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pray_hands.GIF (680 bytes) Prayer & Spirituality
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Giving and Receiving

by Rev. Fr. John-Brian

"Take it!" the elder woman said to me as I graciously refused a $20 bill she was giving me in the hall of the church.

"I know you need it, please take it. No one else will know." she said.

"But it is more blessed to give than receive." I countered even though she was right. I had not eaten in a whole day and I was in the hall heading for the repast after the Sunday services..

"So, YOU would deny me the benefit of God's blessing upon my giving? God loves a gracious giver, but He needs gracious receivers in order for everyone to be blessed."

I didn't know what to say. I feebly smiled as I accepted the folded bill and I slid into my pocket so that no one would see.

I did not speak of the incident for years, but it made an impression. It wasn't until after my ordination that I finally told someone of the incident. Coincidently it was to someone, like myself, who needed assistance but would not accept it - at first.

The Native Americans have a tribal custom that I participated when I was studying in Northern Wisconsin. Even though I look very European American, I am 1/16th Native American by blood through my mother and grandfather. Nevertheless, I was included in the custom despite my European look.

Every year several of the tribal elders take all of their most treasured items and lay them on a blanket. Then the people walk by and take anything they may need. I couldn't believe this at first. I asked if the elders kept anything at their home. "Nothing of value" I was told. By the end of the line, most of the items were gone. There was a silence as the elders sat by their empty blankets.

A new line formed and began to walk by the blankets. This time the people gave anything the elder would need - blankets, sacred items, food, cash. Not only did most of the items return, but the blankets would be overflowing. I was astonished at the simplicity and the powerful lesson of giving and receiving, of letting go of what is valued in this world and trusting that needs will be met.

The three wise men who came to Bethlehem and saw the new-born Savior of the world brought gifts symbolic of the noblest of our possessions. The scripture is clear that these gifts came from their treasure, from their security, their savings. But if that was the only place from which they were offered they would not have been worthy. These wise men fell down and worshipped him and offered their gifts out of the love that was expressed in their actions. This love is the common source of all genuine giving and receiving. Armenian Catholicos Karekin II wrote in his book "In Search of Spiritual Life" (NY 1994):

"Had their gifts not been proceeded and motivated by the act of love expressed in kneeling, adoration and worship, their value would not have been as great and as authentic as their material wealth would suggest."

St. Gregory of Narek, the greatest mystical poet of our Church, says:

"I look not upon the gift but upon the giver." 

"It is the spirit of the gift that makes the real gift, gives color and quality, meaning and value to what is given. A gift in which there is no self-giving is no gift; a gift in which love, care, sacrifice are not wrapped, is a show of gift but is not a gift in Christ-like spirit and form, a genuinely true Christmas gift."

Yes, indeed the gifts of the wise men were graciously received.

A lot of giving and receiving seems to happen at this time of the year. However, much if it is merely buying and selling. Often it is only trading capital investment in material objects for emotional security of the affection from others. There is in this culture too much of the buying and selling mentality. The gift lists are usually related to who is likely to expect a gift, likely to give one back, likely to appreciate our giving. Of course, I participate in this annual giving tradition, but I keep in mind the lessons I have learned about giving and receiving.

My wife and our family gave to a soldier without family; to a family in poverty and to the long term success of a village in poverty. As a small mission, we give of our resources to the poor, the oppressed, the suffering. Many of us volunteer or work to the soothing of human suffering. We give our hands to the service of our fellow human beings. Yes, we also gave presents to individuals and to each other. But none is more important than the loving gift that blesses both the giver and the receiver - that doesn't wait for Christmas or tragedy to give. Although, these are not bad reasons to give.

Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese poet, wrote: "You give little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give."

May all our gifts so bless others and may we be gracious receivers so that others may also be blessed. Sometimes the gift of humane presence is of greater value - the bowing in adoring service to Christ-light of everyone born (John 1:9).

See Also:

Year End Thanksgiving to God
We have reached the end of the year. It is a time to express our thanks to God for the great things he has done this past year.

Three Keys to Finding Peace in Turbulent Times
When life sweeps through with the force of a F4 tornado, finding peace often seems impossible. Take heart. Itís not only possible; itís actually only three steps away.

Love, Right Out Loud!
Being aware of my feelings opens my heart to a path of reverence, a higher path. Love connects me to myself, to others and to the Deity in ways that the ordinary senses do not.

Source: 8th Day Pastoral Reflection - 12-26-04 Weekly reflection from Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock, Hoy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission Madison, Wisconsin, USA

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