Skip to main content

Generosity: The Close Relative of Gratitude

I am writing this entry to the Three Village Clergy Association Blog in the days before Thanksgiving, a time when many people express their “thanks” for the blessings and gifts they have received in their lives. May each of our lives be full of blessings and gifts. An awareness and a practice of gratitude is good for our spirits. Further, it’s good to remember that we are not just recipients of blessings and gifts; we are givers of blessings and gifts as well. A close relative of gratitude is generosity. 
For me generosity is a practice: a material, intellectual, emotional and spiritual practice. I understand generosity as a real sharing of something important to me. Of giving as an intentional choice I have made. I don’t think generosity is giving something I happen to have left over and didn’t really need anyway. I mean that’s good, especially if what I give away can be useful to others, but it’s not what I mean. Nor do I think generosity is a reward.  When I leave the wait staff a large tip because they have given me good service I don’t think I’m being generous.  I’m rewarding people and businesses for something that has pleased me. Generosity is a willingness, an intentional choice to give something that matters. It is not easy to be generous with our attentive presence, our time, our talent, our possessions or our money. It takes effort. Thus we need to cultivate the willingness to give and constantly practice it. I say this because it’s easy to practice greediness. How much is enough? Just a little more.
Why practice generosity? Because it is connective tissue. Greed sets me apart, generosity joins me to you. “From you I receive, to you I give; together we share and from this we live.” No one of us is so independent that we have no need of one another. No one of us has nothing to share. Life calls us to give. Life calls us to receive. Our choice has to do with the quality and the spirit of our giving and the balance we maintain between our giving and our receiving. In some ways, to give is to receive. So often I have heard people say that when they give they seem to receive even more than they ever gave. That's the paradoxical profundity of it.
Why practice generosity? Because it frees us and it opens us to fearlessness and a deeper, stronger life. Greed encourages scarcity mind. Generosity encourages abundant mind. A scarcity mind is one that tells us there is not enough and we can't afford the time, the money, the possession, the whatever. We believe our scarcity mind without examining the truth of its claim, and thus a scarcity mind fuels fear, anxiety and powerlessness. "If my hands are fully occupied in holding on to something, I can neither give nor receive." (Dorothy Soelle)
Why practice generosity? Because it is just; it is the ethical thing to do. Jewish and Christian teachings call us to generosity. Buddhists say that generosity is compassion in action. Compassion in action goes by the name of justice. One of the Five Pillars of Islam is to give away a certain percentage of one’s income yearly to charity. “The meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade we do not expect to sit.” (Nelson Henderson) Why practice generosity? Because our giving has more far reaching implications and consequences than we may ever dream of.

So this Thanksgiving, as we are mindful of our blessings, let us remember the close relative of gratitude: generosity. May we carry the spirit of abundance, symbolized by the Thanksgiving table, into our lives as the practice of generosity.


Popular posts from this blog

It is common practice for Unitarian Universalist ministers and their congregations to include in our Letter of Agreement (contract) provision for a sabbatical every five to seven years, accrued at a rate of one month per year, for up to six months. I’m in my ninth year of service with the UU Fellowship at Stony Brook and last year, finally, I felt the time was right to take a sabbatical. So last winter, January through March, I left my congregation to it’s own good governance, with guest coverage for every service I would have led, and emergency pastoral care coverage by various other UU ministers on our island through an exchange program we formed just for that purpose. I had two aims for the use of my time: a combo solo (with spouse) and group-tour trek down the National and State(s) Civil Rights Trail in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama, and a deep immersion into Jewish studies. 
In my pursuit of the dive into Judaism, I joined North Shore Jewish Center’s (NSJC) sixteen week Juda…

Thin Places

Iona, Scotland, 2013
On All Saints Day in my tradition, and many Christian traditions, we remember those people who have passed from this world. We pause to recall the ways people who have died have touched our lives and who, even in their death, continue to touch our lives. We tell stories, light candles, and remember that we are connected with all who have gone before. On Sunday evening at Setauket Presbyterian we will gather to remember members of our community who have passed. Last Sunday our children decorated cards for the families who are grieving. These cards are colorful, bright, and a reminder that love is not ended by death. My grandmother used to tell me that this time of year is when the veil between heaven and earth is at its thinnest. She is someone who, even though she died in 2000, continues to impact my life - I like to think that veil is always somewhat thin. 
In 2013 I spend a few months living on the small Scottish island of Iona. The founder of the Iona Community