Friday, January 7, 2011
An opportunity for grace
It's been a remarkably cold December here, but we've managed to get in a few achingly beautiful beach walks. The sky is blue enough to stop you in your tracks, the water still warm enough to step through the shallows barefooted, and presumably the whales are gliding by, heading southward for the calving season. There are few places more perfectly suited to contemplative reflection, at least for me. My dear old person walks with me. Sometimes we marvel together over the minutely miraculous - brightly colored starfish or pods of dolphin dancing above the shimmering water - and sometimes we indulge our own interests. He looks for Spanish silver; I look for shark teeth, and let my mind wander. Perhaps because of the recent Season of Light, I've been thinking about the Biblical "more blessed to give than to receive" injunction. Because the MadriGalz were fortunate enough to carol for our patron Miss Dot this year, the theme was especially compelling to me.
The Dalai Lama said something like this (and I hope His Holiness will forgive me for paraphrasing him): Make someone else happy to find happiness yourself. Most of us know this to be true in one way or another. Research has been done indicating that humans are more or less hard-wired to donate generously when the recipient in need can be perceived with a human face. Statistics, no matter how heartbreaking, do not move us in the same way as personal appeals we can associate with real people. Appeals telling us that inumerable people are starving in Darfur are far less likely to move us than the very same appeal when it's delivered with the faces of the people or specific personal stories. And when we donate in response to such appeals, neurological chemistry rewards us. We feel good about giving. Spiritual texts and guides entreat us to do this, our brains reward us, and it's easy to believe that it is, indeed, more blessed to give. Certainly it is blessed to give.
But is it MORE blessed? The MadriGalz caroled this year for our friend and patron, Miss Dot, who is confined to bed, suffering a painful illness. It was a kindness, much appreciated by Miss Dot and joyfully welcomed by her family, for us to visit and sing some of her favorite carols. But I believe it was more blessed of Miss Dot to accept the gift with humility and patience. When Rodney's dad was afflicted with Alzheimers and had to accept care from his family, it was nearly impossible for him to do it gracefully. He had grown accustomed to dispensing such kindnesses as he could, but had never learned to accept the return of kindnesses from others. The folks I work with combine their treasure and talents to "adopt" a family during the holiday season. The outpouring of gifts to provide presents and a holiday feast is always moving. What always amazes me more is the ability of the receiving family to accept the generosity. In each case the recipients are, in truth, providing the givers with an opportunity for grace. We feel good about ourselves. We face our spiritual standards, our God by whatever name and in whatever language is native to us, with joy and a feeling that we've done something fine and good. And of course we have.
But it may be harder, and perhaps, indeed, more blessed, to receive. To allow others to care for us, to feed us, to visit us in our times of sadness or despair, to wash our bodies when we cannot do this for ourselves, to provide others with opportunities for grace...this may be one of the most blessed of all gifts human beings are able to grant one another. What do you think?