Give: A Reflection by Pat Baker
When I ponder the word “give”, the first thing that comes to me is that for such a short word, it is complex in its meaning. I went to my dictionary to find that there are 16 definitions, many with subheadings for the word “give.” And that doesn’t include the numerous words given as synonyms. Where to start?
One of the first responses I had was to rank myself, considering if, and/or how, I measured up. When it comes to resources, do I give to those causes that are important to me to the fullest extent I am able? How about volunteer time? Do I give of the time that, in retirement, I have in such abundance? Relationships? Do I give my utmost to build and strengthen the relationships that enrich my life?
I tested the waters by dipping my toe into several of the other definitions and synonyms given, and after a bit of time reflecting in that manner, I found that I repeatedly came back to the idea of give as a bending, a flexibility, a reaching, if you will.
A beautiful picture that came to me was of the incomparably lovely, to me, white birch trees that are so much a part of the New England landscape. One of my fondest memories is admiring them as they bent themselves under the stresses of winter, giving themselves to the requirement of the season.I was also reminded of my Yoga practice. I once practiced a very physical form of Yoga. It challenged me, and I greatly enjoyed it. However, with advancing age and the lingering effects of significant injury, I can no longer keep up with that practice. What is available to me, however, is the practice of deep stretch Yoga that, when safely taught and practiced, helps keep muscles and tendons flexible, maintaining my body’s ability to give so that movement remains not only possible, but enjoyable, and reminds me always, as the psalmist says, to praise God, my maker, because I am “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Ps 139: 13)
And then I came face to face with the reality of the situation in which we now find ourselves: a global pandemic that shows no real signs of abating, almost surely partially due to a slowness to give, to bend and stretch, into the new ways of being that we are told are, and will probably remain, important in our attempts to overcome the illness as quickly as possible.
Along with the physical illness we are experiencing, we have also had to come to grips with another illness that infects us: systemic racism. I’ve heard people say that we may be noticing more the instances of brutality against our brothers and sisters of color because many of us are watching more television, and reading more newspapers due to having less to occupy our time and attention in this time of dealing with COVID-19. If that is indeed the case, then I am grateful to God for giving us this path that we can follow toward acknowledgment of the terrible cost of, I believe, our most egregious sin – the institution of slavery. The aftermath, and remaining vestiges of the horrifying practice of forcing our brothers and sisters conscripted by ruthless human traders into living as chattel of other human beings has sickened our common life as surely as has the germ of the corona virus. And here I found my dictionary helpful again in defining “give” as to “undergo or submit to change,” going on to use as an example “if the plan is to succeed, stubborn objections will have to give.”
Toward the end of ensuring the “plan” to build a more loving and inclusive world does indeed succeed, I wonder if we might try and visualize ways in which we can give of ourselves, our hearts and minds to change, to stretch in the direction of love and concern for all those around us; undertaking to, even in the smallest of ways, bend ourselves as do the beautiful birches, into a different stance, submit to any bit of movement in our thinking and being about all our brothers and sisters gloriously made in God’s own image.
If that seems daunting, which I must admit it often does to me, let us, who live blessed by our connection in Christ, remember that we have the ultimate embodiment of this kind of giving in our Lord. One of my most cherished pieces of liturgy in our faith tradition is in the Eucharistic Prayer’s reminder that Jesus “stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.” The enormity, the totality, of that stretch, that sacrificial gift strikes awe in my heart every time I hear it.
Let us wholeheartedly and thankfully accept that perfect gift, and seek to share it as we give our own stretching, bending, and movement toward the wholeness our loving God desires for us.