimes we don’t get the reward we expect in return, we feel hurt or become resentful. Jesus teaches that when we give, we should not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. That’s a tall order - to act so simply and without self-consciousness. But it is essentially the same as coming to prayer while letting go of our demands and expectations of God. The ancient desert teachers put it this way: the one who knows that he is praying is not truly praying; the one who does not know that he is praying truly does so.
In our culture which can be so self-conscious and self-evaluating, it can be hard to know what this means and even harder to trust it as true wisdom. Having this kind of attitude about giving often seems to conflict with the virtues of our society. Too often, we can stay locked in self-fixation as self-conscious givers who give but can’t actually let go of the gift they are giving. Every true act of giving becomes a vehicle for giving of ourselves. When we have received this kind of gift from others, we have a immediate experience of how the nature of the gift is not measured by the object given. Rather, the giving of the gift transforms us by awakening the desire and the capacity to give ourselves. This giving is at the heart of the mystery of God’s lovingkindness – God’s grace – into which we prepare to enter more deeply in Lent.
It has been said that the best preparation for prayer is the habit of making small acts of kindness. Giving to others, unsolicited, and not expecting anything in return is the heart of such behavior. It can be as small as a smile and a thank you to a tired bus driver or restroom cleaner. Such giving – which prayer seeks to train us for – brings a warm light into a drab and dreary world.
'If you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday."
Your light rises in the darkness . . .
God So Loved the World -- Nottingham Cathedral Choir
The cure for some forms of depression is not medication. The prophet teaches us that turning our focus from ourselves and onto others allows God's power to lift us out of our gloom. As we journey through the dark days of COVID isolation, our giving can bring light to others.