It’s one of the festival seasons in our family, the fall cluster of birthdays and celebrations. My birthday is the first, and I always enjoy what come to me each year. But this year the date was complicated by schedules, travel, illness and competing agendas, and it didn’t seem to be the occasion for a gala celebration. Yet, into that mix of things arrived a myriad of simple gifts that surprised, thrilled and delighted me: a phone call or three from far away, a package of the most incredible homemade shortbread, an affirmation or two shared publicly in front of a former congregation, cards and e-cards. I now have on my piano two precious gifts – an original painting by my two year old grand-daughter, in which she affirmed that she like the green part best, and next to it a clever and thoughtful “card” created by her older brother, with two pictures he took with his mother’s camera, a dictated letter of his love for me, and a puzzle made out of the letters of his name, so that I could have fun guessing who gave it to me. Simple gifts, gifts of grace, gifts of love and reminders of joy!
This constellation of simple gifts created so much joy for me, against the backdrop of wilder and wilder political posturing, of tragedy being played out daily across the world, of suffering people due to personal and corporate cruelty, that I felt called again to be more attentive in my ordinary life of noting the gifts of God as they come in the living each day. In James we read that “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1: 17). I so often feel bogged down by the sorrow, flummoxed by the frustration and despairing of any evidence of the intended rule of God. But I need, as I acknowledge those realities, also to be continually attuned to the simple gifts that abound. So often those gifts come so simply – a phone call, a new rose, a snuggle from the aging dog, a surprise freedom appearing on the doorstep, a realization that I no longer get irked by things that used to plague me. And I can only pray: “thank you, thank you, thank you.”
And I can call on that simple generosity as I plan for all the rest of the gifts for this season. What can I give to each one that reflects a generous heart, a constancy of love, a particularity of affection? It’s not always too hard to figure out what might answers those question for my nearest and dearest, but what can I give to the world with its panoply of needs? How do I sort out among the causes that flood my mailboxes, all worthy, all important, all critical? The Epistle of James also tells us that, “If any of you is lacking is wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you.” (James 1: 5). I have experienced doing that, sitting down with all kinds of requests and needs in my lap, and asking for wisdom… then waiting, listening, opening my heart as wide as I know how, until a clarity comes to me that says, “This is the way; go this way.” I will never be in a Founders’ Circle of Magnificent Givers, but I can with wisdom and compassion, give simple gifts where I am called to place them. I would like to contribute to the healing and joy of God’s world and people in the same proportion that my simple birthday gifts brought to me.
And it begins with my attention to God’s heart, my prayers for those God loves, and my simple offering. I am grateful for the ongoing chance to give and rejoice out of the abundance of Life I have been given.